By Kate Alcamo, Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist
Creating Connection with Your Teen
Let’s face it: the teenage years are rough. They are fraught with hormones, physical and emotional changes, increased stressors, and so much more. For a lot of families, this time becomes a period of disconnect between parents and teens. And this makes sense to an extent because as our kids get older, we want them to become more autonomous so that they can successfully launch into the world. However, the teenage years are the most important time to make an effort to stay connected to our kids.
The Value of Connection
Why? Well, connection is the foundation of all relationships. Connection acts as an anchor which allows someone to safely venture out into the world. For teens, a strong connection with parents translates to confidence, inner strength, and a growing independence – all things that we want our teens to develop as they prepare to launch. This anchor also allows us to safely weather relationship storms. When we feel connected to someone, we can stay afloat even when the relationship is rocky.
Connection also allows us to be receptive to feedback. If we don’t feel connected to someone, it is unlikely that we will hear and be open to any advice, guidance, or direction from them. As parents, it is our job to provide support and guidance to our teens as they grow and learn. If we are disconnected, they will likely ignore or rebel against our attempts to parent.
4 Tips for Connecting with Your Teen
Unlike when our kids are younger and eager to spend time with us, it can be a little more challenging to find ways to connect with our teens. We have to be mindful to connect on a daily basis and get creative. Here are some tips to help you get started.
1. Show them that you care about what matters to them.
As your teenager grows, they are likely developing an array of interests and passions. Some of these interests you may like and understand, but others may seem totally foreign to you. It is natural to show interest in our kids when they are excited about ideas and activities that we appreciate. But it is equally, if not more, important to show interest in those activities that don’t align with our natural preferences.
Connect by showing genuine curiosity about what your teen is into. Ask them to teach you about the things they like. Try to participate in the activity or engage with the interest with them if possible. Connecting with your teen around their passions will help them feel that you care about them because of your effort to care about what is important to them.
2. Emphasize what you like about your teen.
When I work with teens in therapy, they often share that they don’t think their parents like them. While I know this is not true, I can see sometimes how they could feel that way. As teens grow up, the connection between them and their parents can increasingly feel transactional: do this; don’t do that; why haven’t you done… you get the picture. If you have a teen, I bet you feel like you are constantly nagging them. As a result, teens can start to internalize the negativity in the relationship, often zooming in on it, and minimizing the positivity.
Therefore, it is crucial that you emphasize all of the things that you like, admire, and appreciate about them, and remember to say these things to them regularly. This can also be helpful to parents who begin to get stuck in thinking of their teen as disrespectful, lazy, bad – you fill in the blank. Focusing on our teen’s strengths is really good for both parties and fosters a more positive connection. Take a moment right now to write down 3-5 things you like about your teen. Then make sure to tell them over the next day or so.
3. Validate their feelings and experiences.
Oh, teenagers. Everything for a teen feels like the end of the world. For parents, it can be really easy to fall into the habit of minimizing their experiences and feelings – because, well, sometimes their problems are quite small compared to what we know people can struggle with every day. But to our teen, at that moment, their problem likely feels insurmountable. And we don’t help them feel better when we say things like, “it’s not a big deal,” or “you’ll be fine,” or my favorite, “you’re just being dramatic.” In fact, employing these empathy busters will actually make them feel worse and will go a long way to making them feel invalidated and disconnected from you.
So instead, work on validating your teen’s feelings and experiences – no matter how minor you think the problem is. Try saying things like “that sounds really hard,” or “I can see why that would upset you,” or “tell me more.”
4. Spend time together.
Okay, I know this one sounds hard. I mean, how many teenagers want to spend time with their parents? It’s like their job to act like we are embarrassing, annoying, and uncool to be around, right? The answer is a hard yes, but I promise you that they also still want to spend time with you. They are likely not going to be the ones to ask for it, so, don’t take that as a sign that they don’t want to hang out with you. Take the lead and invite them to do things with you or ask to participate with them in things you know they like. Make these times as stress-free as possible. Don’t talk about things that you know cause conflict or discomfort. There is plenty of time to talk about school and their to-do list. Protect this time so that it feels positive for both of you. Take this opportunity to observe them and attend to all of their wonderful strengths. These positive interactions will enrich your relationship with your teen and build trust and connection between you.
Preparing for a Strong Parent/Adult Child Relationship
These are just a few ways to connect with your teen. Remember, connection is an anchor that will help your relationship weather the choppy adolescent waters. Take every opportunity you can to strengthen that anchor so that when you come out the other side, you will be able to pull anchor and sail off into a wonderfully strong adult relationship with your child.
If you’d like help relating with your teen or with your parents, consider reaching out to a therapist in your area. To begin your search, click here.
© Copyright 2020 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kate Alcamo, Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist