Connecting With Your Teen
Is communicating and connecting with your teen a daily struggle? Do you feel like you don’t know who they are anymore? If the answer is yes, read on.
As children enter the teenage years, they step up the intensity of finding out who they are. This is a time when your teen craves increased independence and you may find he or she becomes increasingly reluctant to confide in you or let you into their world. Relationships with parents often become strained as the teen seeks to forge his or her own identity and connections with friends, peers, boyfriends and girlfriends become a high priority.
Conversations with your teen during this time can be difficult as teens are notoriously private and often don’t like sharing much about their life with parents. As a parent, it’s important to keep trying to connect with your teen and to look for changes in his or her behaviour. These actions signal to your teen your ongoing love and support and will help you to recognise when your teen may be struggling with a difficult issue.
There are many strategies to help keep the lines of communication open and show your teen you value and support them. These may include the following.
- Try to engage in light-hearted casual conversations, showing an interest in school, friends and things of interest to them such as music, movies, sports etc. Show your teen you are prepared to give them your full open-minded attention.
- Listen with your ears wide open and close off the judgmental side of you. Let them see you are prepared to hear and understand what they have to say, rather than jumping in with your own opinions and disapproval. This will show your teen you are available to hear anything they might need or want to say.
- Plan one-on-one time with your teen and be mindful of those spontaneous opportunities when you and your teen are alone together. Make the time valuable rather than whiling it away on a mobile or laptop. Do something of interest to both of you and talk while you do it. Don’t aim to make it a heavy conversation, unless of course your teen takes you down that path. Just start talking and see where it takes you.
- Welcome friends into your home and life. Encourage your teen to bring their friends home and make it a relaxed environment for them to be in. When you welcome their friends, you can get to know them and consequently you get to see and hear more of what is happening in your teen’s life. Showing acceptance of friends often increases the odds of connecting with your teen.
- Be patient. Sometimes you may not agree with the choices your teens make but remember he or she is finding out who they are and what matters to them. Yes, they need to be aware of their boundaries and consequences, but they also need to have some flexibility to experience their own mistakes and consequences. Encourage and guide your teen to learn from the choices they make, but don’t harp on and on about the things that go “wrong”.
- Be positive. Showing your teen you believe in them is crucial to fostering a good relationship. Acknowledge the things they do well and speak positively about their efforts. Not only will this boost their self-esteem and confidence, it will go a long way towards strengthening your bond into the adult years.
- Be alert to signs your teen is struggling. Look for things such as a reluctance to talk about school and/or avoiding going to school, increased aggression, distant behaviour, withdrawal from friends, decreased socialising, sleeplessness, change in appetite or eating behaviours, excessive exercising, falling grades and general signs of stress. Connecting with your teen is as much about talking as it is about observing their actions.
- Be clear in your intention to support and help them. Don’t be afraid to let your teen know you have concerns about them and that you are willing to help them work through whatever the issue is.
- If need be, get help. If your teen discloses difficulties in any area or you see signs they are struggling, don’t feel you have to handle it alone. Seeking help from a counsellor can help you to determine the cause of the issue, develop strategies for dealing with it and identify the path forward.
The teenage years are a time of significant rapid change. Often parents find themselves struggling every bit as much as the teen does to make sense of the changes. If you or anyone you know is struggling to cope during this time, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Karen Cummins at Mindful Crossroads counselling services on 0400 416 535 or fill in the “Contact” section on the Mindful Crossroads website to arrange a confidential discussion.