As our children grow older and enter adolescence, their want for separation tends to grow with them.
It may seem that suddenly the connection we had with our children disappears and we feel like we have to start all over again. This can be frustrating and disheartening for parents as they try to navigate a new stage in their child’s life. Despite this, we can alleviate the struggles that come with adolescence by fostering connection every day with our teen.
Ilse DeKoeyer-Laros, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of Utah and a child development specialist at Help Me Grow Utah, said, “Not only are there changes physiologically, but also roles are changing. Teenagers have to become independent. They have to start learning to live on their own. They must do this process of making themselves separate from their parents. That said, even during adolescence, parents are really important and the connection with the parent and the child remains a source of security that the child can then explore from.”
It can be easy to feel like our teen doesn’t want to connect or that it’s harder to connect than before. There can also be push-back from the teen even when the parent is trying to foster a connection with them. Regardless of this resistance, it is just as, if not more, important for parents to insist and persist on connecting.
“The older the child becomes the bigger their circle of security and attachment becomes. A teenager might want to go out on their own to sports events, hangouts or sleepovers, so their circles from how far they go away from their parents are becoming bigger. Yet, they still need that comforting connection to refuel their emotional energy,” DeKoeyer-Laros said.
So how can we connect with our teenager who we have no idea how to connect with anymore? Here are three simple things we can do today to foster connection with our teen:
Use contention as an opportunity to connect
All teens are different. In some cases, the teen will still need that close relationship with their parents and even make the effort to connect. Or it could be the opposite and the teen will push back. When a teen reacts negatively, a parent’s natural first response is to become defensive and say something like, “Why are you being this way?”
This could then lead to the teen storming upstairs to their room and slamming the door. While this is a difficult situation, we can try to remember a teenager’s reactions might not always be what we intended or how we would react in a similar situation.
For instance, when teenagers see a face that we think is perfectly neutral, they might see this same face as being mad. The best thing to do in such cases is to try to create a positive experience. Parents can do this by empathizing with the teen by saying, “I understand that you’re really upset.” Or “I see you’re really upset; can you tell me why?”
Being empathetic and trying to enter their perspective will enable the parent to connect with them and turn a potentially negative situation into a positive one.
Use video games (yes, video games) to connect
OK, it doesn’t have to be just video games, but the key to connecting with teens is to try and do something that they like. One good way to connect is to take up a sport or hobby that they enjoy doing, even if it means playing video games with them. Parents can take those hobbies and create opportunities to play or practice together. It also lets the teen know that we care about what their passions are.
Another way is through texting. Today, teenagers mainly communicate through text, chat, direct messaging, etc. Parents can use this to their advantage. It can even help teens open up about their emotions if they are not good at talking about their feelings in person.
A third way is to create family rituals that support connection, like family meals, board games, sports or any family activity where there is an opportunity to talk. It may seem that there are so many things, such as technology, pushing our teens further from us, however, we can find ways for it to bring us closer. Merely taking an interest in what our teenager is interested in will open up new opportunities to foster connection and let our child know we care.
Use persistence to connect
Despite these efforts, there may be some teens who may not want to do those things, and that’s OK. Don’t force it. Instead, try something different tomorrow, and try that for a while. Persistence is key.
It is easy to get discouraged when a parent feels like every attempt to connect is rejected. However, the attempt and persistence are sufficient enough to fulfill a teen’s basic need to feel connected. Once this need is fulfilled, our teens will have the confidence to separate while still knowing we are there to help them when they need it.