Let’s face it-if men are from Mars and women are from Venus then teenagers might as well be from some unknown planet in a galaxy far, far away. The hell of it is, they are a walking paradox and we have to figure out how to make sure they know they have the support they insist they don’t need from us and the love they pretend they don’t want from us.
Pffft. Is that all? Piece of cake, right?!
It’s crazy how fast things change too, isn’t it? Just when you think you’ve got this parenting thing figured out, your kids become teenagers. It feels like you went to sleep one night, confident in your parenting prowess, only to wake up the next morning and find that someone changed the rules on you. Alllll of them.
All of a sudden, even a simple conversation becomes difficult. Unless they’re in the mood to talk, getting information out of them is like pulling teeth. If you ask a question, even an open-ended question, you’ll likely get a one-word reply or a grunt. Possibly a nod.
They don’t like the same things anymore, their friends know way more than mom and dad-who ICYMI, are definitely, for sure, not on their list of favorite people anymore. At least, that’s what your teen wants you to believe.
And if they catch even a whiff of parental interference in their lives, intended or not, brace yourself, because chances are, all hell is about to break loose.
Even the “my kid and I always, always do this” things are up for grabs. You know, the things that would make you do a double-take if they suddenly stopped?
Take me and my son, for example–every hard or awkward question he has ever asked, he’s asked in the car. Over the years, it became our thing–we talk in the car. So I’ll never forget the morning I discovered that apparently, during the teen years, even the “always” things aren’t a sure thing.
It was early in his freshman year; I was driving him to school and as I pulled out of the driveway I glanced over to ask him a question and he had his earbuds in.
Naturally, as I was mentally ordering the uber-sensitive, ridiculously over-dramatic side of me to pipe-down before she could get started with her he-might-as-well-have-kicked-me-in-the-ovaries tirade, I put the kibosh on that one, because hey, if I’m driving you to school then we’re talking or listening to music together, that’s the deal. But still. That kid was going to tune me out!
I won’t lie, it stung a little.
That was the day I learned that the teen phase of adolescent development will sneak up on you like a ninja in a dark forest. It’s stealthy and will strike without warning. Not that you didn’t already know that or anything.
All joking aside, I know being a teen is hard. They’re struggling with social situations, with school pressures (and anxiety from academic pressure is at an all-time high), and they’re filled with all these intense emotions they don’t know what to do with. To top it all off, they’re trying to become more independent and figure out who they are apart from their parents.
At the same time, and not that they’ll admit it to us, teens actually want to be closer to their parents. (See? A walking paradox!) It’s all a normal part of teen development but it’s still a heck of a lot for a teenager to deal with.
So if their need to seek independence and figure out who they are away from their parents is normal, how do you safeguard your relationship with them? How do you build a bridge while they’re trying to become more independent? And how do you do all that and make sure they’re prepared when it’s time for them to leave the nest?
I’m glad you asked! You can accomplish all of the above by focusing on connecting with your teen.
What’s that going to do?
Well, focusing on connecting with your teen is going to help you communicate with one another more effectively and will help reinforce your relationship as he’s actively pulling away. Plus, it’ll help you help him foster some wildly important real-life skills. He’s going to need those.
What does it take to start really connecting with your teen and how do you keep it up?
Good questions. The good news is I’ve got a 5 point plan to share with you but first I need to say this: while all 5 points are essential to building a good, solid connection with your teen, if, for whatever reason, you’re only able to work on one point right now, start with the first one. Work on the other 4 as soon as you can.
1. Listen more than you speak
Much more! I know we’ve all heard that before but I firmly believe that listening is the single most important thing you can do to connect with your teen and ensure you both survive these years intact!
Listening does not mean prying or pressuring for information. The minute he suspects that’s what’s going down, he’s done talking. So, ears open, mouth shut is the order of the day.
Just listening is crucial but the key to really connecting with him is to listen without judging, without criticizing and without letting your emotions get the better of you. Not always the easiest task.
Think back to when you were a high school teenager. I’m betting you made your fair share of mistakes. I know I made more than I can remember. Your teenager is going to make them too.
Which is why it is so important to listen without judging or criticizing and without letting your emotions get in the way. You want them to know they can come to you, no matter what.
For him to do that, he needs to know he’ll be heard and that it’s safe to talk openly. I know it’s hard sometimes, especially when he’s confessing to doing something stupid or dangerous, or heaven help us all, both, but we need to give our teens the same grace people gave us when we were that age.
