Connecting with teens can be challenging. The stereotype tells us that our sweet, loving child has turned into an argumentative, rebellious young person. More likely, however, is that your connection has shifted. Your child is more inclined to stare at a phone, hide in their bedroom, or connect with friends on social media. You miss them.
These challenges can feel exacerbated when your teen is also boarding away. You call and they don’t answer. Or they do answer but their responses are mono syllabic. They’re doing “fine”. School is “fine”. Their friendships are “fine”. You feel like they’re talking past you – and all you want to do is connect.
Prioritising Peers Is Developmentally Appropriate
From time to time people will offer reassurance that “it’s normal for teens to pull away” from their parents. This is not entirely true. While this can happen, a more accurate way of describing adolescent relationship processes is that they begin to prioritise their peers. Sometimes this will include a sense that they are pulling away from us. More often, they want to connect – it’s just that they need to spend time with their peers.
It’s not a reflection on you if your relationship begins to shift. It’s not “bad parenting” that causes the changed priorities. And it’s not something worthy of conflict. Our goal, instead, is to maintain connection despite distance, and to push through the prioritised pull of peers to stay close.
Connecting With Teens: 5 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Teen
1. Think egalitarian, rather than authoritarian.
Research shows that the best parent-teen relationships are egalitarian, not authoritarian. This means it’s best to reduce correction and direction. It’s better to emphasise connection. Take the time to listen and talk. Empower them to problem-solve rather than being the “fixer” in the relationship. Express your faith and belief in your child.
2. Create opportunities for communication.
Evidence shows that teens deal best with their adolescent upheavals when their parents take time to listen and talk to them. So make it easy for them to reach you. Find out what type of connection they want and go with it. Do they prefer instant messaging, social media, or plain old phone calls and text messages? Make sure they know they can contact you whenever they need to.
Some teens don’t reach out to their parents. So, the second step is to create opportunities for communication. This might be family mealtimes when they’re at home, or regular phone calls during a long break between classes when they’re at school. It matters less when it is, and more that you are creating space for that communication to happen easily and naturally.
3. Create new family traditions.
Family traditions are important – and they help you remain connected as a family even when you’re not together all the time. Boarding interrupts the flow of long-held traditions – but it also provides a new opportunity to create new ones. For example, you might head to their favourite taco place the first night they’re home after term ends. Perhaps you might head into town to collect them and make a weekend of it? Or It could be bushwalks, fishing, or camping during holidays. It doesn’t have to be big, exciting things. It’s the little things that can make the biggest difference in connecting with teens.
4. Tell them (and show them) you love them. Often.
As parents, we need to offer our teens daily love and warmth. It might be a text message each day. It could be a dad joke via email each night. Connection is the currency of relationship. Most important of all – they need to hear that you love them. The words matter. Hearing it matters… especially when they’re away.
5. Have fun. Their fun.
One of the best ways to continue connecting with teens is to keep having fun together. But the trick here is to make sure it’s something fun for them. In other words, just because you love model planes, your teen may not. Find out their loves and talk with them – often – about them. What matters is the connection, not the activity. If they’re having fun, chances are you will, too. And you’ll love the feeling of being close to your teen again.