Whether your child is just approaching adolescence or fully submerged in it, you may have noticed a difference. Your cuddly baby is now a teenager, and it can be challenging to navigate your relationship.
It can be tough to stay connected to our children in these years. They spend more and more time with their friends and seem to want to have nothing to do with us. Unless we are intentional about spending time together, it’s easy to drift apart.
During these years, teens need to stretch out and cultivate their independence, all while staying connected to us. If their job is to stretch out, our job is to keep them connected.
Connecting with your teen keeps your relationship strong, and it’s easier than you think. Your teen might roll their eyes at some of these ideas, but once they give it a try, they might realize they actually enjoyed it. And, despite any immediate complaints, they will likely reflect fondly on these times together in the long run.
- Cook Together. Invite your teen to help make dinner one night or breakfast one weekend morning. They can choose the recipe and the music, and you can get some much-needed help in the kitchen. Making a snack together works, too. Even the surliest of teens will have trouble resisting an invitation to throw together a plate of nachos or bake a sheet of cookies.
- Eat Together. Make a point of sharing at least one meal together every day. It can be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a weekend brunch. Use this time to share stories from your day, to talk about current events or upcoming family plans, to name three things you feel grateful for, or to go around the table answering fun get-to-know you questions (start with, “Tell me about a time where you laughed the hardest?” or “If you could have one superpower, what would it be?”). For ideas, check out our Conversation Starters.
- Listen to Music Together. Ask your teen (in a low-key way) to play you a few of their favorite songs. Listen closely, and ask them to tell you what they love about each one. You might be surprised by how much they light up. Whether you like the music or not, try to get in touch with why they like it. Notice the energy and the emotion of the song and the way it moves them. This is a gesture of love that won’t go unnoticed.
- Tell Them a Story about Them. Share a memory of something hilarious, maddening, adorable, or amazing that your teen did when they were younger. Teenagers love hearing stories about themselves, and they won’t be able to resist laughing at their childhood antics. Every story you tell will allow them to develop their sense of themselves, deepen their connection with the family, feel your love, and know that they belong.
- Work Together. Chores aren’t at the top of anyone’s list of favorite things to do. But working together can make the experience more efficient and more enjoyable. It can also be easier to have a conversation when your hands are busy and you don’t have to make eye contact. Who knows what topics might come up while you’re doing the dishes, raking leaves, or organizing a bookshelf together?
- Make a Date. Once or twice a month, plan something fun for you and your teen to do one-on-one. This could be going to the movies, taking a hike, seeing a concert, volunteering, getting a haircut or pedicure, going out for ice cream, or staying in and playing a game. Avoid the standard arguments and just enjoy each other’s company.
- Invite your Teen’s Friends Over. Then again, who says it has to be one-on-one time? Your teenager’s friends are one of the most important things – if not THE most important thing – in their life right now. Invite your teen to have their friends over to your house as often as you comfortably can, allowing your house to be the hangout. This will allow you to get to know your child’s friends and to stay connected with what’s going on without having to pry.
- Be Honest With Them. Encourage your teenager to come to you for straight talk – and then deliver. Whether the topic is relationships, sex, drinking, drugs, or anything else under the sun, if they know you will tell them the unvarnished truth and offer advice in an adult-to-adult way, they will keep coming back for more.
- Be Available When Your Teen Wants to Talk. Although the timing may not be ideal, your teen may want to talk when something is bothering them. This can be challenging when we’re also managing a demanding job and other responsibilities, but setting everything else aside when they are looking for a listening ear lets them know how important they are.
- Just Listen. It’s no coincidence that the words “listen” and “silent” are spelled with the same letters. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, we try to help our teenagers by minimizing or trying to solve the problems they bring to us. But that gives them the impression that we don’t take them seriously or that we think they are incapable of finding solutions themselves. Rather than offer your own opinion or approach, try to serve as a sounding board and ask questions that can help them pinpoint their emotions and achieve greater clarity on the issue. Above all, validate their feelings and tell them that you love them and believe in them.
- Show Some Love. Even though your teenager may act like they are all grown up now and way too cool for this sort of thing, they still need your love and affection. Keep doing all the things you have done naturally as a parent up to now. Tell them you love them. Say “good morning” and “goodnight.” Hug them hello and goodbye. Sure, you might hold back if your teen’s friends are there. But then again, you might just hug their friends goodbye, too.