This is a friendly reminder that your teenager wants to connect with you as their parent, even though it might seem otherwise much of the time. Teenagers are in the process of establishing their independence and exploring their freedom which often leads to conflict and tension with their parents. At the end of the day though, teenagers want to be known and loved and need this from their parents.
So how do you connect with your teen who seems to be constantly looking at their phone and not-so-subtly rolling their eyes at the things you say?
Meet Them Where They Are
This seems like a simple sentiment, but in our fast-paced world and achievement based culture it can be easy as a parent to want to guide your child to who they will be. It is certainly one of your many roles to help your child prepare for the future, but that is not often where connection is happening.
Brene Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” Ask questions to draw your teen out about what they’re excited about right now. Listen without judging, offering advice or your opinion. Let them know that you care about what matters to them, not by asking rapid-fire questions like they’re in an interview but by leaving space for them and asking occasional follow-up questions thoughtfully along the way. Maybe even let them teach you something!
Prioritize Shared Experiences
An important part of deepening any relationship is sharing experiences together. Teenagers often want to spend more time with their friends at this stage and may have more competing demands on their time with sports, jobs and school demands but that doesn’t mean you can’t make time to spend as a family or one-on-one.
Ask your child what kinds of activities they’d enjoy doing together as opposed to trying to force family fun. Spend the money. Make the drive. Buy the ticket. It will be worth the memories and the stories that begin with “remember that time we went…”
Connecting with your child is often about being in the right place at the right time. For most of us, there are certain windows of time when we’re more willing to be vulnerable or to share in a more meaningful way. There’s often no predicting when your teenager is going to open up about what’s bringing them down or what they’re excited about.
Make yourself as available as possible for these moments. Maybe this means not having the TV on after dinner while they finish homework so that conversation can happen more naturally. Maybe this means using time in the car to check in regularly, waiting for the day when there’s something they want to share. Maybe this means keeping your phone put away during family time or scheduling a date with your child to their favorite local spot. Be intentional about being available and present in the ordinary moments.
Barriers to Connection
It’s common to feel stuck with your teen and to feel like everything you say and do annoys them or gets blown off. As our children become older and more insightful, they begin to want more authenticity from others. It’s common that parents will try to protect their children by not telling whole truths or not addressing “adult issues.” It is still important to have appropriate boundaries with your children, but to reassess those boundaries as they grow. It’s possible that your teenager perceives the lack of authenticity and doesn’t want to engage in pretending things are okay when they’re not. Your teenager is capable of talking about death, sickness, relational conflict, mental illness and substance abuse in ways they didn’t have the language for as younger children. Consider inviting them in to the more complex dynamics in your family life in an appropriate way and acknowledging their maturity but emphasizing that it is not their responsibility to fix it.
At the end of the day, we all long for human connection. Teens today spend more time than ever before interacting with people online but are reporting feeling lonelier than ever. You are one of the main people in their lives that they have regular face-to-face contact with and your words still carry weight, even when it seems like they’d rather be anywhere else. I’ve heard that we often think about our parenting in the “big moments” but often find that the meaningful connections in the ordinary moments of everyday life. Continue to be a student of your child and to pursue connection in a way that works for them.