4 Ways to Connect Better With Your Teen

Being a parent is hard. Being a parent to a teenager is even harder. In this week's 'Teen Talk' column, a young adult shares how parents can connect better with their teenagers who seek a balance between disciplinarian and friend.

illustration of mother and daughter going for ice cream
Photo: Illustration by Yeji Kim

Raising a teen can feel like more of an art than a science. Even if you think you know everything about your children when they grow older, you may need to get to know them again without assumptions or judgment as they develop into adulthood. For a parent trying to strengthen a connection with their teen, you'll have to prove that you're willing to stick it out, try new things, and be open-minded. Relationships can't be forced and is often a slow process and require trust.

But as bewildering as it may feel trying to connect to your teen, who may sometimes seem as though you're the last person on earth they want to be around, your teen is still looking to you for support and guidance. However, despite their growing independence, they still need you for structure and discipline. To help you connect better with your teen, you need an open mind, a sense of equality, and a supportive attitude. Remember those three things, and you'll have a closer relationship in no time.

Read on for four tips on how to connect better with your teen.

Learn to Listen

Start by getting to know your teen's interests and social and school life. Just ask if you find yourself utterly clueless about any of those things. This is especially true for those building a brand-new relationship with a teen, like foster parents or relatives. Finding common ground is a big key to getting your teen to open up. Talk about your own life and what your social and work life are like. You do not need to pretend you are also experiencing everything your teen is going through, but a sense of relatability can do wonders for your relationship. If you don't seem to relate with them about anything, don't panic. This is an excellent opportunity to be quiet and listen.

If you want to get to know them and why they are the way they are, you must listen to what they're saying without making it about you. Engage with them, ask questions about what they've said, and don't shut them down if they say things you dislike or disagree with. Open-mindedness is crucial if you want to build that trust and prove that you will not reject them for who they are.

Respect Your Teen's Growth

Teens still need plenty of parenting, but they also need a balance between discipline, guidance, and support. When parents say, "When I was your age, things were so much harder than they are for kids today," it invalidates their experiences and struggles. Your teen wants you to treat them more like adults than kids and show them respect for the young adults they are becoming.

Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., Parents' 'Ask Your Mom' advice columnist, says that teens are in a delicate state between childhood and adulthood—they are gaining independence and their own identity. "Parents best support this development by 'scaffolding,' which is decreasing their level of guidance and directing as their teen gains more skills and mastery," she says. "As eager as teens are to be adults, though, they are not yet. In fact, parents maintaining the position of authority in the family is considered part of fostering healthy adolescent development."

Dr. Edlynn suggests that as parents, you show appreciation for your teen's growing skills and maturity, so they feel you respect them and their increasing abilities to navigate their worlds.

There are three basic things you need to connect with a teen: an open mind, a sense of equality, and a supportive attitude.

Be Sincerely Supportive

Being sincerely supportive requires a combination of physical and emotional support, as well as financial when it's appropriate. Basically, you've got to be present with your teen if you want them to open up to you. This doesn't just mean being physically present, like showing up to their games or recitals. It also definitely doesn't mean that you can give your teen money and expect that they're going to pour their heart out to you.

Supporting your teen means that while you're going to show up for them in the good moments and highlights, you're also paying attention to when they're struggling and showing that you want to be there for them through the hard times. It can be really difficult for a teen to open up when they're struggling, so this is when you have to be patient. Prove that you're not going anywhere and won't reject them for their situation. Show love and encouragement to them while they navigate life at this age.

Make Time

It may feel like your teen is pushing you away, but they are actually craving one-on-one time with you—just on their terms. Once you learn about their interests and hobbies, suggest trying one out together and let your teen decide what to do.

When teens feel overcrowded or micromanaged, they can get resentful and distance themselves. But if they feel you are interested in spending time with them doing something they like, they are more likely to take you up on the chance to do something together. Learn about your teen's love languages and how they show and receive love. This can be a great tool for bonding and building shared boundaries.

Connections take time, just like everything else in life. Be patient, open, and real, and you'll find that parenting a teenager isn't so scary after all.

Cassidy Littleton is a 21-year-old college student whose major passion is mentoring teens and fighting for child welfare legislative reform. A junior at Boise State University, she studies public relations with a minor in political science and is an active voice in the Idaho community.

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