Dear Mr. Dad: I am having difficulty communicating with my 11-year-old son. When I ask him questions, he barely answers with one syllable grunts and is completely uninterested in spending any more time with me than he has to. What can I do to build a better relationship with a child who thinks his father isn't cool?
A: The good news is that most parents struggle with exactly this issue as their children lurch forward into their adolescent years. The bad news is that most of the temptations and opportunities to get into trouble (sometimes serious or life-changing trouble) happen when children distance themselves from parents, and instead look to their peers for guidance. Fortunately, there are still plenty of ways to bond with your children that will leave them thinking that you're a pretty cool dad (or at least not the least cool dad ever), which will open up some important opportunities to talk with and mentor your child. Here are just four examples.
-- Go to their level. Find out what your children love and try to get involved. Take them to concerts, movies, fashion shows, karate or video game tournaments, sporting events, and everything else they show an interest in. Take plenty of pics and keep the focus on having fun. The more positively you respond to your child's interest and the less judgmental you are, the more time they'll want to spend with you.
-- Bring them to your level. The goal here is to expose your children to the things you love to do and to give them a chance to experience your world. That might mean listening to classic rock, going to a shooting range or bass fishing, talking about history, going to a museum, attending a lecture, binge-watching something on Netflix, or anything else. Bringing your kids into your world tells them that you think they're good enough, smart enough, and loved enough to be at your side in "grown-up" activities. That's a show of respect they'll never forget.
-- Discover something new together. The thrill of exploration and trying new things is a powerful one you can share together. It isn't forced or manufactured, but happens naturally and builds a bond of friendship similar to that your children have with their closest peers. If you've never been to a hockey game, go together, even if it means traveling and staying the night in a city that has a team. If you've never been roller skating, hit the rink (perhaps literally if it's been a while). Even if you don't enjoy the activity, or are terrible at it, making fun of yourselves and talking about how you'll never, ever do that again can bring you and your child closer together. On the other hand, you might just discover a new interest or hobby that'll end up being a special activity for just the two of you.
-- Go camping in the backyard. Camping out under the stars is one of the most bonding experiences you can enjoy with your children. There's a reason so many programs for at-risk youth happen in the outdoors. While it can be hard to find time to get everything packed to go camping, setting up a tent in your backyard is easy and can happen anytime. I know a family in Texas that decided to camp in the backyard one warm Christmas eve. They did it again the next year, even though it snowed, and it's been a tradition ever since. In addition to basic camping gear (tent, sleeping bag, bug spray, a star chart, a flashlight, a book of ghost stories, etc.), bring plenty of marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate. Campfire conversations are great. Campfire conversations with S'mores are even better.
(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to email@example.com.)
(c)2019 Armin Brott
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