Parents of teenagers frequently find themselves distraught over the sudden change in the relationship they have with their maturing adolescent. There can be reports of abrupt shifts in their teen’s demeanor, along with emotional distancing.
Does this sound familiar?
Teen goes into their bedroom, shuts the door, and offers up few words without parental interrogation.
While this could be a bit of an exaggeration, the years of adolescence present a new stage in which parents can feel locked out of their teen’s world.
It happens fast and parents want to do everything in their power to restore the relationship they may have once had when their child was just that, a child.
I’ve worked on equipping parents with the tools to cope with this developmental stage because the truth is that teens need the opportunity to assert themselves and safely move toward independence, but that doesn’t mean that parents and teens can’t find some neutral ground from which to connect.
Here are some helpful suggestions to enhance the relationship with your teen.
- Read a book together. When my husband was deployed, we used to read the same books and this laid the foundation to broach completely neutral topics during a stressful time in our relationship. When emotions are heightened, which is often the case with teens, it can be challenging to communicate effectively and find an innocuous topic. The subject matter, moral dilemmas, and characters in books can spur a lively dialogue and allow you to better understand how your teen views the world.
- Allow your teen some negotiation power. This does not mean you have to give in to your teen’s every demand, but giving your teen a voice will empower them and it may help you reach that middle ground that you both can live within. This practice in itself will also reinforce the array of gray area that we experience in life. Our world doesn’t operate in absolutes. It’s not always all or nothing; black or white, so navigate together in this murky water and reach a compromise.
- Try something new together. Hiking? Pottery? Volunteering? Get out of your own comfort zone and encourage your teen to do the same. You may even let them know your trepidation about trying something new. This will signal to them that you are receptive to putting yourself in new situations and are open to personal growth, while doing something fun together.
- Teach them something you are good at. At first, your child may pass up the offer, but keep inviting them to participate and showing them the fruit of your labor. Cooking and baking are great avenues because most families have at least one special recipe that has been passed down and this is an irrefutable life skill. You will also be modeling your own confidence and personal awareness of your strengths.
- Examine musical lyrics together. You may not have the same musical taste as your teen, but having a firm grip on outside influences is critical to understanding some of your teen’s perspective. Find a song you can tolerate and ask them what they think it’s about. Music has a way of sneaking words into our mind, and even has us repeating those words aloud as we sing along. Challenge your child to create personal meaning from those lyrics.
- Tap into your teen’s natural gifts. If your teen has a knack for technology or interior design, ask them for their help! Be open to their suggestions and listen. Appreciate what they have to offer. As adolescents come into their own, it’s especially important to draw out their strengths and allow them to harness these talents. The key is being nonchalant about it and allowing your teen to feel needed and valued without feeling too weighed down by an additional burden of responsibility.
- Be okay with silence while in the presence of your teen. Just be. Fight the urge to ask questions, pester about chores, or give them another reminder. Just let the silence offer an opportunity for your teenager to bring up whatever they are comfortable sharing. This won’t always work, but I promise it will give your teen the safe space to share if they feel inclined.
- Read about current events that involve adolescents. Get varied perspective from different sources and then use this as a platform to engage in dialogue. Educate your child about these events and ask them what they think or what they would do in a similar situation.
- Keep boundaries firm. As your child gets older and is capable of impressing you with their maturity, be sure that you don’t begin to treat them as your friend. You can communicate openly, share interests, and express ideas, but they must know you are the parent. Be willing to hear your child out and validate their opinions, but keep boundaries intact. Curfew, house rules, and behavioral expectations should be clear and enforced.
- Share about your own life as a teen. Use discretion as you open up, but remind your teen that you were once in their shoes, faced obstacles, and made mistakes. Help your child understand who you are and who you used to be. This will help them relate to you and also show them about growth over time.