Question:Our 15 year old son refuses to participate in family activities. He won't go out for dinner, visit relatives or even join us at his little sister's soccer games. I know he needs some independence, but he's still part of this family and we'd like him to realize that too. Any suggestions?
Your son is moving rapidly from dependence as a child toward independence as an adult. I think you are right, he does need some more autonomy and freedom. However, he is only 15 and he is still very dependent on you and needs your family. I strongly believe that he should be included in many of the family experiences and on rare occasions given the freedom to not participate.
Many families are helped in this situation when they choose to have a weekly family meeting where they discuss the weekly schedule. I have a feeling that your son doesn't like having family outings and events sprung on him. Giving him a weekly notice it may help. Of course this isn't the magic answer to your problem.
You may want to become very logical and methodical with your son. Create family expectations when it comes specifically to the issues you mentioned like his sisters soccer games and going out to dinner. I might even ask, "Your sister has 8 soccer games this month, what do you think would be a reasonable amount of games you could attend?" "Our family is going to dinner on Friday night from 6:30 to 9:00. Would you like to have a friend come over from 9:00 to 11:00?" I find one of the keys to successful communication is to express your expectations with your teenagers and express them early.
I'll tell you how not to do it. Years ago, my 16 year old daughter was home packing for cheerleading camp. My wife, Cathy, and I picked up our other two daughters from another event. I thought it would be nice to take the family out to dinner together since our oldest daughter would be going to camp the next day for a week. Everyone thought it was a great idea in the car, except I forgot to take my oldest daughter's desires into consideration. I rushed into the house with the van still running and told her to drop what she was doing because our family was going to dinner. She didn't want to go because she had made other plans with some friends. I told her she was coming anyway and that I would drive her to her friend's house after dinner. At this point her friends arrived to pick her up. I had to walk out and tell them she would get there about an hour and half later because she was going out to dinner with her family.
She was not happy and she let us know it. The dinner was spent in discussion about the "need" for her to be with us. She didn't order anything because she was going to eat at her friend's house, and we all ate fast to try and accommodate her desire to not be with us! I ended up spending $40.00 on a meal none of us enjoyed and then had to take my daughter to her friend's house and pick her up. She went to bed far too late and the next day probably left for camp grateful not to be going out to dinner with the family, especially me! In that case she had been given no notice and I was unwilling to change the plans that we had made up only 5 minutes before I saw her. We could have compromised with a quicker fast food type dinner or by saying to our daughter, "Well, it was a good try and it was last minute so the rest of us will go out and I would like you home early so we can send you off to camp with a family dessert and a prayer. Instead we settled for a more expensive dinner that no one really enjoyed and no dessert or prayer!
As logical and left brain as this sounds I think your best results (and mine) will be found as you list out your family understandings and expectations ahead of time. How many family dinners would you like to shoot for a week? How many soccer games are realistic and acceptable? What are our expectations when the relatives come to town or the family visits them? Remember kids support what they help create so you may want your first attempt to be in a family meeting where you brainstorm those expectations. And keep in mind that what you are experiencing with your 15 year old comes with the territory called adolescence.