Parenting the teen years in many ways is challenging. The teens have developed an identity for themselves. They spend less time at home and become less communicative. Very often, their friends mean more to them and have a greater influence over them than their parents. Children do not naturally shun talking with their parents. They are “trained” to stop talking to their parents because they feel that their parents are not interested in what they have to say or that their parents do not understand them. So here are 12 ways you can establish your link with your teen so he/she feels more connected with you and becomes more willing to communicate with you.
1) Be Interested In Your Teen
Continue to show an interest in your teen and his life. Be genuinely interested in what he has to say. Ask him to tell you about his friends or his interests. Ask him open-ended questions that encourage more conversation rather than questions requiring only “Yes” or “No” answers. Let the conversations be about him, not the homework he needs to get done, or why he did not do what you asked him to. Engage in conversations that do not put him on the defensive. By and by, your teen will feel safe enough to share more about himself with you. The more interested you are in your teen and the more you encourage him to communicate with you without judgment on your part, the less he feels the need to hide things from you, the more open he will be with you.
2) Be Available
Put down your phone. Give your teen 100% of your attention. It may not be a convenient time, but do your best anyway. Every time you turn your child away when she wants to talk to you, you train her to stop talking to you. So minimize turning her away when she wants to talk. If you are never available when she wants to tell you the small stuff, you can be certain she will NEVER come to you and tell you the big stuff. Be sensitive to your teen’s body language. Sometimes she may have something to say but is hesitant. When you are attuned to your child, you will pick it up. Then gently rope her into a conversation and do your best to put all distractions aside. When you show your teen you are available when she needs you, you are building the link for her to come to you when she REALLY needs you.
3) Hold The Advice
Sometimes, teens just want someone to listen to them. When your teen shares his angst with you, hold whatever advice you may have at the tip of your tongue. Just listen, don’t advise. Acknowledge how he feels and bite your tongue. You can ask him questions to help him clarify his thoughts or help him look at the issue from a different perspective. Help him to come up with a solution himself. And when your teen doesn’t feel you are trying to tell him what to do, but are respecting him to come up with his own solutions, he will be more willing to communicate with you. The best part is, by not jumping in to provide advice or solution, you are helping your teen develop guiding questions to ponder whenever he faces a problem. And that is teaching him to fish for life.
4) Show Affection Daily
Give your teen a hug or a kiss, but definitely not in public unless she doesn’t mind it. If hugging and kissing are not expressions of affection in your family, give her a back rub or an affectionate pat on the back. Tell her “I love you”. Make her her favourite meal. Buy her a gift with no strings attached. Or perhaps, bring your teen out for a special date and spend time with her. Just because she has grown up to be a young adult does not mean she does not crave for affection from you. Take every opportunity you have with your teen to show her your love. And no, discipline and punishment, while out of goodwill and concern for your teen, do not come across as acts of affection. When your teen feels your affection for her, she develops an emotional connection with you and knows she can count on you anytime, especially in times of difficulty. And that encourages her to be more open and communicative with you.
5) Let Your Teen Know You Are Proud Of Her
It is human instinct to be drawn closer to those who approve of us. The reason why teens tend to be drawn closer to their friends is because they feel accepted by their friends. Does your teen feel you are proud of him? Does he hear you praising him more often than you giving him a piece of your mind? Does he feel safe to come to you if he is in trouble? Other than showing him affection, let him know you approve of him and believe in him. Tell him you accept him as he is and will support him in his endeavours. If he is a performer, turn up for his performances. If he is a sportsman, cheer him at his sports games. And should he stumble and fall, encourage him and gently help him pick himself up. When he makes a mistake, do not pounce on him. Instead, let him know you are by his side and will help him through the difficult times. Let him know you believe in the goodness in him and help him to do the right thing to make amends. When your teen sees you are with him through thick and thin, he will naturally be drawn to you and feel connected with you.
