Build a better relationship with your teen
Written for Arizona Parenting.
Staying connected with teens as they experience puberty and work toward becoming independent individuals (which is the goal!) can be extremely challenging. As a teen-parenting relationship coach, it’s literally my job to guide families through this difficult time by helping them understand one another, communicate more openly, and to allow freedom and space to grow. For those parenting teens in the age of COVID, these struggles just got a lot more real as the stressors of everyday life have been exponentially compounded. But there is hope! With some easy tips, parents can take control of their own feelings (and attitudes!) to redirect their relationships with their teens and form solid relationships build on trust, fun and love.
Slow Down — We may be doing less driving, but the boundaries between home, school, and work are nearly non-existent in today’s world. We rush from thing to thing all while sitting in the same chair! To combat this never-ending cycle, we have to make space and be mindful of our time, which will allow us to create a purposeful connection with our teens. We must slow down if we want a shot at hearing what’s going on in their minds and lives. Parents that are a “moving target” and who feel compelled to go, go, go, should consider making more time for their teens, especially if they are feeling “shut out.”
Calm Down — The things we as parents used to be stressed about would be considered easy-peasy compared to our 2020 style stressors! We’re all maxed out right now, and understandably. But we have to choose to calm and comfort ourselves in ways that bring us closer to our kids. Teenagers can get spooked very easily —the main complaint of my teen clients is that their parents are always “mad at them” or “yelling at them.” We have to get a grip on our moods, reactions and feelings so that we can be considered a safe space for our teens when they really need us for the big stuff, or just to share the little details of their lives. I teach all my teen clients to breathe and meditate — and they love it. They even teach their newfound calming-down skills to their parents when they see them struggling to cope.
Wake Up — We can’t pretend that either our kids are never up to anything that’s risky or dangerous nor should we assume that they’re always up to no good. Both are tempting for different reasons, but it’s better to actually do the work to get interested in what’s really going on in their lives. There’s no need to FBI-style interrogate them, but you can ask questions with the intent to connect, understand, and learn. We have to parent while awake, not in a fog of fear or in the darkness of denial.
Follow Up — We definitely know how to follow up when we need a chore done or when a project deadline is looming, but what about following up on silly stuff? Why not ask teens simple, interest-based questions like, “Is your teacher still falling asleep in class?” or “Do you still love dogs more than cats?” These may seem pointless, but really it’s just about catching up with what our kids are into now since they are more than halfway to adulthood. Parents can learn a lot and teens will really appreciate that their parents care about the “little things.”
Fix your Ratios — Parenting a teen is about balance — and sometimes you have to adjust things to regain that balance. Here’s how: pick an “annoying” part of being a parent of a teen — that’s metric one. Then pick a fun part — that’s metric two. These two chosen areas should be even, at the very least, but it’s a lot more enjoyable to keep metric two higher than metric one — and you’ll get so much more cooperation and attention from your teenager. For example, if you’re always about the chores, that’s okay! But then make sure you’re also starting conversations or sending texts that are fun and encourage bonding — such as jokes, memes, thoughts on life, or something hard or cool that happened in your day.
Adjust your Attitude — Oh we love to say that to the teens, don’t we!? I always remind parents that we’re the ones they copy and model when it comes to attitude. It’s very rare for me to see a teenager who is “grumpy” or “negative” who has really positive and aware parents. We have to own and capitalize on that fact of life. We have to be as consistently positive, humble and authentic as possible. Parental Ego is the number one parent-teen relationship killer.
Listen 10 Times More Than You Talk — This is a tough one because as parents, we believe we have so many smart and wise ideas that come from years of painful experience and hard work plus countless victories to lord over our teens. And while we have been through our own teen experiences and hardships, we have to let our teens go through theirs — and simply be there to guide them. To do this, we must listen to our kids; we must bite our tongues, take a deep breath, chill out, and just listen and wait and listen and wait. If we want to connect with them, we need to leave space and time available in our days for our teens to trust us to really listen to them.
Table the Agenda — As working parents, we all have no fewer than 1,000 individual tasks to accomplish each day. All day long I myself I am in “executive functioning mode,” playing chess all day with the things that are done and undone in our collective lives. But instead of living at the mercy of our agendas, we need to remember that as parents, we’re the boss not that agenda. To have a flexible, rewarding organizational culture, we need to relax a little and give everyone the chance to breathe versus serving as cogs in the family wheel 24/7. Quieting our brains’ taskmasters for just an hour each day allows time for play and space for creativity to emerge; when that happens, teens will likely be more accepting of their role in the daily “agenda.”
Our teens are going to be off starting their own lives before we know it, so this is the time to really cement the bond with them and form the solid foundation of a lifelong relationship that you can both enjoy long into adulthood and as they become parents themselves. With these tips, parents can start towards this journey today!