Nearly all parents of teenagers are wondering what they can do to better connect with their teen. Adolescence is a time of change and exploration for finding oneself. It is normal adolescent development to begin pulling away from their families of origin and individuating through connecting with their friends.
Below are some ideas about increasing connection and communication with your teen.
Remember that spending time with their friends is normal development
Respect boundaries and privacy. This is essential as the relationship with your child evolves from that of a parent/child relationship to a parent/teen relationship.
Make your house a place that your teen and their friends want to hangout. Figure out how to make your house inviting to your teen and others.
Invite their friends with you to dinner, game nights, even vacations.
Talk to your teen and their friends about important issues. Utilize opportunities to talk about issues when your teen is with their friends. Kids are more likely to listen if their friends are listening.
Keep Rituals. Rituals are a great way to reinforce consistency within your family.
Saying good night. If your teen comes to expect that you will stop by to say good night each night, they may take advantage of this time to talk to you.
One on one activities. One parent, one child. Good for errands or other activities.
Friday night dinner, movie night, family game night, favorite TV show.
Volunteer together, especially if it’s something your teen is interested in.
Engage in their Interests
Let them teach you. Let your teen be the expert. You being vulnerable (e.g. think rock climbing or doing anything else for the first time) allows your teen to be more engaged. Stretch your interests.
Help them learn something new – cooking, golfing, knitting, art, music.
Let them take on a bigger role in the family
Teens strive for more freedom. With freedom comes responsibility, so how can you engage this with your teen? Examples: Have them plan dinner, shopping trips, or weekend plans.
Make it easier to talk (aka Talk less and listen more)
Be a safe and available person for them to talk to. You don’t have to agree with everything, just let them talk without interrupting and use their problem solving skills.
Utilize times when your attention as the adult is divided. This sounds counter-intuitive, but our undivided attention on our teen can feel intense. Being somewhat distracted, while still able to be engaged, can lead to positive conversations. Examples: Car talks, folding laundry, doing chores.
Use TV and other media to discuss difficult topics. We have to model discussing difficult topics so they know we are open and willing to talk about uncomfortable topics.
Be the Parent
Be a good role model. Respect them, their ideas/friends. Stay calm.
Be a clear sighted, compassionate mentor.
Set clear expectations and consequences.
Be real and honest. Own up if you make a mistake.
Catch them doing something right and highlight their strengths, even if it’s something at which they have always excelled. Praise the effort, not the outcome. Example: Getting good grades, excelling at sports/art/music, we need to praise their hard work, instead of the outcome.
Adolescence is a time of self doubt. Continue to reinforce positive traits.
Don’t try to fix things
Becoming a problem solver sends the message that having difficult feelings isn’t OK or that we aren’t comfortable with them.
When your teens brings a problem to you. Don’t fix, empathize.
1. Pause: Pause for at least 5-10 seconds before responding to what your teen is saying. Allow the emotions to surface and settle in. (Note: This can be challenging! With practice, however, the pause can build the bridge that leads to a deep connection with your child).
2. Validate: Let your teen know it's OK to feel the way they do.
3. Label: Help them label their emotions. When kids experience emotions such as jealousy, rage and humiliation for the first time, they often call those emotions "sadness" or "anger." Really drilling down into the particular emotion(s) they feel can help demystify the experience and make it more manageable.
4. Empathize: Think of a time when you have gone through something similar. For example, if your teen comes to you feeling embarrassed, think of a time you were embarrassed and relay that story. When you're empathizing, try starting with those three simple yet powerful words: "I get it.”
Praise them. Tell them I love you. Even if they don’t seem to care or notice.
Above all, be persistent. Adolescence is a time of change and growth. Parents need to be persistent with providing support and space to allow their children to become responsible adults. Get support for this time from your partner or other parents. Hang in there and keep being the parent you want to be.