Three ways to encourage family time

The fastest way to realize how little you actually know about parenting is to have kids, a fact I’ve become acutely aware of since having two of my own in the last four years. But an advantage to working at Collegewise is that I’ve been able to absorb anecdotal learning from the thousands of families we’ve guided through the process. And I’ve noticed something about those teens who seem to genuinely enjoy and speak lovingly about their families: the family consciously planned time to spend together. Your mileage may vary, but here are three ways to encourage family time that, from conversations to college essays, many teens have expressed appreciation for within their own family dynamic.

1. Have family meals together.
Family meals are the perfect opportunity for quality time. Even just 30 minutes of uninterrupted, unscripted, and unplugged talk around the table, done regularly, will lead to interesting conversations and meaningful bonding. Modern day scheduling may preclude this from becoming an every-meal occurrence, and that’s OK. Commit to what you can sustain as a family and then honor the commitment together.

2. Embrace a tradition.
The beauty of a tradition is that you can make the decision once to embrace it. Family camping getaways, regular poker nights with Dad and the uncles, watching the Yankees or the Lakers or Bruins— kids look back fondly on these recurring events even if they rolled their eyes in the moment. One of my former students, Raquel (who was admitted to almost all of her colleges), wrote her college essay about her family’s predilection for throwing impromptu dinner parties featuring their traditional Mexican recipes. I still remember this line: “My 89-year-old grandmother is always the first to arrive with her brown chihuahua, Chiquita, in tow.” And if you don’t currently have a tradition of your own, what a perfect time to start one.

3. Let your teen take the lead.
Human beings of all ages enjoy some sense of autonomy–the ability to have some agency over the direction of our lives. What if you mandated the time but let your teen choose the specific activity? Let them decide how you’ll spend the Sunday afternoon together, or what dish to cook for the family meal, or what movie to stream for the newly minted Family Movie Night. If you want your student to willingly engage and join you in your family commitment, invite them to move from a passive participant to an active contributor or even initiator.