I started a Friday Crafting Night for my two girls and their friends.
Brad Sachs, a psychologist who works with adolescents and families, calls family crafting "a lovely metaphor for what parents need to do at this point in child development.
"We can't abdicate our authority; they still need us. On the other hand, we can't craft them. We need to supply them with the materials and the capacity to craft themselves."
Teenagers want to spend time with us — on their terms, says Sachs, of Columbia, Maryland.
For crafting nights, that means they pick the friends, the food and the crafts; I pull it all together and step back (but stick around — I'm here to connect and get crafty, too).
Teenagers also want (and need) to build independence and identities separate from their families, but our society places too much emphasis on that and not enough on their need to connect, says Sachs, author of "The Good Enough Teen: How to Raise Adolescents with Love and Acceptance (Despite How Impossible They Can Be)" (HarperCollins, 2005).
"Of course you don't want to suffocate them, but you also want to help them find ways to be with adults in healthy ways," he says.
Crafting nights are just one way. Hiking, playing games, sitting around a campfire — there are plenty of activities that foster family closeness.
I opened crafting nights to my high-school girls' friends — female and male — to gin up interest.
Deanna Kaylor Lenz, of Overland Park, Kansas, says her daughters are hooked on crafting just with her. Years ago, she introduced Sydney, now 20, and Elyssa, 14, to scrapbooking. It didn't take, but sewing, painting, photography, jewelry making, beadwork, knitting and upcycling used furniture did.
"They'll just sit with me and do whatever craft they're working on. I have weird daughters who like to be with me," Lenz says with a laugh.
Four teens attended my first crafting night last spring to glitter cheap papier-maché boxes. Since then, we've hosted several crafting nights.
Lenz suggests introducing teenagers to Pinterest, the online "pinning" site for inspirational ideas and images, and taking them shopping for supplies.
My crafting nights fumbled along until daughters Hope Clarke, 16, and Grace Clarke, 15, found Pinterest. Now they craft on their own and bring ideas to crafting night.
Recently, they wanted to make fake cupcakes by piping white caulk onto squatty mason jars and decorating them with glitter and faux gemstones. They also chose to make "Thought Bubbles" — glue-soaked yarn wrapped around balloons that create airy yarn orbs for hanging (after the balloons are popped). Both projects were found on Pinterest, the "bubbles" pinned by the youthful clothing store Free People.
Bottom line: Teenagers will craft with you if a project instills a sense of achievement and pride. "Being able to say, 'I made it,' especially after a friend asks about an item — I think that's a real inspiration," says Lenz.
My daughter Hope likes to make things for her bedroom. "I like to be creative," she says. "I like crafting and talking and listening to music with my friends."
Sachs notes that teenagers spend a lot of time studying for school and college-entrance exams — not to mention keeping up on phones and other screens — and relatively little time developing their imaginations.
"We underestimate the redemptive power of the creative spirit while raising children," says Sachs, but it has "inestimable value for their development."