Think back to the last time you talked to your teenager. How did it go?
Sometimes, it can feel like your child turned 13, disappeared into their bedroom, and never came out. We become safari sightseers in our own home, waiting for sightings of the family teen when they emerge to grab snacks or leave for school. You might feel desperate for a way to connect with your teenager.
Fear not! We’ve got three simple suggestions to help you build a positive relationship with your teen.
Listening seems like the easiest thing in the world. Yet, it can be hard to remember in times of conflict. Especially when you’re dealing with an upset or angry teen, who is pushing your buttons.
“You want me to listen? Nuh-uh! They need to listen!” You might think. “After all, I’m the parent!”
The fact of the matter is that teens are in a delicate developmental stage. They need your support to grow, but they’re also seeking independence. Sometimes they might disagree with you, or set new and unfamiliar boundaries.
The way you deal with these boundaries will affect how your teen responds to boundaries in other relationships. It’s important that you model active listening. Your teen needs to feel heard, so they can hear you.
You can make your teen feel heard by:
- Trying not to interrupt.
- Making eye contact.
- Paraphrasing what they are saying back to them.
- Keeping an open mind and trying to see their point of view.
- Asking clarifying questions.
When we feel defensive or threatened, we have a hard time listening. This is true for your teenager too! If you, or your teen are having a hard time listening, you can take a breath or call for a break. If you need to take a break, make sure to set a time to come back to the conversation.
This can look like: “I see that you’re angry. How about we take a break? I’ll come by in half an hour, and we can try talking again.”
Be prepared to explain your expectations. As your teen becomes more independent, it might seem like they’re constantly pushing against your boundaries. It’s important to take time to help them understand why the rules are the way they are.
For example, if your teen is asking to stay out past curfew, you could say: “I understand that you want to stay at your friend’s house until midnight. It’s my job to make sure that you get home safe, so I can’t go to bed until I know that you’ve made it home. I need to be up early for an appointment, so I’d like to be in bed by 10:30. That’s why your curfew is 10:00 tonight.”
You can take this one step further by asking yourself: is there room for compromise? Maybe your teen could spend the night at their friend’s house as long as there is parental supervision!
Explaining expectations, looking for opportunities to compromise, and hearing your teen show that you care. When you’re willing to be flexible, your teen learns to work with you. This helps them see you as a resource and guide, rather than someone who says “NO” for fun.
Take an Interest
Being a teenager is exciting! Your child is learning all about who they are and how they fit into the world. They’re developing new interests, making friends, and experiencing countless new things. The teen years are also important for developing self-esteem.
You can reinforce your teen’s self-esteem by asking questions about their interests. You might be surprised by how much you have in common. Ask your teen to show you how to play their favourite video game, or make some snacks and binge-watch their favourite show. Chat with them about current events, and listen to what they say. Tell them they’re awesome at least once a day and take a minute to watch them smile when they start to believe you.
When your child tells you about the triumphs and trials of teenage life, try to empathize. If your teen is struggling with something, don’t jump straight into problem-solving mode. Instead remember what it felt like to experience heartbreak, disappointment, or mid-terms as a teenager. Let them know you understand how they feel, and you empathize. Then work together to solve the problem.
Your Teen Still Needs You
Throughout this article we have highlighted the fact that your teenager is growing up and searching for independence. The changes that come with being a teenager can be jarring. In the span of a few years your child will go from being completely dependent on you, to being a young adult with a job, responsibilities, a network of social connections, and all the joy and stress that comes with these things. They might even grow from being small enough to hold in your arms, to being taller than you!
No matter how big they get, or how much they mature, your teenager needs you. You get to be right beside them through these exciting years. They’ll turn to you for all the best and worst parts of growing up.
Be there for them. Enjoy it. You’ll both emerge, on the other side of being a teenager, better for all the effort.