Undoubtedly, the teenage years are awkward and confusing for parents and adolescents. The obvious instigator is hormones, along with developing minds and bodies. Teens are trying to navigate a world at an in-between stage, not quite an adult but no longer a child. The exposure to the world is becoming more advanced, and the ante on expectations is raised. Maintaining a connection with teenagers is admittedly challenging.
There is a clear and understandable tendency for teens to desire more privacy. However, we still want to keep a watchful eye on them within reason. New boundaries are established, but we don’t want to be left out altogether.
How do we, as parents, keep the connection alive and well?
The slightest nudge of being excluded from their lives can feel like they are in the preliminary stages of shutting us out completely. But, of course, we want to respect privacy and independence, and I’m a proponent of both. But how do we stay connected and keep the relationship open?
I promise I haven’t perfected this, but I do have a few ideas I’ve practiced that have helped me maintain a connection with my teens.
Keeping the lines of communication open is imperative. I try to make sure it feels organic and that I’m approachable. I wouldn’t want my kids ever to think they couldn’t tell me something or not ask me questions. We talk. Some days more than others, and I carefully gauge the receptivity. While moods can shift constantly, I try to respect the boundaries and keep the conversation going. I ask questions, sometimes a lot of them.
It doesn’t mean they will always answer or divulge details, but they must know I care enough to ask. Almost daily, I do a check-in. I want to know how their day was, if anything is going particularly well, or if there are any challenges they are facing. Maybe this is school-related or about their friends. I want to be in the know–even if I don’t get every minute detail. My boys know I’m not too fond of surprises, and I’d prefer to have heard something from them about a poor math grade before seeing the report card.
It’s a natural reaction to try and solve our kid’s problems. We don’t want to see our kids hurt or struggling, so often, we will be quick to rescue them and offer solutions. Instead of telling them what to do or how to handle a situation, I try my best to help them problem-solve their way through. The best approach to this is by asking questions. “What do you think you need to do to boost your math grade?” Work through it with them, not for them. Asking questions is the easiest way to get them to resolve their issues.
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Be an Ally, not an Enemy
This doesn’t mean I’m their friend before their mom, but I can also be a friend when they need me. Most importantly, I’m their mom first. It means I’m on their side, but not to the point where I excuse them. Our job as their parent is to make sure they can be an adult someday and function independently. This doesn’t mean I do everything for them; I help show them how to do it themselves. I can help them find a math tutor, but it doesn’t mean I’m doing their math homework. There is a clear distinction between friend and mom.
We’re all entitled to a certain degree of privacy. Don’t confuse this with tuning out altogether. I’m a very checked-in parent but am also very hands-off. The most valuable way to learn is by failing and making mistakes. Although it’s difficult sometimes, I let them learn for themselves–within reason and providing it’s safe. It’s easy to want to help them, but as we allow them to problem-solve, they also need privacy to sort out their issues and make mistakes. Refrain from going through their backpacks and notebooks secretly to see if they’re actually doing their homework; the report card will speak for itself.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. This is my favorite way to connect. I’ve proactively gained interest in some of their hobbies. Our family is driven by sports–as spectators and as active participants. My boys play sports, and of course, I’m there on the sidelines, cheering them on, driving them to games and practices, and ensuring they’ve washed their uniforms. But occasionally, I’ll also throw the football around with them or go outside and shoot a few hoops. It doesn’t mean I’m always playing with them, but I get involved and show a degree of interest.
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Our television is tuned into the current game, and I’ve started to learn athletes’ names and the teams they play on. I even have my own favorite teams. My boys also love collecting, trading, and selling sports cards. I’ve joined them. Rather than being an outsider to their conversations, I started to learn about the hobby myself. Now I engage with them and understand some of the terminology and sports card jargon. Sometimes, I trade cards with them from my collection.
Parenting teens is trying, and it can be exhausting. We are often passengers on their roller-coaster rides of emotional ups and downs. If we maintain a solid connection before getting shut out, we can keep the challenging times to a minimum. There are always exceptions; sometimes, we will be the last person they want to see or talk to. Try taking a little interest in their lives and their experiences, and take an active part in their adventures once in a while. It can be as simple as asking a few questions or playing a game of cards for 15 minutes. It doesn’t mean you’re holding their hand at the mall or eavesdropping on conversations with friends. It’s all about balance and keeping the connection open.
We may not be rocking them to sleep anymore, but we can still give them a quick hug goodnight. But only after they’ve finished that math homework!
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