teenaged boy at the wheel of a golf cart, with sister sitting on back

As children reach their teens, they tend to spend less time with family and are more interested in being with friends. This is a typical phase of adolescence, as teenagers seek their own identity and independence and focus on friendships and dating. You may therefore find that your teenager is more reluctant than before to participate in family activities.

The following are some suggestions for encouraging your teenager to participate in family get-togethers:

  • Involve your teenager in the planning. If you’re all ordering pizza and picking some movies to watch, ask him what movie he’d like to see and give him the responsibility for ordering the pizza. Or, when you’re planning a family weekend trip to the beach, ask him to take responsibility for finding a hotel within your budget using the Internet. These are opportunities for him to have fun with the family and also get some practice in using assistive technology and other skills while honing his social skills.

  • Have your son invite a friend to join your family when you’re going to a play or museum or taking a trip to the mall. Seeing him interact with a friend can give you a sense of his social skills. You, in turn, can give him realistic feedback on what’s working and what’s not when it comes to interactions with others his age.

  • Include your son in events that may not be fully accessible to him. If you have other children who want to go to something very visual, such as a dance recital or a soccer game, ask him to come along—and go prepared to give him a running description of what’s happening. If he’s not enthusiastic about it, suggest that he bring something along—a book or an MP3 player—that he can read or listen to for part of the time. See if a balance can be obtained between the amount of time he does his alternate activity and the amount of time he is participating in what the family is doing.

  • Occasionally opt to leave the car at home when your family goes on an outing or to visit relatives. Rather than driving, take public transportation—a bus, subway, or train or have him call for a taxi. These opportunities give your teenager a chance to practice the skills needed to use other forms of transportation and get around independently. It also reinforces the message for him and his siblings that driving isn’t essential to get from one place to another.

  • If your teen uses optical aids, such as a monocular, to see things in the distance, encourage him to do so whenever it may help him to participate more fully in family activities. For example, his cousin’s football game will be more interesting to him if he can actually see some of the action. Keep in mind, though, that he may feel embarrassed about using an optical device in public. If that’s the case, keep encouraging him to make use of assistive devices; point out how helpful they can be in expanding his experience of the world around him, but try to strike a balance and do not nag.