3 ideas to help you stay connected with your teenager

Remember the days when our kids looked at us with complete adoration and love? When we were all they needed and hand-written notes declaring ‘You r the bestest mum/dad in the hole world’ would regularly be posted to our bedside tables? The days when hanging out with us was their favourite thing to do? In fact, they loved hanging out with us so much that it was tricky to find time for the luxury of a hot cuppa! But now you find yourself in the season of parenting a teen, and the state of play may be somewhat different. As parents, we want nothing more than to build connection and relationship with our teens. And we absolutely still can! It will just look a little different from those early days, when feeding the ducks and stopping by your local cafe for a fluffy were enough to make their little hearts sing.

Oh what we would do to hear our teen speak the words, “You are my favourite person”, or maybe have them ask “What would you do in this situation? I need your help, oh wise one!” (Too far?) What a dreamy thought to be invited into their hearts and world – the places that are so readily being shaped daily by sub-cultures, friendships and, of course, technology.

So how do we maintain our influence and continue to build connection and relationship? Notice I put the onus on ‘we’, rather than insisting on effort from our teens to meet us halfway in the relationship. (I mean if they cared, surely they would want to unload the dishwasher in the morning or keep their bedroom tidy, wouldn’t they? Nope, we’re not going to go there.) Instead, I want to invite you to ponder the idea that it is our challenge as parents to pursue our kids, even on the days when their behaviour is challenging. It’s on us! And that’s an amazing privilege.

Here are three ideas to help you stay connected with your teenager, or to reconnect if you’re feeling a little distanced.

1. Meet them where they’re at

Often we try to get connection by inviting our teenagers into our world. “Come hang out in the main lounge or the kitchen, we can talk or play a board game. Or maybe we could go for a walk and get an ice cream together?” we nobly suggest. These are all great things and we should never stop these invitations. Another idea for connection, however, is to use their primary attachments. What I mean by this is simply we enter their world, rather than expecting them to want to enter ours.

Technology, for the most part, is what our teens are attached to. Fellow parents, it’s time we stopped seeing technology as the enemy or the wall that divides us from our kids, damaging our connection. Instead, we can use it to our advantage! If it’s gaming they’re into, then ask to play with them. This could be your worst nightmare, but give it a go. Remember, it’s about the connection, not what it is that is connecting you.

The same can be said for Instagram: “Show me how”. Or YouTube and TikTok: “What are you watching?” And for the really bold – “Shall we do a Tik Tok together!” This will certainly get them laughing at you, which can hurt a tiny bit but more importantly – it’s a form of connection!

“Let’s watch a movie at home – you choose and I’ll buy the pizza.”

Other ideas include mountain biking, dinner out, or a weekend away fishing or camping. Let them choose a way to spend some time together, doing something they enjoy.

And extra for experts: Be a little cool, stay relevant, and keep up-to-date on their interests.

2. Talk less, listen more

I am sure you have discovered that asking your teen to sit down and have a good chat with you or discuss a concern doesn’t generally play out that well. ‘Conversations’ like these can quickly become one-sided, with us doing all the talking. We might even find ourselves moving into lecturing, with the best intentions of course. The problem with over-speaking is that we lose our kids along the way. You may have noticed that they get a glazed over look in their eyes… we might as well be giving ourselves advice!

When you are out being active with your teen, sharing a common interest, or in an atmosphere where the pressure is not on talking, this is when they open up the most. They are relaxed and they might drop something into the conversation that gives you a glimpse into what they are navigating. In these moments, hold the advice and let them speak and reflect, before you yourself reflect on what they’ve said (using your active or reflective listening skills!). You might ask a question like “What did you do next?”, or offer “Tell me more”. And then you can go to expert level with something like: “I’m here for you – if you want my thoughts, let me know and I would be happy to share them”.

When we create an atmosphere of acceptance and belief in our teenagers, instead of forcing our thoughts and ideas onto them, they will come to us as they trust us not to judge. We do best when we demonstrate that we genuinely believe in them – that they have the character and strength to navigate the tricky times, with us as their steadfast support.

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3. Lighten up

Have fun! I’ve noticed that one of the first thing to disappear when times get tricky is the fun factor. Our influence over setting the atmosphere in the home has been sabotaged by the teen in the bedroom down the hall. Fun has a way of disarming tension in a home so don’t give in to mood swings and grumpy temperaments (yours, or your child’s!). Take back the fun! Go a little crazy and do something you enjoy. Laugh, turn up the music, sing and dance. Reset the tone in your voice which will in turn reset the tone of your home. Your teen doesn’t have to join you straight away in all that fun you’re having, but when parents set the tone to positive and uplifting, the teenagers will benefit.

It is hard being a teenager – our kids are navigating deep seas during their teen years. Being accepted, looking right, talking right, and knowing what’s cool and what’s not… It’s tough out there and they need us! As parents, we’re our teenagers best bet for understanding and support. Your teen needs you to be a constant pillar in their lives – to accept all of them, not just the easy delightful side, but the side that is challenging too. With that in mind, we should always be looking for ways to strengthen our connection and relationship with them.

A challenge for all of us is to lean in and pursue our teenagers. They are counting on us. Some days you won’t feel like you’re at your parenting best, but that’s okay. Perfect parenting is not the goal, being available is. So just be there – listening, laughing, dancing, buying pizza…  whatever it takes. You’ve got this!

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