6) Give Your Teen Freedom
Acknowledge that your teen is no longer a young child. Treat her as the young adult that she is. Give her freedom. Do not helicopter parent her. The tighter you hold on to the rein, the harder she will struggle to get out of it. If you are concerned about her safety, talk to her about it. Share your concerns with her and encourage her to address your concerns with the plans she has. This is the time your teen needs to learn how to extend her wings to take flight. Show her how to fly safely. Do not clip her wings or she will either fail to learn how to soar when she becomes an adult, or worse, go somewhere else to learn how to fly and pick up bad habits along the way. The irony is the more freedom you give your teen, the less she finds the need to stay away from you. So let go of your apron string and you may be surprised to find your teen hanging around you more.
7) Spend Time Together
Such a precious resource time is. And precisely because it is a precious resource, you need to spend it with your family, your child. Do fun activities together once in a while. Go camping, watch a sport together, go on vacations. Spending time together builds common memories and shared experiences. You have something common to talk about for years to come. It also helps you know each other better. And when your teen feels you know and understand him, he will become more open and willing to communicate with you.
8) Create Rituals To Connect
Other than spending time together, having some rituals help you to connect better. It could be a monthly date night with your teen. It could be a Friday night ice-cream. Or even regular weekend brunch with the whole family. Something consistent, something your teen knows will be a time for connection. This is even more important if your work takes you away from home for long hours or long periods of time. Creating these rituals will help you carve out time for each other. And for all you know, it could be something your teen looks forward to, knowing you will be there for her. Like spending time together, this creates shared memories and helps you and your teen understand each other better. And with increased understanding, communication links open up.
9) Do Something Meaningful Together
More than just spending time together, when we are doing something meaningful together, it gets imprinted more deeply in our memories. What could be meaningful time together? It could be doing volunteer work and helping the less fortunate. It could be chipping in and helping to do housework TOGETHER. It could even be a family project of picking up trash while hiking through a park or the beach. When the family contributes together for a common good, the bond gets stronger.
10) Ask Your Teen To Teach You Something
What is your teen good at? Programming? Orienteering? Rock Climbing? Music? Ask him to teach you a little of what he knows. Let him take the lead and be the teacher. There is no greater compliment to a child than having his parents be interested in what he is good at AND having him show them. At the end of it, you may even like it so much you grow your expertise in it. Then you’d have even more common grounds to talk to your teen. However, if at the end of it, you decide you are really not cut out for what he is teaching you, the fact you asked your teen to teach conveys your acknowledgment of his expertise. That helps him feel more connected with you.
You may think your teen is not good at anything enough to teach you. Well, then let your teen take the lead in doing something. It could be letting her plan a family day out and everyone going along with her plan. It could be letting her decide on a family vacation and itinerary (with a budget given) and letting her be the tour guide. It could even be a family movie marathon night and your teen gets to choose all the movies. Whatever it is, let your teen lead and you follow. When you do that, you are telling her “I trust you” and that helps her to trust you in return.
11) Get To Know Your Teen’s Friends
Your teen’s social circle is the key influencer in his life. To understand him, you need to know who his friends are. Invite your teen’s friends over for meals or have him bring along a friend on family outing or vacation. You may get to see a side of your teen you have never seen at home. Sometimes, there may be things he is unwilling to tell you directly (eg boy-girl relationships), but will do so indirectly through his conversations with his friends. Through interactions with your teen and his friends, you share even more common grounds with your teen. It helps you allay some fears you might have when you know who he is hanging out with. It also helps you be more sensitive when he shares problems he has with his friends.
12) Be In Touch With Your Teen’s Online World
Connect with your teen. Ask if you can be her friend on her social media platform. That is where she shows the world who she is. And the most important thing when you are there is you do not stop her from being who she is. You are there as an observer and friend. Do not at any time “discipline” her online for that will guarantee you being booted out before you can say “Facebook”. Send her text messages, whatsapp her to let her know you are thinking of her (NOT keeping track of her). It is extremely important to touch base with your teen to let her know she is on your mind, that she is important to you. When she feels she truly matters to you and that you care about who she really is, she will be more willing to open up to you.
So there you have it, 12 ways to connect with your teen. How do you connect with your teen? Do share it with us in the comments section.
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– Vivian –