In a recent comment, Mark wrote a question about what to do now that his adventures with his teen son had become stuck in their father/son dynamics and that old role of being the “expert” father. First of all, you’ll want to change your perspective on this and view it as healthy and extremely important to a teen’s development. This can be hard since one of the greatest joys of being a dad is when your kids are younger and open to your suggestions of how to do things and learn from your wisdom. However, you have to remember that developmentally, all kids need a sense of their own mastery of the world. In the teen years, the need to feel competent, plus the drive to be independent, must guide your thinking when planning an adventure. Here are 6 tips for changing it up and reclaiming your adventures!
1. Try something new.
Start by picking something your teen is interested in and which you have never done before. That way, you can’t be the expert and you are both on an equal playing field, or, your teen is the expert going into it. Be open to your teen’s ideas for what they consider an adventure. Years ago, I remember a dad and his musician son who took a road trip to Seattle for the rock and roll museum. As I recall, they hit many music venues and guitar shops along the way.
2. Invite your teen to plan the adventure and give you tasks.
As you adapt to your teen’s interests, try letting him/her share in or do the bulk of the planning for the adventure. On our recent backpack and hiking trip, Alex planned out all the routes, made the maps, and made sure we had essential equipment. A sense of ownership increases their attachment to the adventure and allows you to enjoy their problem solving and decision- making abilities. Don’t be afraid to let them take the lead.
3. Introduce a touch of anxiety.
Pick a new adventure that introduces a bit of anxiety into the mix for both of you and pushes you to rely on each other. Try scuba, rock climbing, rafting, or skydiving (that may be to anxiety producing for me). It’s amazing how a little anxiety can drop everyone’s power stance and level of defensiveness.
4. Include others in your adventure.
If things are still feeling stuck, you might try introducing other people into your adventures. Take along your teen’s friend for an adventure. They will have an adventure together and your job is to participate and enjoy snippets of connection here and there. You can also introduce an expert into the equation who treats both of you as equals and absorbs the tension between you. Our recent fly-fishing trip with our guide Steve really helped our dynamics (coming soon to AdventureDad.org).
5. Prepare to be overtaken!
Teens, especially males, really enjoy overtaking their dads physically and mentally. The first time I beat my dad at target shooting, billiards, or ping pong were very gratifying experiences for me. On our last scuba adventure in the southern Yucatan, I had to switch to a larger tank just to match my son’s time under water! While you’re doing the activity, you have to resist the urge to correct your teen or coach them on a better way to do it unless they ask for help or emergency safety demands it (as when teaching your teen to drive).
6. Embrace the tension!
Remind yourself to be patient when things are feeling tense with a teen. Their emotional brains are twice as active as your own and those emotions can change on a dime. You learn to bite your tongue a lot and then capture those moments of spontaneous connection when they appear. Then, as my mother use to say, “Etch them into your memory.”