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My teen refuses to go on family outings. Should I force the issue?

A column that tackles behavioural problems from toddlers to teens

The problem

Once kids hit the teen years they seem to develop an allergy to their parents. Does that mean you have to forget about nice family outings?

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Jamal's mother laments, "We used to have these great times. But now Jamal wants none of it. It breaks my heart."

"I'm not going to the zoo with you, Dad and the twins. It's stupid and boring and I'm not going."

For many families, these outings – even if it is just a drive to nowhere in particular – can be among their most treasured family memories.

"Not treasured by me. How about tortured?"

It can be a real loss. What can you do if your teenaged child absolutely doesn't want to participate?

What not to do

Don't just roll over and accept their refusal. "Okay, but you would have had a good time."

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You have a right to try to cling to those special family times. You may not succeed, but you should try. The trick is to not get too coercive – threats of punishment generally don't work.

"You don't want to come to the zoo, maybe we don't have to let you go with your friends to the movies tonight."

All that does is inject angry feelings into the equation and guarantees that the end result will be unpleasant.

"If you make me go, I'm going to be miserable and I'll make it miserable for everybody else."

What to do

Do try. The trick is in pressuring them, but pressuring in an upbeat manner. And persisting.

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"No, Jamal. We really want you to go."

"Didn't you hear me? I'm not going. What is it about the word 'no' that you don't understand?"

"You'll see, you'll have a good time."

"I'm not going to have a good time. And besides I'm not going."

"We really want you to go."

In reality what happens is that some of the time they end up going. And maybe they have a good time or maybe they don't. And maybe they're unpleasant, but maybe not. Which you accept because you chose to have them come.

"I'm sorry you didn't have a good time."

But they wouldn't have gone at all if you accepted their refusal too easily.

If they absolutely refuse, you have to be prepared to accept that – without bringing angry feelings into it. Try again the next time.

To keep family outings alive with a reluctant teen takes work. And maybe you win and maybe you don't. But family outings won't happen at all if you accept their "no" too easily.

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books including I'd Listen to My Parents if They'd Just Shut Up. E-mail him your thorny questions at awolf@globeandmail.com.

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