Finding ways to connect with your teen or tween isn’t always easy.
This age can be tough.
Their friends are beginning to take center stage, while mom and dad fade into the background.
It can be a difficult transition for everyone involved.
But take heart.
While we may no longer be the center of their universe, teenagers still need their family as a foundation.
In fact, studies show that our teens are equally as needy as toddlers, just in different ways.
This is a time in their life when the amount of time we spend with them matters.
It isn’t always so much about what we are doing, but the fact that we are just there and they know they can count on us.
Being available is important if you want to connect with your teen.
Our presence is one of the few constants when it feels like everything within them and around them is changing.
This is why teenagers who spend quality time with their families have better mental health, are more confident, and are less likely to drink or take drugs.
But how do you connect with your teen or tween when they seem determined to push you away?
Half the battle is making sure that family time is a priority and that it is scheduled on the family calendar.
When it’s part of the routine, it actually can be something older kids look forward to doing. Think regular meals together, movie nights, and family vacations.
Beyond that, it’s all about trial and error and taking advantage of all the small moments that present themselves in each week.
There is no one size fits all solution to connect with your teen or tween.
Many of our teens and tweens will roll their eyes big time at some of the ideas below.
The goal is not to do ALL of them, but to find one or maybe two that are a good fit for you and your child.
Also, you never know until you try.
Most tweens and teens are automatically going to react to any idea from a parental unit with very little enthusiasm. It feels like whether we offer them broccoli or a Ferrari, they’d respond with a similar shrug of the shoulders and monotone answer:
“Sure, whatever, I don’t care….. ”
But often once you get them involved, they begin to snap out of their adolescent malaise and engage. This isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it in terms of building a strong and lasting relationship with our teenagers.
8 Simple and Creative Ways to Connect with your Teen or Tween
There is a general sense among tweens and teens that parents don’t ask questions because we really care or want to listen to what our kids have to say. Instead, they think we are simply prying or looking for a reason to give them yet another lecture.
This is why just about any question we shoot at them is often met with suspicion and deflection.
If you want to connect with your teen or tween and get them talking, sometimes it’s easier to start on neutral territory.
There are several different conversation starter tools that can be fun for a family to use at mealtimes or even in the car. Did you know that the car is one of the best places to talk with tweens and teens because there isn’t direct eye contact? Just that one little factor can make them more likely to open up. (You may also like this post about how to have an actual conversation with your teen.)
Take turns answering the questions and be sure to really listen when your child is talking. Don’t feel like you have to jump in and offer your opinion and definitely don’t get all judgy. The more you listen, the more they’ll be willing to share and you might just find that once the prompted question is answered and the ice is broken, they are willing to tell you more about the things you really want to know.
Here are a few games to get you started:
We keep this right on our kitchen counter. It is a fun mix of age-appropriate questions range from silly to thought-provoking and encourage up-building conversation between parents and kids
We really like this new(er) game. You’ll be amazed at how these card games for teens can work wonders at helping to improve teenagers’ confidence, self-esteem, social skills, and self-growth. It will help improve their listening and communication skills in a way that does not feel forced.
Instead of one-word answers, the Letz Talk Communication Cards ask thought-provoking, open-ended questions that start real conversations.
This fun game is great when you just want to get the conversation moving.
Sometimes it can be difficult for our kids to talk about certain issues. A less direct approach that often works better is encouraging them to open up and share their feelings with us. Creating a shared journal can provide exactly this type of non-threatening communication opportunity to better connect with your teen or tween.
As this practice has become more popular in recent years, there are a number of different ones you can use. There are ones for mother/daughter, mother/son and even more generic ones. All of them provide some great intros about how to use the journals and they provide prompts, so you’re not flying blind trying to figure out what you should write about.
You’re probably likely to get far better reception to the idea of a shared journal from your tweens than your teens, but if you start when they are younger it is something they might be willing to keep up as they move onto the teen years.
Here are a few of our favorites:
What would your kids do if they could makeover your family? With the Radical Family Workbook you can find out how teens advise for parents to stay connected to their kids-a totally new approach to the traditional family meeting.
Family Game Night
No, family game night is not dead. They may sigh and protest, but giving them the chance to take down mom and dad or even their annoying siblings is an offer they won’t be able to resist.
Make sure you’ve got the right games on hand as well. They’ve probably gotten a little too old for some of the traditional favorites. Try some that are a little more challenging or a new game that they’ve never heard of before.
We’ve got some great suggestions for you!
Not a board game kind of family? Okay, well get active and take it outside. There are TONS of fun games to play that are actually way better suited for your big kids then your little ones. Give one of these a try……
Also, keep in mind, family game night doesn’t always have to mean board games.
Sometimes to connect with your teen or tween, it means being willing to meet them on their turf. So, maybe it’s time for mom and dad to learn how to play one of their favorite video games or how to connect with them on the hottest gaming app. Who knows? Killing each other on Fortnite may just be the connection you are looking to have with your big kids!
