Inside this post: You will feel like you are losing your teen during these challenging years, but if you know how to approach it, you can stay connected and develop an even more meaningful relationship.
You can feel like you are losing them during the teenage years, even though they’re right there in front of you.
One day, you are laughing and getting along, the next you feel like you are sitting with a stranger you don’t know in the least.
They might be unrecognizable, growing six inches in a span of six months.
They might have changed personalities, from sweet and loving to salty and stoic.
They might have changed their interests, their focus, their dreams.
You lose them to their phones. You lose them to their rooms. You lose them to their friends, their activities, their jobs.
You may feel desperate to cling to the child you once knew, the one who adored you, the one you got along with, the one whose hand you thought you’d hold forever.
You may feel like crying from their constant rejection. You may feel lost when you can’t get them back on track. You may feel insignificant when they ignore you or lash out.
You will grow impatient with the status of your relationship. You will feel frustrated with the push and pull. You will grieve what is no longer there.
You will pull back. You will say less. You will watch from afar.
You will take whatever interaction you can get even if it is always on their terms.
You will pick and choose your battles because you are tired of so many battles.
You will try to stay available even though they are mostly unavailable.
And then one day when you least expect it, you will feel something shift.
You’ll see glimpses of the person they are becoming, and you begin to look forward to seeing what they will do with their life.
You start to learn about their new interests, their new passions, their new sense of self.
You will begin building a new relationship, one where you are no longer their sun. Your job is to be their moon, connected by a force so strong that it will never break. You will follow them along, providing light in their darkest moments, and direction when needed. Sometimes your presence is large and looming, and sometimes it is small, barely seen by the naked eye. But you will always be there.
It won’t be perfect. It won’t be what it was.
But if you can survive losing your teen for a little bit, what happens when they come back to you can be even more beautiful.
How to Stay Connected During the Teen Years
For some, the teen years are a breeze. Your adolescent seems to get through with only a few missteps or bumps along the way.
For others, not so much. There are arguments about everything. There are boundaries constantly being pushed. There are tears and frustration and constant worrying. It’s important to know that this is normal.
They are doing these things because they are trying to break free, find their independence, and figure out who they are in this world.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard on us, the parents.
We know from research that parents who spend time with their teenagers raise competent, caring, and more well-adjusted kids.
But what about the teens who don’t want to spend time with us? What about the ones who stay locked up in their rooms or who only want to be with their friends or sneak off all the time?
So, what is a parent to do? How do you stay connected when you have a teen so desperate to cut the cord?
Eight Tips to Staying Connected to Your Teenager
It’s important to understand that every kid is different and that hormones and their developing brains are constantly interrupting their actions in both positive and negative ways.
One evening you may be cuddling on the couch with your sixteen-year-old and the next morning they may be hurling insults at you from behind their bedroom door.
We know it’s hard, but try not to take your teenager’s actions and attitude personally. Instead, just keep providing opportunities to connect.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few great ways to connect with your teen.
Short Trips for Treats: Teens are still kids, and who doesn’t love to indulge in dessert or a frozen iced coffee every once in a while? Whenever possible, see if you can get your big kids to hop in the car for Fro Yo or a quick trip to Dunkin. Once in the car, don’t pepper with them with questions. Instead, keep the conversation casual and see where it goes, or better yet, just sit with them and see what happens. If your kid doesn’t want to go, that’s okay! Maybe bring them home something and take it up to their room while they are studying. Linger around for just a few minutes, and then leave. Remember, you are building trust and respect in this new phase of your relationship.
Family Meals: Here’s the thing: I don’t know anyone with active teens who can sit down and have a meal together every single night. In fact, in our home,j it’s almost impossible to find an evening where everyone can sit down together unless we plan it out. So, be flexible. Sit down and eat with whoever is home at a table without phones or other distractions. Eat lunch on a Saturday with your teen who works the evening shifts on the weekends. Let them include their friends sometimes so they don’t feel like they are missing out. The less stressful you make it, the more they will want to be there.
And when all else fails, schedule it like any other calendar event, but just give plenty of advance notice. “Of any age group, teens may have the most to gain from eating dinner with their families,” Dr. Anne Fishel writes in her article Making the Most of Dinner with Adolescents. “Dinners can protect teens from engaging in a host of risky behaviors: smoking, drinking, getting pregnant, developing an eating disorder, and using drugs. Teens who dine with their families also report experiencing less overall stress, feeling more known by their parents, and having better relationships with them.”
Be a Hang-Out House: Encourage your teens to have their friends over to your house for movie night or to watch an event on the TV. Buy fun snacks, introduce yourself, then make yourself scarce. Creating a welcoming environment for their peers can go a long way to connecting with your teen.
Show up. Whenever possible, show up to everything you can. Every game or event no matter how small. Your presence shows you care.
Learn about their passions. We can’t stress this one enough. If you have a gamer, start learning the lingo. Maybe watch them play a few rounds. Understand why they love it so much and maybe take them to an old school arcade. If your teenager is interested in fashion, take them thrifting or watch some documentaries together about the industry. Whatever it is, no matter how boring it is to you, be interested and involved. There is no better way to support a kid than supporting a healthy passion.
Adjust family traditions. Sometimes we think our teens are too grown up for some family traditions and holiday celebrations, but the truth is, they still want to participate–just in a more age-appropriate way that works for your family. This means you can adjust everything from your teen’s bedtime routine to a holiday celebration to meet your evolving child. That may mean putting together a fun more grown-up Easter basket and still hiding a few plastic eggs, forcing them to go to see some holiday lights, or changing the time you bake cookies with Grandma. Just remember the point is to spend some time together, not just do something because you do it every year.
Keep Asking, But Don’t Take Rejections Personally. Whenever possible, I ask. I ask if they want to go to dinner or watch a movie or go on a walk or go to the store with me. Oftentimes it’s a no, but in those rare times it’s a yes, I’m thrilled. What I’ve learned is just not to take it personally when they decline the offer. Usually, they want to do something with their friends or just chill out after a long day. When they do say yes, don’t bombard them with questions or a lecture. Just try to enjoy the moments.
Use Any and All Forms of Communication. During the challenging teen years, it can feel like every word that comes out of our mouths as parents are wrong. When this happens, take a step back and try to communicate in some other ways. Use a journal to exchange thoughts about a problem, text a reminder instead of barking a list out as your child heads out the door in the morning, or send a funny meme to brighten their day. Remember, there is no one way to communicate and form a bond with your teens. Do what works for you.
Stay available. When all else fails, just stay available to them. Instead of holing up in your bedroom at night with the door shut, stay in the open living room so you will be there when your teens come through the door. Hover in the kitchen while they do their homework. Keep your bedroom door open at night because teens seem to come alive at about 11 p.m.
And if you are lucky enough that your teen comes in to speak with you, give them your full attention. Put down your phone or close your laptop. This time together is gold and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to connect.
What to Do When Your Teen Won’t Talk to You
We know that teens who have trusting and stable relationships with their parents are often better equipped to deal with challenging issues and risky situations.
But what do you do when your teen is withdrawn and you are worried something else may be going on?
If your teen’s behavior has changed significantly in a short amount of time, this is cause for concern. Signs may be that they have disconnected from their friends, lost interest in activities that they once enjoyed, and isolated themselves from others. This type of behavior could be a sign that your teen has experienced some sort of trauma or developed a mental health issue that needs to be addressed by a professional.
If you suspect your teen may be suicidal, you need to address this ASAP. Calmly address your concerns with your teen, validate their feelings, and then work together to find professional help.