What do teens REALLY do in their spare time?
You see them every time you go to the mall. You hope your own kids won’t become mall rats one day. But what about the teens who gather at the playground and occupy the swings they’ve long outgrown? It’s natural to question teen motives and wonder why they’re filling an afternoon by strolling aimlessly. But take another look.
Teens are at a tough crossroads in life when they’re not yet old enough to drive, have a job or, in their words, “be taken seriously.” Children ages 12 to 15 often find themselves feeling as if they have no place to go. They look for places to hang out with friends that offer comfort, privacy and freedom. Oddly enough, they usually fulfill their quest for privacy in public settings.
The desire to spend time – often doing virtually nothing – with friends is overwhelming. It is also often bewildering to parents. While the comforts of home offer numerous amenities, teens still go in search of someplace else to be.
When they are at home, teens frequently face the common parental concerns of “All you do is sit and watch TV or listen to music,” and “You don’t do anything.” They feel over scrutinized and go in search of a non-judgmental haven. You can guide your teen’s social patterns without making him feel like he’s under a microscope.
Do You Want to Invite Your Friends Over?
Try giving your teen and his friends an objective to their mission of hanging out. Offer them use of the garage or basement as a teen scene club if they clean it up. Providing some lawn chairs, a cooler of soda or juice drinks and bags of munchies to give them a safe place to call their own. Add a portable CD player and video games or stacks of fashion magazines and you’ll probably never pry your teen away from your house again!
When you encourage teens to “hang” at your hom, be prepared to meet a list of demands. High on the list of teen priorities is comfort. Remember, a teen’s perception of comfort differs greatly from yours – your idea of comfort may be nice furniture, a clean house, a functional kitchen, etc. His perception of comfort equates to extreme privacy.
Oddly enough, many teens feel they have more privacy huddled as a group at the park or mall than in their own house. Although you may have the best of intentions when you pop into the room and ask if they need more snacks, teens see your visit as a breach of security.
They may be in the midst of contemplating life-altering topics such as who is the cutest girl in eighth grade or how cool the latest song from Slipknot is. Your invasion is not only a security breach, but a reminder that The Rolling Stones and Duran Duran aren’t as cool as you used to think! Giving your teenager and his friends a place to safely be themselves will encourage them to spend more time at your house.
The Need to Do the Mall
When your teen hangs out at the mall with pals, he’s most likely doing nothing visibly worthwhile. But you’re not walking the mall in his shoes and with his emotions. Beyond filling up on junk food and visiting the arcades, why would he want to spend an afternoon doing nothing at the mall?
The answer isn’t really all that mystifying. Fitting in is monumental to teenagers. Time spent with friends offers the chance to be a part of his peers. Grappling with teen issues always seems easier if you’re not the only one experiencing them. Teens hanging out together grapple with questions about the opposite sex, struggles with geometry and contempt for having a curfew.
Although a girl can receive nearly the same answer to “Why didn’t he ask me to dance?” from you, it usually sounds better coming from a friend’s mouth over a mall fruit smoothie. Teens enjoy a sense of escape from the real world of homework and household chores and appreciate the wise opinions of their peers on what is “in” in the latest fashions. They like the independence of picking out their own new jeans or the responsibility of being left home alone for an evening.
To you, spending an afternoon needlessly listening to the same songs over and over or perusing through stacks of magazines in search of “How to make the cute guy in geometry notice you” is frivolous and wasteful. By putting yourself into a teen’s body for a minute, you’ll remember it’s a great way to hang out with friends for an afternoon.
I Spy With My Little Eye
Entrenched in the quest for ultimate privacy and security, teens may demonstrate suspicious behavior. Albeit some suspicions turn out to be unfounded; some parents find their teen’s covert actions less than honorable. There is a simple, time-tested rule of thumb to help you determine if you should spy on him when he’s hanging out with friends. If you think something inappropriate is happening, trust your instincts.
According to research conducted by the YMCA and Planned Parenthood, in more than 50 percent of instances of teen sexual activity and 75 percent of teen substance use, parents were suspicious of their child’s actions for at least six weeks prior to discovering that their suspicions were correct.
Spread His Wings Slowly
Even though he’s recognizing his impending adulthood, much to your teen’s dismay, he still is a child. You should know where he’s going and who he’s going with. Allowing some freedom is an important step toward his decision making ability and independence. Additionally, critical to his development is an understanding of the importance of respecting household rules and expectations.
If he’s set on going out with a group of friends, make sure he respects your expectations. Since safety is always a concern, he should inform you of significant changes in his destination and should understand the importance of pre-set curfews. Allowing your junior high school child to go to the movies with friends can feel far more auspicious to you than your child. Reiterating basic safety precautions and household rules helps both of you transition to this stage.
Remember, to your teen, hanging out is the adult version of getting out with friends, seeing and being seen. Allow your kids to be a part of the community around them and encourage positive participation.
Gina Roberts-Grey is a licensed clinical social worker, freelance writer and mother.
- Know that teens will challenge, test, push and pull their way toward independence.
- Striking the right balance is the trick in making sure you support your teen’s efforts toward independence while making sure he doesn’t bite off more than he can chew.
- Encourage adolescents to make as many of their own decisions as they safely can. One great way to do this is to provide an allowance for learning how to use it wisely.
- Draw teens into family decision making.
- Let your teen know that he can have as much independence as he wants as long as he exhibits responsible behavior and follows reasonable limits (set by both of you) and as long as he accepts the consequences of his behaviors.
Source: A Parent’s Guide to the Teen Years by Susan Panzarine (Checkmark Books; $14.95)