I’m the mother of three kids – 13, 7, and 4. Finding things to do with the younger two is incredibly easy because little kids are enthusiastic about pretty much everything. Grocery store? Cool! Park? They could go every day! Car wash? It’s like Disney World, only with shorter lines! But finding fun stuff to do with the 13 year old has become significantly more challenging.

When our kids hit the tween and teen years, it’s tempting to start to nudge them out of the nest. They are largely self-sufficient, they don’t require round the clock supervision, and parents can be fairly sure that they won’t set anything on fire if we leave them alone for an hour. But as much as we want to push them toward independence, studies show that spending time with a parent is incredibly important for the growth and development of teens and tweens.

The question is – how?

Find Common Ground
My daughter loves musical theater – lucky for both of us, so do I. I can always count on her to go to a play, or binge watch Glee with me. If you have a common bond with your child, use it! It’s the easiest way to spend time together, doing something you both enjoy. I recently had a friend say to me, “I have nothing in common with my daughter.” If that’s the case with you and your child, it’s time to –

Find Uncommon Ground
I don’t get Minecraft. It makes my eyes hurt and I’m not really sure what those creeper things are, or why they have those weird pixelated swords. It’s not my thing. It is, however, my daughter’s thing. She asked me once to sit and watch her and after several minutes of staring at the screen, I said the worst thing possible: “This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.”

I could see the wall go up between us. It was a mistake that took me a good long while to overcome, and one I won’t make again. The bottom line is, she brought me in to something that’s important to her, and I should respect that. Now, when she asks me to watch or listen or participate in something that I might not really be interested in, I keep the hurtful comments to myself. “That’s really cool,” I might say. And I mean it – it is really cool that she’s sharing a part of her life with me.

The teen years can be especially difficult for parents with children of the opposite gender. My daughter and I can always bond over manicures and lunch, but her Dad has a harder time connecting. That was, until he discovered the way to her heart is through a Grande Caramel Macchiato, extra whip. They make a habit of taking the long way home when he picks her up from an activity, swinging by the drive-thru or taking an extra fifteen minutes to sit inside the coffee shop and talk. Maybe it’s the caffeine, but that simple act allows her to open up.

I have women friends who love to play video games with their sons. Okay, they hate to play the video games because they’re terrible at them. But the boys have so much fun watching their moms struggle, they always end up laughing together.

One more thing to consider – don’t get caught up in gender specific activities. Not every girl likes to shop, and not every boy like sports. There are plenty of things to do that will appeal to your child, and to you. Sometimes you just have to get creative. Sometimes, you have to –

Break New Ground
I hate change. I ate a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch every day for two years because the thought of switching to ham was just exhausting. It can get like that with your family – Friday night is pizza night, you play Monopoly every other Sunday, you go to the movies every third Thursday. As our kids age, their idea of fun is changing, and we need to change with them.

There are opportunities in our community to learn and grow as families. Take something that they’re learning in school that really interests them, and find out more about it. Make a commitment to volunteer with an organization that helps a cause your child cares about. There are opportunities to reconnect with one another inside our homes. In a recent poll by TMOM, the number one activity parents and teens enjoyed doing together was playing board games. Board games! Sometimes it’s so simple

Whatever way you use to connect with your kids, the most important thing to remember is to be present. Pay attention to the activity. Look at them and listen when they’re talking to you. Respect them as growing individuals, with likes and dislikes and (sometimes strong) opinions. And just talk – keep those lines of communication as open as you can. Even though they’re getting older, you are still the single biggest influence in their lives.

Check out our directory of activities to connect with your tweens and teens, and add your suggestions in the comments! As always, we love to hear from our readers about what’s working for your family!

To read more blogs by Kelly, visit her personal blog at Southern Fried Children.