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Tweens and Teens

Creating Family Unity

The Importance of Scheduling Family Time

April 01, 2009
Remember the "Leave It To Beaver" household? Ward and his 'tween and teenage sons arrived home every day at the same time, and June was there (in a dress!) to greet them. They had an immaculate house in a peaceful, middle-class neighborhood and they managed quite well on one income. Wally and Beaver enjoyed free time with friends or homework. Ward and June spent most evenings sitting together in the living room. In a high percentage of the scenes, the four family members were together in the same room at the same time.

Despite the campiness, the Cleavers offered an ideal example of family unity, which—while you might not hear your child say it—is important to a young teen. In Ward and June's early-60s, fictional world, family unity was easy to maintain. But in the 21st century real world, the picture would be quite different. Ward and June might both work full-time and pick up fast food on the way home. Beaver would be in an after-school program, and he'd eat his taco or burger while doing his homework in the car on the way to soccer practice. Wally would drop June at the gym on the way to his job at the mall—which he works to help save for his future college expenses. Ward would travel part of the week or work overtime. Finding time for family togetherness would be a challenge at the least.

Family unity is important to young teens because a strong and cohesive family actually enables them to become more independent. They need a solid foundation in order to feel secure enough to risk moving out on their own emotionally. Before they will try pushing away from the unit in which they were raised, they need to feel sure that same unit will be there to catch them if they fall. Yet today, many families with young teens find it harder than ever to maintain the cohesiveness that creates the "glue" to hold a family together.

"The kids are involved in so many activities, it's rare to have all five of us in the house at the same time," comments a father of three. "Our family time is really during vacations. At Christmas my wife takes a week off and we all just hang around the house together. We also go on some kind of vacation every summer, and try to take a weekend trip together at least once a year."

One mother of two preteen girls says she maintains family unity simply by giving her kids as much attention as she can. "I work during the day, but I call them to make sure they get off to school, and they call me at work after school. When I'm home, I try to spend time with them, just talking or doing homework or watching movies."

"We've got a blended family situation," explains one mother of 13 year-old and two step-kids, ages 10 and 14. "My daughter is here during the week and my husband's kids join us on the weekends. We try to make those weekends count. They are at the age where they want to be with their friends, but we always have Saturday night dinner together; there's no TV on, and we talk to each other."

It is normal and healthy for young teens to spend more time away from home and to be involved with activities and friends. Families don't need to spend every minute together to maintain their ties. But it is important for children to feel that solid family base. Here are some suggestions for creating a sense of family unity even when you're all running in different directions:

Make a schedule. Instead of just hoping it will happen, schedule regular time together. Be realistic in choosing a time that's easiest for your whole family to be together. If it can't be every night at dinner, try to make it once or twice a week. If weekday time is too difficult, try a regular once-a-week outing to a restaurant, park, relative's home, or worship service.

Make use of rituals. Consistent, repeated traditions can create a strong sense of family identity. Maintain practices such as sharing birthday dinners, spending Thanksgiving at Grandma's, or playing "the license plate game" on long car trips. Rituals help provide family-centered structure and also create positive emotional memories, both of which provide the bricks and mortar of family unity.

Keep in contact with extended family. Visiting with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles rekindles a sense of heritage and biological connection to relatives, and helps kids feel a sense of roots and belonging.

Take vacation time together. The important factor is not the length of the vacation, or even whether you leave your home. What's critical is that you spend relaxed time together. Leaving chores and homework and bills behind decreases tension and increases enjoyment between family members.

Make togetherness a priority. Family unity isn't automatically in the script like it was for the Cleavers. We need to work at creating and preserving it. Building a strong family base for your young teen children now will give them a solid launching pad from which they can move into the world on their


Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville, Illinois, and the stepmother of two, ages 25 and 29. She can be reached at 847-782-1722.

Lisa M. Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville, Illinois, and the stepmother of two, ages 20 and 24.
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