It’s not that you shouldn’t give your opinion on the subject at hand. If it’s something you don’t approve of, be honest but keep your emotions in check-especially if he approached you. Thank him for telling you and remind him that you love him, no matter what.
(FYI-at some point, you’re probably going to lose your temper. That’s ok, it happens. We’ll talk about how to handle that in just a minute.)
If he’s talking about a problem, don’t be afraid to just let him talk his way through it–he might figure out the solution on his own.
Haven’t you ever figured out the answer to a problem just by talking your way through the issue with your spouse or a friend? For me, when I’m wrestling with something, my husband is usually pretty good at letting me talk without interruption and half the time I figure out how to deal with whatever it is without him having to say much of anything at all.
Again, anything that helps your teen work through a problem and find his own solution is a good thing, so let him talk, even if he’s rambling, chances are, he’ll circle back to the issue at hand or he’ll talk himself out. It’s ok either way. Just listen.
2. Skip the lecture and keep your cool
We’ve already talked about your teen breaking rules so when it happens, keep your reaction short, sweet and to the point-just like when they were little. It’s ok if you’re angry and need to step away to cool off before responding and if you have a temper, that’s probably preferable. I’m speaking from experience on that one.
When you’ve had time to calm down, tell him what he did wrong, why it was unacceptable, and what the consequences are going to be and ask if there are any questions or if there’s anything he needs to add, if so, he needs to do so respectfully. If he doesn’t, adjourn and move on.
But if you start lecturing or talking it to death, you’re going to lose him in about 2.2 seconds, which is only going to irritate you further and things are going to go downhill quickly. Pass.
Besides, let’s be real, lecturing doesn’t do anything for us either. And all talking it to death is going to do is make us mad all over again.
Do yourself a favor, lose the lecture and if you need to vent, call your spouse. Or your mom or your sister, or whoever will let you get it off your chest and move on. Holding on to anger isn’t good for you. Plus it’ll give you wrinkles and who needs more of those?!
Then, go get a glass of wine or a piece of chocolate (or whatever you enjoy-a treat is the point) and reward yourself for keeping your cool and dealing with the situation quickly and effectively.
Note: this isn’t me saying you need to be all woe is me and go hide in your closet or lock yourself in the bathroom with the wine bottle or that bag of Reeses Cups you stashed in your drawer and have a pity party.
This is me saying: honey, this has been a doozy of a day but you handled it like a boss. Get a treat and celebrate it. No hiding required.
3. Admit when you’re wrong
Teenagers can be prickly and hypercritical and let’s be honest, sometimes they’re going to push the right buttons and we’re going to get really mad and yell at them. It happens to the best of us. When it does, after you’ve both had a chance to cool down, admit you were wrong and apologize. Remind him that you’re still learning as you go-every kid is different and it’s not like they come with a how-to manual.
More importantly, show him that it’s ok to make mistakes but when you do, you need to take ownership of them and apologize for your actions. Remember, our teens take their cues on how to act like adults from us.
4. Parent from the sidelines
Teens still need parenting of course, but, at this stage of the game, it’s more about giving them guidance as they learn to navigate life for themselves rather than simply telling them what to do. They need some room to make their own decisions-good and bad.
They also have to learn how to deal with their own mistakes. If we’re swooping in to fix the issue every time they’re in a pickle they’re not going to develop effective problem-solving skills. Instead of gaining confidence in their ability to deal with things on their own, they’ll learn to wait for someone else to fix the problem. No thank you. We’ll pass on that one too.
5. Give your teen plenty of praise
He may act like he doesn’t, but deep down, your teen really does care about your perception of him. Even when it seems like nothing could be further from the truth, he really just wants your love and approval. More importantly, he needs to know that you love him for exactly who he is, no matter what. Remind him of it, often.
Don’t get discouraged. Trust yourself.
Raising teens is an emotional roller coaster and at some point, all of us wonder if we’re going to survive it. I’m choosing to trust we will and you will too.
Remember that teens are hard-wired to pull away from their parents and towards their peers, so it’s up to us to take a step forward to keep the connection strong. Like every other aspect of parenting, there are going to be times when it’s easy and plenty more when it’s anything but. Even though they’re pulling away, deep down your teen wants to stay anchored to you so just keep making the effort. I promise it’ll never be something you regret.
One of my 94-year-old grandmother’s favorite phrases is “this too shall pass.” At the end of the day, this is just a season and there is so much to enjoy about this time. Make sure you don’t focus so much on the scary or stressful bits that you miss out on all the good stuff, ok? Enjoy it while it’s here because it won’t be forever.