Laura Kastner, Ph.D.

Parenting Tools

F is for Fun, Quality Time, and Good Connection with Your Kid

Do you have fun?by Laura Kastner, Ph.D.

Do you have F.A.D.D.?  Family Attention Deficit Disorder? Oh, no! Another shrink identifying a deficit syndrome! Yeah, well, it’s true. We have a severe shortage of quality time filled with fun, laughter and engaged family interactions without screens. Teens report that they want more time with their families. But they say the same thing about sex ed. And yet when parents kick start either agenda, teens will roll their eyes, groan and try all kinds of avoidance. It takes a huge commitment to overcome teen resistance and create good times at home without screens, but it’s worth it. Here’s why…

Research studies on the parent-child love bond have associated “warmth”, “cohesiveness”, “secure attachment” and “connectedness” with healthy child development. Loss of this “good feeling glue” exposes your kids to all sorts of problems. Once the reservoir of good feelings in a family dries up, everything else starts shriveling up too—like children’s cooperation, self esteem, academic achievement, resistance to negative peer influence, and the impact of your discipline.

While boundaries, discipline and other resources are also related to optimal healthy development, the parent child relationship is critical, and it needs to be nourished with good times together. The parent role of civilizing kids is so onerous that we must have happy times to compensate for all the drudgery!

So, what are some ideas for how to spend quality time with tweens and teens?

• Volunteering—search the web and find activities you can do together. Trail or park maintenance, kitchen help at shelters and helping at food banks are always good options.
• Preparation of family dinners—rotate the head chef role; on your teen’s night to be head chef, invite his or her friends.
• Backrubs—most teens participate in athletic activities (or should) and can always enjoy a back or foot rub (better yet, take a massage class together first).
• Music tutorial—have your teen teach you about his or her music collection and then get help loading your favorites on to an IPod for you.
• Board games—Taboo is our family favorite. We love buzzing each other obnoxiously when we make mistakes.
• OK, OK, watching a video together with pizza and root beer floats can be great bonding, even if is a screen thing. At least you’re together…just try to go bowling, biking and skating another time.

It’s harder than it sounds. Life is horrendously busy, packed with work, kid activities, socializing, chores and way too much media. Like a stealthy infectious disease, electronic devices (T.V., internet, cells, video gaming) have invaded our homes and stolen from us our sacred, direct connection with one another. We’re so used to these electrical separators that we don’t even know how dangerous they are. Plus, pulling ourselves off these rewarding dopamine machines can render us screaming meanies.

Kids can deep six even our best efforts to instigate good times. They’re so good at it that parents often simply give up. YOU CAN’T! Parents must invest in efforts to infuse the family bank account with good feelings and positive emotions, because kids (especially teens) will be making lots of withdrawals when they have their negative moods. They can’t help it. Negativity and turmoil just naturally stem from puberty, brain remodeling and stress from school, peer dynamics, and growing up. Our only recourse to build the bank account up again!

As a psychologist, I work with struggling families that have serious deficits in their levels of happiness, positive engagement and laughter. Like any canary in the coal mine, this deficit serves as a warning for how bad juju can infect even an ordinary world-weary family if your resistance is down.

Life has many unanticipated slings and arrows that make the going tough, especially in a recession. The path to seeking any rosy time together can be thorny indeed. But as Mark Twain said, “The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.”

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