It’s that time of year again when people will promise to lose weight, save money and spend more time with family. Diet plans and budgets will help with the first two, but many people overlook the need for a plan when it comes to spending more time with family.

A 1998 University of Michigan study found that children spent an average of 43 minutes per week in household conversations compared with 12 hours per week watching television. That’s a dramatic contrast repeated with a variety of other distractions, such as sports, extracurricular lessons and friends. It’s no wonder families feel disconnected.

If you’re among those looking to reconnect in 2008, family nights are an effective way to strengthen ties and enjoy each other more. The time that you spend together will make you more aware of each other and more sensitive to each other’s needs. It will preserve bonds and create memories.

Family nights can be whatever you want them to be. You can optimize the experience by starting with a family meeting to discuss why you will begin having family nights and to decide together what you want your family nights to look like. When the kids feel they are valued in the planning process, their desire to participate increases. In order for family nights to be effective and meaningful, all family members need to feel good about the concept.

Scheduling is critical. Many families find it works well to establish family night at the same time each week, and each family member schedules other activities around that time. But that practice may not work for every family. If it doesn’t work for yours, begin each month with a family meeting where you can schedule family time for the month ahead. Then put the time on your calendar and guard it as a top priority.

Make the most of your time together by focusing on interacting with each other. Turn off the television, don’t answer the telephone and restrict the time to family members only.

Family nights work best when they are a time for fun and bonding, so you may want to avoid heavy discussion. Instead plan enjoyable activities that can build a solid foundation for difficult conversations you may need to have at other times. It keeps family members looking forward to the time together.

Your family night activities can be as diverse and unique as your family. They can be designed to reflect your values or share your interests. Some families have a great time simply gathering around a board game, others have dinner at a favorite restaurant. Be creative. Your family may enjoy a service project together, an art night, backyard camp-out or creating a family album or cookbook. Brainstorming activities together can be fun in itself.

Family nights might never look the same, but the results are consistent. Family members become closer, communicate better and gain a sense of being teammates on the same team.

Whatever you decide to do, relax and have fun. The only thing that really matters is that you do it together. Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourselves to have a perfect evening — it doesn’t exist. And don’t get discouraged if the process of gathering everyone is met with frustration, especially early on. Focus simply on enjoying each other. With a little persistence initially, you’ll find family night quickly becomes a happy, much anticipated time for every member of the family.

As published in the January 2008 Edition of the Vernon County Broadcaster.