Life is busy and things happen very quickly. At no time is this more apparent than with our teenagers. It seems that sweet 10-year-old disappears overnight to be replaced with a sullen 13-year-old.
The old ways of connecting are now obsolete.
What teenager willingly accompanies their mom on errands? They are too old for childish games and pursuits. They have new interests. Connecting with this new being can be difficult and yet, during this pivotal time, that connection is more important than ever.
How do we go about connecting with our teen? We all soon discover that ordering our teen to talk has the opposite effect, so how can we create moments that make connection possible?
First and foremost, we have to be willing to listen and communicate that willingness to our teen. Not with words, but with our actions and attitude. Ask questions, not about what they are doing or haven’t been doing, but about what they think about situations and events. Then listen to their answer, without judgment and without “correcting” them. Treat their thoughts and concerns as you would a valued friend or confidant.
How do we find the time to do this in our busy lives? The tried and true family dinner is still a valid tool.
Enjoying regular family meals, even if not possible every night due to sports schedules and after-school activities, is a very good way to allow a teenager an opportunity to share with you. During the car ride to and from an activity also can be a good time for a meaningful conversation. Some of our deepest and best discussions will occur during walks or drives, as sometimes it is easier to talk when we are not face to face and eye to eye.
Spending quality time with your kids can include an evening spent with just one child and one parent. Even a special night once a month just for bonding between the two of you can be very powerful. Keep the tone light, ask questions, laugh and delight in your child.
It is nice to have a time that is not about anything but your connection with your child. It communicates to your teen that he or she is important to you as a person. That you are interested in getting to know them and who they are as they are in the process of discovering exactly that.
Why is this connection so important now? As our teens explore the world and their place in it, they are making observations and judgments based on values and experiences. The more connected we are with our teens, the more input they allow you to have. They are more likely to come to you for advice or to bounce ideas off of you. If we have no clue what our kids are going through, how can we hope to have any influence in their decision making?
Hoffman is an Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program educator.