4 Tips To Staying Connected To Your Teenager
Updated: Sep 23, 2020
I can't tell you how many times I hear the dread in a parent's voice when they talk about the teenage years. It doesn't matter if they haven't gotten there yet, are in the middle of it, or have parenting a teenager in their rear-view. This particular parenting stage can be a tough one but doesn't have to be one you dread.
It seems that one of the greatest challenges with the teenage years is having to change every parenting strategy, tactic, approach that worked so wonderfully when our children were little. Teenagers are different and so we need to adjust. Their need for autonomy, the increased influence of their friend group, the hormonal changes, are all factors that play into our challenges as parents.We all of a sudden find ourselves disconnected and out of tune with our child. The adjustment into the teenage years can be daunting for parents.
It is this very reason that I focus on and write so much about setting the foundation in parenting. The foundation we build when our children are younger is what we rely on when they are teens. The relationship with have with our children changes as they grow but the basic pillars can remain intact. For example, when we let our little ones make small decisions it gives them to the practice to make better big decisions and lets them know that we trust in their ability to make good decisions. Allowing them to come and talk to you and to really listen (even if it is a bad time or you are in the middle of something) means they are more likely to feel like they can talk to you as they move through childhood. How we respond to our children when they are little, sets the foundation for what our relationship will look like as they get older.
Even with a solid foundation the teenage years can be tough. Accepting the changes in our relationship with our child, and managing all the anxiety that comes along with parenting a teen and allowing for more independence can feel overwhelming. As our children move towards independence, our anxiety may increase causing us to parent from a place of fear. Whether it is the fear of your child being safe out in the world, your fear of your child pulling away, or your fear about not having the same influence in your child's life , it can lead us to making parenting choices we normally wouldn't make. Often times, parenting from fear can cause us to be rigid, strict, and have the tendency to overreact. We stop listening to our children and having faith in their abilities to make decisions (after all teenage decisions are bigger and have bigger consequences than the ones that they made when they were little). In order to manage our anxiety and fear we rely on control. It is this that often times becomes the largest challenge in the relationship with your child.
So how do we make the needed adjustments and still stay connected to our teenagers:
1)Manage the Anxiety: Find a way to take care of yourself and get the support you need to navigate this parenting transition. Whether it is from your partner, friends, a therapist, or a coach, it is important to take care of yourself during this time too. As your child becomes more independent this may also be a great time to explore your own independence. Maybe pick up a hobby or learn a new skill.
2)Shift from parenting to coaching: As our children get older they respond less to our the tactics that we tend to use as parents (teaching, sharing information, lectures, etc). One complaint I often hear from parents is that teenagers act like they know everything when they don't have the life experience to back that up. This is true. But approaching them with a long lecture and arming them with information is no longer as effective as it was. Instead, approach them like you would a friend who is coming to you for advice. Approach in a way that shows them that you believe that they have the knowledge and decision making ability to navigate the world. Instead of the parent who makes the hard decisions, you are now the coach guiding them to make the decisions Avoid talking down to them or having them feel as though you don't respect their opinion. Ask questions and let them answer. Most often the teenagers I have worked with won't talk to their parents because they don't want to hear the lecture and don't feel understood. Asking questions and guiding your child to discover the answer allows them to feel supported.
3) Show interest and really listen: There are a lot of things that our children are interested in that we are not. Make an effort to enter their world. When they make an effort to let you into their world, jump at the chance. Making the time to accept those invitations, may lead to even more invitations. That child who is consumed by their own world and peer group, may show you more glimpses of their world if you accept those small invitations. If they aren't rolling out the welcome mat, extend your own invite. Have them share with you the music they like, the video games they are into, etc. It doesn't have to become your interest, but showing that you care about what they are into helps maintain that connection.
4) Approach your teenager with empathy: Do you remember how you felt as a teenager? Do you remember feeling agitated for no reason (thanks hormones) and taking it out on your unsuspecting parents? Our kids today face a lot of challenges and they are right when they tell us that we don't know what things are like for them today (if you hear this line it is a great time to go back to #2 and show interest, ask questions, and let them share).
Sometimes the behaviors we see at home, the attitude and eye rolls, have nothing to do with us. Often times home is the safe place to dump all of those feelings, making parents the recipient of all the anger, frustration, sadness, and fear. Just like when they were little we can be the safe space for them to feel their feelings. This doesn't mean we tolerate bad behavior or are overly permissive. It means that we approach our children with empathy and understanding. We model the behaviors we want to see. We set limits that we need to set calmly and logically.
The teenage years don't have to be the dreaded stage of parenting. It can be an amazing time for us to grow as parents (we too need to redefine ourselves and our parenting during this stage) and for our relationship with our children to change and grow in its own way. You made it through other parenting challenges and you will make it through this one as well.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parent Coach at Mighty Oak Parenting.