Being a parent is hard but being a parent to a teenager is even harder.
Teenagers are hormonal! They’re dealing with pressures from school, their peers, and in this high-tech environment, social media too. They’re also testing their boundaries, branching out to be more independent, and truly becoming their own person.
Connecting with your teenager is important to maintaining a healthy and open relationship. But when hormones, rebellion, and peer pressure come into play, finding ways to connect with your teen seems even more challenging.
Despite the challenges, the teenage years are quite incredible… and with the right approach, your relationship with your teenager can reach a deeper level.
Here are some ways to connect with your teenager.
Say I love you often
It may seem obvious but telling your teen that you love them is important. Hug them, kiss them on the cheek with that big embarrassing kiss, and scream your love for them through the schoolyard… well, maybe not that last one! Saying “I love you” often reminds your teenager that you are always there for them and love them unconditionally.
One of the few constants in a child’s life is their parents’ love. You’re not flawless and neither are they, but you share a special bond that will last a lifetime. To get through the toughest moments, you’ll need each other. Your teen may grow weary of hearing those words and may not say it back every time, but they’ll remember you said it often and you were always there for them, demonstrating your affection. Showing them you are thinking about them and love them can be also as simple as making them their favourite dessert, or surprising them with tickets to a movie.
Talk to your teen.
Communicating with your teen is important to maintaining a positive relationship. Talk with your teenager. Make jokes, ask questions, and tell stories. In any relationship, communication is crucial. If you can make them smile and laugh with you, you’ve succeeded.
Nowadays, people are absorbed with teeny-tiny windows on their phones. You’ll never know who your teen is if you let them hide behind their phone or laptop. It’s mind-boggling how much you may lose out on if you don’t make an effort to interact with someone who lives with you.
While technology can have its benefits – sometimes texting with your teen is also a great way to bond – it will never be the same as face-to-face communication.
Also, be ready for your teen to come to you when they feel like talking… even if it’s later in the night. I find often that my teenager will come into my room in the evening when I’m already in bed, and they’ll want to chat at 10:00 p.m. These are the moments when they’re ready to talk – and while I’m ready for bed, I make it a point to be available and listen.
Simply, what teenagers need are parents who are genuinely interested in what they have to say. The teen years are tough for young adults! While you may see their problems as minor, don’t minimize them; these “little” things can feel monumental to them. Their “teen angst” is real. Whether they’re struggling with school, feeling rejection, dealing with bullies, or simply feeling overwhelmed by life, be there to listen. No matter what, you want to be the person they turn to when things go wrong. You will want your teen to feel encouraged to approach you when they need a shoulder to cry on, or someone to talk to. You will want them to feel safe coming to you, and in a judgement-free environment.
Make time for your teen.
Your time is the most precious thing you can give to anyone. That is something your children are entitled to. People grow apart as they get older. It is, nonetheless, critical to maintain constant contact with your adolescent. If you have more than one teenager, make an effort to spend one-on-one time with each of them whenever possible.
I cherish the times I spend with my teenagers together, but that one-on-one time is so precious. I find conversations in the car the best ones with my teenagers; when we’re together driving somewhere and it’s just the two of us, we’ll start to really let lose, open up and start talking about what’s on their mind.
With hectic schedules and our teenagers’ activities and homework, finding time to do much else may quickly become an afterthought. Schedule regular “dates” with your young adults, such as going for a drive, watching a movie, taking a walk, or playing a game or sport. Spending more time together doing something fun is a guaranteed way to strengthen your relationship.
Give them space.
At the same time, give them space. If you notice your teen needs some time away from you, give them the courtesy of that space. They may not be ready to talk to you or hang out with you.
Don’t force them to open up or spend time together – this will only make things worse. It’s important to let them know you’re there for them.
On the other hand, keep an eye out if they begin to fully retreat. Don’t assume everything is fine and they’ve been hiding out in their room for days as normal behaviour, because “they’re a teenager”. While not every adolescent suffers from depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation, these issues are common among teenagers. If you suspect your young adult is dealing with a mental health concern, reach out for help.
Have an open door.
At this age, teenagers’ friends are so important. Invite your teen’s friends over as often as possible, allowing your home to become a welcoming, pleasant hangout spot for after-school hangouts and weekend get-togethers. You may get to know your child’s friends and keep a close eye on them without being too pushy – and even understand your teen even better too!
Be interested in what they do.
What does your teenager like to do? Do they have hobbies they enjoy? Encourage your teen to pursue something they love and show interest in it too. Sure, you may not be a fan of the video games they play, the music they listen to, or the movies or shows they watch. But you should want to be open to hearing all about it! It’s important to support your kid’s interests and get involved when and where you can.
Do they enjoy watching or playing a sport? Participate by watching the game with them, or being that parent at their games, cheering on from the sidelines. They will appreciate it in the future and remember that you were there.
Share meals together.
No matter how busy a household can be, finding time to sit down and eat together is the best way for the family to stay connected. Make it a habit in your home to sit down and eat meals as a family, whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, a weekend brunch, or dinner. You may keep up on current events and trends, share stories of the day from school, or talk about the latest news in pop culture. Pre-COVID, my family and I used to enjoy our bi-weekly dinners out; it became a ritual and something we all looked forward to doing together.
Set healthy boundaries.
While you’d like to be your teenager’s friend, remember that you’re still their parent. Most teenagers don’t need another friend; they need you to teach, nurture, and guide them as their parent. Don’t confuse your connection for friendship; it’s obviously a lot stronger.
Setting proper limits is an important aspect of being a parent, and it’s also a good way to strengthen your bond with your teen. Even if the “you’re the worst mom/dad ever!” comments start flying when you set limits, your teens will appreciate you later when they have grown into respectful, responsible adults.
When I didn’t allow my teen son to go out with friends because he hadn’t finished his school assignments, he was angry with me. It was only later that he told me how much he appreciated my sternness when I took away those privileges – he actually thanked me for being firm. Mind blown!
Healthy limits are vital for teens, even if they aren’t always easy. You’re not doing them any favours if you let them run all over you because you’re afraid of offending them.