Create a Photo Book Together
As a generation raising our kids in the age of cell phones, we have cameras at our fingertips to capture every moment of our children’s lives. And we do.
But most of the photos stay in our phones or our computers or floating around in the cloud somewhere. Every so often we might print a few after Grandma and Grandpa pester us long enough and complain about all this modern technology and how they have NO pictures of their grandchildren.
While it may feel a little old school, having real pictures that you can hold and look at is something our children rarely get to experience. And it’s going to be hard for them to take all of those digital memories with them when they depart to college and move on to their own grown-up lives.
So, why not carve out some time and enjoy a little walk down memory lane together. Go through the roughly seven million pictures you’ve taken of them since birth and pick out the best ones for a keepsake photo book. Most of us have signed up for a shutterfly account at one point or another, whether it was to print those photos for the grandparents or because way back before they were out of diapers we thought we’d make a photo book every year… we were so precious back then with all our plans.
Shutterfly often offers some great deals on their photo books, so this can be a fairly inexpensive project. You can check out their current offers by clicking HERE.
If you are looking to turn some of your favorite memories into art, we also love these photo gifts from Minted.
Host Your Own Book Club
If you aren’t readers, this may not be for you. But if you and your child share a passion for books, this can be a great way to bond. Let your child pick a trendy new YA title for you both to read or fall back on a few classics that remain universally loved across generations.
Pick a day that gives you both enough time to finish and then schedule a date at their favorite coffee shop. Treat your tween or teen to their favorite frou-frou beverage and maybe even spring for something sweet to go along with it.
Whether you actually discuss the book doesn’t really matter. That’s the best thing about book clubs. They just provide a reason to bring people together, what happens after that is up to you.
(Okay, but seriously, if you have a super geeky kid like I do who actually wants to talk about the book, you can find discussion questions for most popular books online.)
Here’s a few book lists to get you started:
Trace Your Family Tree
Figuring out who they are is a big part of the tween and teen years. That’s why finding out more about their ancestors could actually be appealing to this age group. They are looking for ways to belong and looking for what connects them to the people and world around them.
Embarking on this journey of discovery together can be fun, fascinating, and a great way to bond. You’ll be exploring the story of your family back for generations and creating the narrative of who you are and where you came from together.
You can share surprising insights and maybe even dig up a few startling family secrets.
Start by encouraging them to talk with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and anyone else who might know more about the origins of your family. This can be a good way to help them build deeper relationships with extended family members as well.
One of these books can help them jump-start the process:
As the pieces begin to come together, use a journal or scrap book to record all the information you gather. Then do some research together on how to take your investigation to the next level. There are many resources out there to assist you or you can even try a service like ancestry.com.
Cook with Your Teenager
The benefits of families eating regular meals together are indisputable. It improves self-esteem, helps encourage strong academic achievement, and contributes to healthier behavior.
But when the kids are the ones preparing some of those meals, it can also provide quality parent/teen time and help them develop useful life skills. You may also discover that they are willing to try more new foods this way.
Pick a night once a week to have your teenager cook a meal with you. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated or fancy, but let them pick out the recipe. It could be a favorite meal that you’ve always made for them, something they choose on Pinterest, or take a look at this post 20 Fast Dinners for Busy Families Everyone will Love.
We also LOVE this cookbook that was a huge hit with our teens: How to Cook What You Want to Eat
Have them put on some of their favorite tunes or even make a special playlist together just for the occasion. Then get cookin’. It may be hard at first to let them take the lead, but try to keep your direction to a minimum. It’s okay if it doesn’t come out perfect or if you end up ordering pizza. Have a good laugh about it and tell them it will be better next time. It’s not about the food, it’s about spending time together.
Many teens today are far more aware of social issues than generations before them. They want to get involved in their communities and help make a difference. Plus, an increasing number of high school programs make volunteer work a requirement and it definitely looks good on a college application.
Support their service-minded passions (and their future college aspirations) by volunteering together. It shows that you’re taking an interest in something they care about and take their passions seriously.
If you already know about a cause that is near and dear to your tween or teen’s heart, contact a related local organization to see about their volunteer opportunities. Do they love animals? Try the Humane Society. Are they concerned about the homeless? Check into local food banks or Habitat for Humanity.
If your teen hasn’t yet found a cause that really speaks to their heart, use a site like Volunteer Match to search for some ideas.
A few other easy ideas to connect with your teen or tween:
- Stay informed of local events you can attend together that appeal to their interests; outdoor concerts & festivals, sports activities, theater productions
- Suggest taking a walk or going for a bike ride together regularly
- Let them choose a Netflix series to watch together
- If they usually take the bus to school, drive them a few times a month and get coffee or donuts on the way
- Redecorate their room with them
- Let them teach you how to do something new on your cell phone or the computer
- Get some adult coloring books and color for a few minutes with them when they are stressed
In order to connect with your teen or tween and build the kind of relationship you want to have with them, don’t try to force things. Look for the smaller opportunities to present themselves or seek out ways to meet them on their turf. Then simply be patient, be a good listener and let them open up to you in their own time.