Last summer on book tour, psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld said on television that parents should make time to play games with their teenagers. The producer called him an idiot.
"Come on, you think my daughter is going to play Monopoly with me?" she asked.
The next day she telephoned Rosenfeld to apologize. Turns out she retrieved a dusty old Parker Brothers game from a closet the night of the taping, and her 14-year-old daughter enthusiastically joined in. "We're finishing it up tonight," she confessed.
Think your kids don't want to play with you once they are adolescents? "It's a total lie," said Rosenfeld, co-author of "The Overscheduled Child" (Griffin, $13.95). Combine the right activity with the right time and they're there, he said.
Social scientists say playing with parents erases some of the stress youngsters feel as they get older.
"The world is tough for teenagers," said William J. Doherty, author of "Take Back Your Kids" (Sorin, $12.95). "They're oriented toward peers but feel they have to perform for their peers. One dorky statement can get them ridiculed." Goofing off with their family enables teens "to let go of that tension."
Pursued in the right spirit, play is "the great leveler in parent-child relationships," said Doherty, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. "Whether you're playing a board game or swimming in a lake, for a little period of time you're suspending the parent-child hierarchy." Kids get a glimpse of what a parent was like as a kid, and Mom or Dad can take note of the increasing agility of their growing child.
Playing with teenagers doesn't have to cost a lot of money, Doherty said. According to Ken Leebow, author of "300 Incredible Things for Game Players on the Internet" (http://www.300incredible.com), there is an increasing number of reasonably priced computer games designed for adult-older child play.
Hasbro Games is pushing Monopoly, Scrabble and Clue as part of a family game night campaign. Endless Games, maker of Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary, is having success with a category it calls "retro," featuring games such as Concentration and What's My Line? The Lolo Co., a newcomer to the market, this year brought out a second edition of its popular Don't Make Me Laugh geared to ages 12 and older. The charades-type contest "allows adults to be kids again and kids to feel like adults," said Lolo founder Charlie Paul.
Don't like board games? Learning a new skill together--golf, sailing, scuba diving--can be another satisfying form of play with risk-seeking adolescents, Rosenfeld said. His wife, Dorothy, a flutist, and their 14-year-old daughter, Lisa, who plays the clarinet, are taking instruction in jazz together. Said Doherty: "You've got to be flexible as kids get older, and look for different things to do. But your teenager isn't free to decline everything just because he disdains being with his boring siblings and parents."