The Value of Family and Lasting Friendships For Teens
I just saw a segment on WFAA TV, about a 19 year old boy, Logan Hunt, who had been the product of a failed adoption. He had been in the foster care system till he turned 18 and basically outgrew the system. He talked about living in his car and waking up one morning just praying desperately for a family, even if it meant him living in a box. The story had a happy ending. After he was featured on “Wednesday’s child” a segment showing kids who need adoptions, his biological sister and her adoptive family contacted him and eventually adopted him. He was ecstatic!
I just had an awesome reunion with my high school girlfriends, and I was so inspired by the value of lasting friendships and sense of belonging and “family” we shared. Some of us had not seen each other for about 35 years and yet the moment we saw each other, it was like the years were simply erased.
As Edna Buchanan said, “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.” I’ve been blessed with a wonderful family and great friendships throughout my life. Family and friends who support each other through all the highs of life, the joys of life like birth, and the sorrows like death, illness and job losses.
Sometimes, I worry that in these times of the internet, cell phones and TVs in every room, our teens don’t really appreciate the value of forming strong family bonds and connecting enough with their friends to build strong and lasting friendships.
How do we teach teens the value of family and true friendships – “the family we get to choose”?
1. Be present
From early on in life, spend time with your family. It doesn’t matter whether you work or are a stay at home parent. What matters is the quality of time that you spend with your child or spouse. Create lasting memories, as you go for walks, play games and interact with each other. My children still remember some of the bedtime stories and songs we used to sing when they were much younger. Pay attention when interacting with your family. Be present. When it comes to family time, don’t multitask with work responsibilities. Pay attention and enjoy the time you have with each other.
2. Build family traditions.
It is so important to have family traditions. This creates stability and consistency. Many people have written about their various traditions. Some create new and unique traditions when their teens reach specific ages. Some teens are given rings, symbolizing adulthood, but with the message, that the door is always open to you, that no matter what happens you are always welcome home. Others have described awakening to the aroma of fresh bread, being baked on Thanksgiving morning. Family and friends love traditions. I have a friend who cooks her traditional food and invites her neighbors. One year she decided to do something else. Soon, the neighbors were coming in asking what they could do to help. That tradition was not going to die. Others volunteer at food pantries or cook for the homeless. No matter what your family tradition, don’t underestimate it. It is special to your family and will be handed down for generations to come.
3. Control Screen Time
With parents being busier than ever, one of the things they’ve turned to, to keep kids busy, is the television. Most families can now afford to have a television in practically every room, and a computer or laptop of course. It keeps the kids busy and out of trouble, we think. However, these kids spend hours on end alone in their rooms, watching TV or playing games on the laptop. Not only does this take away from family time, but you don’t know what your child is watching or the sites your child is visiting on his computer. There are sexual predators out there, seeking to corrupt your children. It is your job as parent to protect them. TVs and computers should be placed in open areas where you can monitor what your child is doing and limit screen time to a maximum of 2 hours a day, unless of course your child is an older teen who needs the computer for homework. Kelly Rippa, says “I don’t think she likes me, but I don’t care,” Ripa said. “I’m not your friend. I’m your mom.” after taking her daughter’s cell phone from her for not keeping with family expectations.
4. Have at least one meal a day together.
Sit and eat together at least once a day. This provides great time to ask about your child’s day or your spouse’s day for that matter. Put the cell phones away. Engage with each other and enjoy your meal. Get to know your children. It’s even better if the TV is off. It’s also nice to have family night sometimes, when you just spend time with each other playing games and imparting wisdom to your teens. Laugh together with your family and friends. When all is said and done, this is what your family will remember.
5. Impart your faith and values
Take time to teach your family values to your teens. Remember, we hope these children are going to grow up and become useful members of society. We can’t leave it to the schools alone to teach our children about self-worth, integrity, compassion, and service. We have to lead by example and teach them all we can, with the knowledge we currently have. Teach your teens your faith and belief systems. Teach them about money. When they are adults they will ultimately decide for themselves, but you will know that you did your best and gave them the best chance at success.
Family and friendships are so valuable. We need to take time, to nurture these relationships that can span decades of our lives. Families and friends are not perfect. They are sometimes very complicated but ultimately worth the time and emotion we invest to make it better. I heard Robin Roberts quote her mom’s favorite saying, that, “when it comes to families, we don’t have it all together, but together, we have it all.” And she is absolutely right.