Connecting with Teens: How to Stay Close While Still Giving Kids Their Space

Father and teen sonTeenagers are notoriously difficult to get along with. That darling child who once worshiped you may now struggle to remain in the same room with you. But what is often neglected in parental cries about the difficulty of teenagers is that parents of teens can be just as difficult as the teens themselves! The way parents react to teenagers’ tendency to pull away, keep secrets, and prioritize friends can create even deeper schisms in the relationship. It doesn’t have to be this way. In most neighborhoods, there’s one mom or dad who all the teens flock to for advice and friendship and whose children find cool and helpful rather than embarrassing and lame. If you channel the secrets of these parents, you can cultivate a warm, loving relationship with even the surliest teenager.

Respect Your Teen’s Choices
Conflicts between teens and their parents often begin with choices that, in the grand scheme of things, truly don’t matter – green hair, music you don’t like or don’t understand, an obsession with videogames, and other changes in your teen’s personality. But if you try to really understand these choices, you may end up with a closer relationship with your teen. Even if you can’t or won’t understand why your teen loves her green hair and loud music, though, back off of criticizing her for her tastes. Save the parental authority for things that really matter, such as grades.

Similarly, if your teen has adopted new political views, treat this as an opportunity for greater understanding. Teenagers love feeling like they know more than their parents, and asking your teenager to explain her ideas gives her just such an opportunity. But even better, it fosters real communication and allows you a chance to listen to and understand what’s going on in your child’s mind.

Manage Time Wisely
The desire to spend time with friends—and avoid parents at all costs—is an important part of adolescent development that allows your child to differentiate herself from you. So rather than spending time together by taking time away from her friends, take advantage of the time you already have. Rides to school and soccer practice, trips to the dentist’s office, and long waits for meetings all provide you with an opportunity to talk to your teen. Because your child can’t leave and because she’s bored, she’s much more likely to engage with you and less likely to resent your attempts at conversation.

Use Conversation Starters That Matter
Teenagers frequently feel that their parents don’t understand them and don’t listen. And unfortunately, they’re often right. The generational divide, in conjunction with parents’ fears about their children’s safety, can greatly inhibit communication. Sometimes parents are at a complete loss for what to say to their kids. Conversation starters that allow your child to talk about herself – which everyone loves to do – and that foster greater understanding are ideal. Some things to consider asking your teen:
•    What do you like about this song? Can you tell me more about the artist?
•    If you could change one thing about our relationship, what would it be?
•    What’s the hardest thing about high school?
•    What wisdom do you wish you could pass on to younger siblings?
•    Do you ever wonder what I was like as a teenager? I’ll give you a free pass right now to ask me anything, and I’ll be completely  honest.
•    What’s going on with your friends these days?

Befriend the Friends
Perhaps the greatest secret of “popular” moms and dads is that they befriend their children’s friends. It’s easy to feel resentful of these strange creatures who are taking your child away from you, but the truth is that they’re also the key to a healthy relationship. Get to know your kid’s friends and take an interest in their lives. If your child’s friends think you’re cool, odds are very good that your child will too!


  1. Harwood, R., Miller, S. A., & Vasta, R. (2008). Child psychology: Development in a changing society. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  2. Rothwell, J. D. (2010). In the company of others: An introduction to communication. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.


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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment

    September 24th, 2012 at 12:17 PM

    Just wish my parents understand all this.If I want to spend more time with friends than with you guys then it doesn’t mean I do not like you,it only means I am growing up and things do change,no need to get so emotional about it!

  • Daniella

    September 24th, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    It’s so tricky with teens! They want their space but at the same time they are still just so needy too! Sometimes I really feel loike I need an interpreter for mine because it is like she says one thing, means another, and I am totally supposed to get all of that without any help at all!

  • TYRA

    September 24th, 2012 at 9:24 PM

    Connecting with teens? Most parents think it is an impossible idea.Part of reason why they think so is because they firmly believe they are right and the teenager is wrong at ALL times.

  • seth

    September 24th, 2012 at 11:53 PM

    never easy to connect with the other no matter what role hat you’re wearing – whether that of a parent or the teen in question. there is bound to be disagreements and even heated arguments but the key would be to use the same for self development and to not let it become a sour point thereby creating a glass wall between the parents and the teen.once that happens it becomes a totally different relationship for ever.

  • Vicky B

    September 25th, 2012 at 3:50 AM

    For my family it always felt best when I kept up with the things that were current and relevant for my kids. I tried to kind of stay in the loop of the current events that were important to them- who is so and so dating, who sings that song, etc- so even when it would feel like we had nothing else in common, we would always have at least some kind of conversation starter together.

  • JW

    September 25th, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    I have noticed that many times these days it’s as if parents think that they are far too busy to engage with their kids. I do like this article says and try to make the most of the time that we have together. Make conversation over dinner, while you wait for an appointment, whereever you can to stay in touch with your kids.
    Please son’t use that time that you have together planning your own agenda, working on your own work issues, or making appointments. Take advantage of having this kind of time with your children and make the most of it.
    I think that sometimes we forget that all too soon they will be out of the house and on their own, and then we will all be wondering where all of that precious time together went to.

  • Gina

    September 25th, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    Two of my children are in their 30s now and from my experience I think the conflict between an adolescent and his parents is just unavoidable.Nobody can be blamed for it individually as it takes two to tango.

    Youngsters think of themselves as adults in this stage and even concern and care from parents is interpreted as the parents trying to have a say in every aspect of their lives,thereby creating a conflict situation.

    As for the parents,they need to realize that their little bundle of joy is growing up and they need to adapt to this.Changes are bound to happen in youngsters at that age and that should never be interpreted as rebellious,it is a natural process.Remember,you did the same when you were that age,Some things are different just because of the times we live in.

    With a little bit of understanding,this relationship that is often seen as something where conflicts abound can be a pleasant friendship.And yes,I was and still am that parent that my children and there friends always have as a friend and I love talking and interacting with these youngsters.

  • murray

    September 25th, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    wish I had parents like you,gina.its really hard to deal with parents who think of themselves as the absolute authority and that anything their young children say or do is obviously wrong.

  • Scott

    September 26th, 2012 at 5:34 AM

    My wife and I have always said that when our kids get older we want to have the house where all the kids wnat to hang out so at least we can keep an eye on what’s going on and who they are hanging out with!

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