Our teen’s job, according to their developmental biology, is to separate from us.
Teenagers are growing and learning and figuring out what is important to them and how they feel about their relationships and what they think about the world. Their values are becoming clearer and their self-image is solidifying. That’s a lot of work! It’s what every cell in their body is compelling them to do.
It’s not our teen’s job to connect with us. It is OUR responsibility to connect with THEM.
Our teenagers need to be connected to us. It’s our job to make that happen and to keep it happening.
As they explore their independence it doesn’t help anyone if we resent them for it or wish they were different. Reality is reality, no matter what we think of it or how we feel about it.
This piece is geared towards parenting younger children, but in my opinion every point makes sense for teenagers too. As Dr. Laura writes, a strong connection is the only reason children willingly follow our guidance. The work of parents – every single day – must be to strengthen a sense of emotional connection, so that we are empowered to get on with the work of guiding and supporting our young people into adulthood. I think suggestions 5 through 10 are the most important ones for parents of teens. I really encourage you to think about and try #5, #6, and #7.
We are heroes.
We do this work as parents of teenagers in the face of their indifference, anger, and other unpleasant rebuttals. THIS IS REALLY HARD. It isn’t like when our kids were small and they sat on our lap and followed us around and begged to watch us poop.
Your teen might want you to leave him alone. Keep working to connect with him anyway.
She might seem like she’s doing fine on her own. Don’t believe it. Her needs are just different now. Keep working to connect with her anyway.
Your teen might say mean things to you. Keep working to connect with her anyway.
You might feel embarrassed or even humiliated by the things he does and says. Keep working to connect with him anyway.
She might act like she hates you. Keep working to connect with her anyway.
Work to connect with your teen in ways that are sensitive and respectful and thoughtful and creative.
What worked when she was smaller probably won’t work anymore. Be bold. Think out of the box. Be willing to look silly.
Connecting with teenagers is all about being available and interested in them in a low-key way. Don’t interrogate him with probing questions or try to be her best friend. Truly relax and lean into your teen with your warm attention. Sometimes it’s simply a mental and emotional space you create with a smile and a fresh snack as you sit at the table flipping through a magazine.
Last week I advised a parent I was coaching to look up the show her teenage daughter was obsessed with on Wikipedia to quickly learn the characters and story line. Knowledge-cramming in this way could help mom talk with her daughter about something the teenager really cared about, and provide a point of connection. As we discussed ways to connect with teens, the mom suddenly said, “My daughter was sending me food pictures and recipes she found on Instagram a few months ago asking if we could bake them together, and I didn’t realize she was showing me how we could connect!” Mom was pleased to tell me she would commit to making a kitchen date with her teen very soon.
Your attempts may backfire. Sometimes they will fail miserably. Keep working to connect with your teenager anyway and seek support from other parents who are doing this difficult work too. You are not alone. And life is so much sweeter when we feel connected to those we love.
How have you connected with your teen recently? Let me know in the comments below!