Connecting With Your Teen

Connecting With Your Teen

Although there is quite a big age difference and size gap, children going through the “terrible twos” and teens have more similarities than one would think. At both stages in life, kids learn to be more independent. Children transition from babies to toddlers who can walk, talk and move around at age two. Teens are moving from childhood to more grown-up roles. At both phases in life, kids are moving away from their parents and having a try at their independence. As adults know, growing up and relying on oneself can be a feat. Hence, our children may act out when life gets cumbersome.

These changes are complicated for teens and their caregivers. Parents may also have a tough time moving from treating their teenager like a child to an adult in training. During middle and high school, kids’ brains are not fully developed, but they are making decisions that have real-life implications. Growing brains means they need trusted adults as guides.

Being a parent of an adolescent is not a cakewalk, but connecting with your child during the transition from kid to adult is more important than ever. As a parent, staying calm and involved in your child’s life can be tricky, especially when it feels like they are alienating their caregivers. So often, the children who push away are the ones who need their adults role models the most. They are “hiding” because they want someone to “find” them.

So, what can caregivers do to support their teenage children?

  1. Validate and listen. When teens talk about their day or the complexity of their lives, lend an ear and authentically acknowledge that what they are going through is tough. So often, they want to be heard rather than given advice.
  2. Remain present. When your growing child confides in you, be fully immersed in the moment. Put away your work, the phone, television, or anything else that may be distracting. Adolescents don’t always want to discuss what’s going on in their lives, so it is essential that when they do, you are giving them your full attention so that they can bond with a trusted adult.
  3. Build connections. Teens have busy lives due to school, sports, and socialization. Spending time with your child between crazy schedules is not effortless, but quality time is vital. Some examples are cooking/eating meals together, game nights, crafting, gardening, movie marathons, or family outings. Spending time with one another will maintain a secure attachment with your teenager.
  4. Trust. As your children age, they crave independence and want to know they can be counted on to make decisions. Building trust with your adolescent is an integral part of maintaining connection. For example, permitting them to run an errand or allowing opportunities to show that they can keep their promise to be home by curfew enables them to understand they can be reliable.
  5. Teamwork. Teenagers begin to make their own decisions, some of which may not meet your expectations. If your child says they will keep in contact with you but fail to do so, your job as a parent is to maintain boundaries by providing consequences and giving your teen a chance to design a solution. Explaining that rules keep them safe and creating a plan together on how they will follow through with expectations in the future gives your child the opportunity to have a say in ramifications and have a plan for success.
  6. Positive praise. It is clear when teens fall short of parental expectations. However, adolescence is also a time for growth. Remember to be your child’s biggest cheerleader, and tell them what they are doing right. Maybe they didn’t ace the test, but you noticed that they studied before the exam. Or they assisted with the upkeep of the house. There are always things that your teen child will be doing right, and pointing out the positives will allow their confidence to flourish.
  7. Know your teen. It is typical for teenagers to make mistakes and learn on the way, but be mindful of the intensity and frequency of undesirable behaviors. Ask your child about unusual changes and be a supportive adult if you notice notable differences in their behaviors. They may need your assistance to guide them through the adversities of becoming a young adult. Teens can undergo significant life changes, and some challenges go beyond what the parent can provide. Intense hardships may be a sign that you can aid your teen by scheduling a session with a mental health provider.

Currently, I am an intern pursuing my Master’s in Counseling and Psychology from St. Mary’s University. I received my undergraduate degree as an Academic and Behavioral Strategist from Mankato State University. Before interning at Lighthouse Counseling, I was a special education teacher who served Indigenous youth. In addition, I implemented programs to ensure the growth of educational and social/emotional learning.

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