By Alicia Bruzek, LMHC with MWR Counseling
Being the parent of a teenager can be, well…tough. Navigating a new stage of life is a challenge; teenage children are in the midst of discovering their independence and developing friendships and romantic relationships outside of the home. It may feel like they are less interested in spending time with family, making it hard for parents to find opportunities to connect with their child. So what can we do? How do we keep our relationships strong and remain involved in a teen’s life?
We can begin by listening – listening and validating their concerns. The biggest barrier to connection I hear from teens I work with is, “They don’t listen” and “They don’t understand.” Even when you disagree with your child’s thoughts on something, you can still choose to validate their feelings. An example of this might sound like, “I understand you feel angry about the rule I set because it seems unfair.” Reflecting back what they’ve shared with you in this manner shows that you are listening. It portrays your desire to understand their perspective, especially when you engage with your undivided attention. Eye contact and body language send a message to your teen about how carefully you are listening to them. By helping your teen feel understood, you open the door to future conversations, allowing your child to feel more comfortable continuing to talk to you.
Connect Through Their Interests
Another opportunity to keep connected to your teen is through their interests – look for chances to learn more about activities or topics they find meaningful. This could be as simple as asking questions about their extracurricular activities or favorite TV shows and giving them your undivided attention as they tell you about it. Maybe you don’t know how to do something they like (from skateboarding to video games) – can you create moments in which they get to be the expert and teach you? Perhaps you can share music or the latest Netflix release… and share your reviews with each other (10/10, would recommend!). Or maybe it’s sitting down to dinner without phones or technology to serve as distraction.
One last approach to connection: allow your teen to develop and share their own ideas and opinions without interruption, correction, or judgment. Supporting them when they ask for advice helps them develop problem solving skills while they still have you and the security of home to fall back on. Teen years are about finding an identity; you can give your teen a safe space to explore their ideas and values.
Read the first two posts on connection with MWR Counseling here:
Connection: A Powerful Tool in Overall Wellness
Bringing Connection to your Relationship with your Toddler
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