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One Simple Thing We Do Every Week to Connect with Our Teens

One Simple Thing We Do Every Week to Connect with Our Teens

After spending a year on sailing around the world as a family, this is how they stay connected on land.

After spending a year living on a sailboat, sailing around the world as a family, the Orton family was very close-knit. But once they returned, in the hustle and bustle of city life, they began to drift apart a little. Read on to learn how the Ortons connect with their teens each week, improving the parent-teen relationship—and for a new idea for your weekly family time.

As part of the first wave of parents raising children in the digital age, I often feel like I’m in a conga line of the blind leading the blind. We’re guessing. We’re occasionally desperate. My husband and I went so far as to take our five kids to live on a sailboat for a year, so we could connect and create memories before they grew up and moved out. While a year at sea is more doable than most people think, you don’t have to go to those extremes to connect.

Upon returning to the land of milk and Wi-Fi, we found ourselves digitally drifting apart again, even in our 900-square-foot apartment. Should we embrace or eschew ubiquitous screens? How do we navigate the middle ground? My husband came up with a first-world solution for a first-world problem. Now, every Sunday evening, my family gathers for a ritual that is more Roku than Rockwell. We call it: Week in Pictures.

Starting with our youngest and working our way up, each family member syncs their iPod or iPhone to our Apple TV using airplay or screen mirroring and shares their photos, videos, and snaps from the week. It’s that simple. Any smartphone or streaming TV device should do the trick.

Our kids were skeptical at first. We didn’t know if it would stick, but it has for more than three years. It does not require elaborate preparation. It’s a quick, “Hey kids, grab your phones. Time for Week in Pictures.” If the Wi-Fi is wimpy, we put our phones on Airplane Mode until it’s our turn to share. Our only rule? We all stay to see each other’s photos.

You might not think a few minutes once a week can make a difference, but it’s had a huge impact in our home. In a few minutes a whole family can orient to each other. We see into each other’s lives through each other’s eyes. Try it once. You may be surprised what you learn about one another. You may have the satisfaction of knowing you really do have a pulse on your child’s interests or you may have the pleasure of being educated. 

So often months blur together. Week in Pictures reveals some measure of what has made each week unique. Knowing we’ll have an opportunity to share insights, discoveries, and silly faces with each other makes us more aware of life in real time.

It’s like sipping a cozy cup of Our Town. I am regularly amazed at how much life is compressed into seven days—milestones, epiphanies, emotions, and experiences—even when we’re just having a “regular” week.

When we have company on Sunday evenings, we invite them to join us for Week in Pictures. When we are visiting others, we ask if our hosts would like to have a Week in Pictures. Everyone has loved it.

Two of our daughters are away at college now. We call. We FaceTime. We email. We follow each other on Instagram. We have a family text group for sharing ongoing dialogue and momentous updates, so we can console or congratulate and keep our inside jokes alive. But when they come home between semesters, they want to share their pictures.

We block out time over several days to make sure our grown-up kids get to show us everything they want us to know about their lives. I’m not kidding. A lot of parents are looking for the key to that secret garden where they can glimpse into their kid’s lives. If you’re one of them, the key may already be in your hand.

Main image: Emily and Erik Orton decided to spend a year sailing with their five kids. You can read about their adventure in Seven At Sea, available March 5.
Courtesy Emily Orton

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Emily Orton blogs with her husband, Erik, at They are the co-authors of Seven at Sea: Why a New York City Family Cast Off Convention for a Life-Changing Year on a Sailboat, available on on March 5.

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