Teens and Family Event Requirements

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Where do you draw the line on mandatory participation?

April 1999

Where do you draw the line on requiring your teenager to attend family functions? They can stay at home alone now, so they don't need to be taken everywhere, but there are some events that I would really like them to go to that they are protesting against. For instance:

  • visiting elderly relatives
  • attending work-related social events
  • going out to eat together on weekend mornings
  • going to a concert or movie (except teen-oriented concerts & movies) And what about family vacations?

I am finding that we now have to choose outings that appeal only to teenagers (like a surfing beach or Las Vegas). Otherwise they complain about being forced to do something against their will. Do you leave them at home? Make them go anyway? Or only go to places with teen appeal?

This is a question I've been having. In many cases, the teen goes along, saying, I'm not going, the whole way! We are trying to plan vacations that will appeal (at least in part) to them. Sometimes (not overnight) they can stay home. Sometimes taking a friend along helps.

Our neighbor's 15-yr-old would not go along to watch his father run a marathon. His punishment was no TV for a year because he didn't give support to his family. It seemed extreme to me, but they obviously place a heavy value on family support.

Regarding forced attendance at family events...What works varies for each family, but here are our rules.

  1. If the child's participation will make someone else who is important to us and/or deserves special respect and attention happy, she goes -- so if the elderly relative wants to see her, there's no discussion. If relative doesn't really care, she can stay home sometimes but not every time.
  2. Work-related social events: if it's a boring adult thing and you're mostly trying to show her off (something I'm always tempted to do!), I'd leave her home.
  3. If it's an important family event (e.g., Mom getting an award or party happening at home of close work friend who specifically invited her), she goes.
  4. Breakfast, movies, dinner: some level of participation is required. We let our needs-to-sleep-14 hours-a-day kid off the hook on some, but not all, early morning affairs (e.g., breakfast at friends who are mostly *our* friends, brother's 9:00 a.m. baseball game).
  5. We absolutely insist that she participate in some family events every week. These are scheduled so as not to conflict with her social engagements and if there is a conflict, we defer to her schedule unless it's something really important. But we reinforce very strongly that time that all of the family spends together is the most important thing in our family and is required, not optional. She's a part of the family and all of us need to be together. Period. End of discussion.

This works -- lots of foot-dragging, whining, etc., then as soon as we're out of the house and embarked on whatever it is, she's forgotten her objections. I think she secretly likes it--maybe that's because she's still pretty young and will change when she's 15 or 16. (Of course we've reminded her of this when the conflict arises again, Remember, last time you didn't want to come, and you ended up having such a good time? But she either denies she had a good time or suffers total memory lapse on the entire event. So I've settled for simply having her come, rather than also insisting that she acknowledge that she's glad she came!)

The requester outlined three options: (1) teens stay at home, (2) are forced to go along, and (3) the selection is limited to their choices. We find what works for us is primarily a mix of (1) and (2), according to the individual situation, the teen's study-load at the moment etc. We rarely have to resort to (3) above.

It is indeed regrettable that anyone is forced to do anything for anyone else! However, we point out that so long as we live together, we are expected to do some mildly boring chores, and participate in some activities that are not our first choices for entertainment-- e.g., doing the dishes, changing diapers (when the teens were infants!), and certainly includes visiting boring relatives on occasion. Having to spend time with family is part of the deal of having a family.