As teens grow closer to being independent adults, it’s normal and expected them to withdraw from their parents and other family members. That said, parents need to continue to make an effort to connect with their teens. Connecting with your teen can allow you to better communicate even as they build up walls between you and them.
As your teen goes through various phases, stages, and challenges, solid communication with them will help you provide the right type of support for your teenager.
6 ways to better connect with your teen
In theory, communication should be effortless with the members of your family. You know everything about them, after all. In reality, it can be the most difficult thing in the world to communicate well with the people that you love. Developing effective and healthy communication skills can help you and your troubled teen both.
1. Listen, don’t lecture
It’s easy to fall into the pattern of lecturing your teen when he acts a certain way or comes to you with an issue. It is important to understand that it is much less important to talk and try to get him to listen to you than it is that you listen to your teen.
When your teen comes to you to ask a question or get advice, they need a calm and rational parent who will assure them of a safe space for discussion. Responding with judgment to some of the concerns that your teen brings up will only serve to teach them that they can’t trust you with their thoughts or feelings.
Your teen needs you to be a sounding board for him. He doesn’t require you to tell him what he should do or how he should feel. Most teens are generally okay with hearing the opinions of their parents, but they should be shared in a manner that doesn’t come across as condescending or judgmental.
This is, of course, outside of him needing to go to school, get good grades, and do chores at home.
2. Creating family routines and traditions
When last did your family take a hike around a local hiking trail? Or perhaps ride your bikes around the neighborhood?
Family traditions and activities done together can help you to connect with your teen. For example, you could cook dinner together on a Friday night or order pizza and watch a movie together on Sunday afternoon. Whatever it looks like, the goal is to connect with your teen by doing something that he also finds enjoyable.
Holidays and other family celebrations can also be something that you all do together—prepping the menu for Thanksgiving, shopping for gifts for the rest of the family for Christmas, or going on a road trip at the start of every summer. Ask your teen what he may find to be enjoyable. You might find yourself surprised at how much he enjoys this time together as a family.
It’s also a good idea to have dinner as a family as many nights as you can each week. Dinnertime can serve as an excellent opportunity to discuss your day, talk about your concerns, and simply connect.
3. Open your home and your heart
While you don’t want to find yourself on the six o’clock news for having had teens drinking in your home, it can be a positive thing to open your home up to your teen’s friends. For most teenagers, there is nothing more important to them than their friends. Make your home a comfortable and safe space for your teen and friends to hang out after school or get-togethers on the weekend.
This serves the dual purpose of allowing your teen to unwind and have fun in a safe space while also allowing you to get to know the other teens in his circle of friends. As a bonus, you could become the home base for other teens who may not have good support in their own homes.
4. Don’t take verbal battles personally
You and your teen will inevitably find yourself engaged in a few verbal battles. There may be some slammed doors and stomping feet along the way. But you mustn’t take the outbursts personally and don’t let your emotions rise to the occasion.
Remind yourself that the things your teen says and does aren’t a reflection of your parenting style. They don’t mean that he’s a bad kid or has the potential to go off the rails. You may not appreciate how he is acting or behaving, but it’s important that you keep your emotions free of the situation.
It’s not going to be easy, of course. But it is perhaps one of the most effective ways to work with the moodiness and angst that most teens display at one point or another.
5. Let them know you understand. Even when you don’t.
The world our teens are growing up in looks quite different from the world that we grew up in. Technology dominates their lives in a way that can be quite invasive. Even if you don’t understand how they rely on social media or communicate with their friends, it’s important to begin each interaction with your teen with a sense of understanding and empathy. You may not agree with or comprehend what they are involved in or what they enjoy, but you don’t need to.
You simply need to understand when something is important to your teen. Today’s teens live in a reality that we as parents typically don’t understand. While you may want him to prioritize a school project over having a friend over to play video games, you may not be aware of their social issues at school. Spending time together can help them to resolve these issues, which are important to them.
6. Don’t leave out the affection
We never really grow out of wanting hugs and affection. Your teen may roll his eyes when you pull him in for a hug, but he may secretly enjoy it. If he is fidgety over getting a hug from his parents, there are other ways to show him how much you care.
Say “I love you” as often as you can. Make sure to say good night and good morning, with a genuine sense of happiness at being around your teen. Keep his favorite sweet treats in the kitchen and do other simple things that will show him how much you care. Teens can often fall into the idea of believing that their parents don’t care anymore because they spend so much time berating them and arguing with them. Simple and sweet gestures can remind him that you love him.
If you find that it’s not easy to connect with your teenager, you may benefit from family and individual therapy. Therapy can provide a safe space for each family member to speak openly and honestly while working together to find the best ways to communicate.