As we have seen with the changes to the Teenage brain and the social and emotional effects of these changes on our children, one of the major issues to arise concerning parents, is a feeling of being disconnected from their teenager. Whilst it is perfectly normal for a teenager to shift their focus away from the family at this time and appear to expend all their energy and attention toward their friends and peers, there are things we can do as a parent to ensure that the connection stays strong. Whilst we want to instill in them a sense of independence and responsibility, it is still imperative that the teenager knows that they have the support of their family as they embark on these often challenging years.
Being connected does not simply mean living in the same space. A teenager needs to feel safe and secure, despite their displays of bravado. Being connected also means being responsive to each others needs…it is about respecting each other whilst maintaining the boundaries that have been set up early to ensure the parent can still enforce ultimate control.
Five ways to ensure you stay connected:
1. START YOUNG – it is much easier to stay connected to your teenager if you have a healthy connection that has been nurtured from birth. This connection will certainly transform and mould with the changes that take place in our lives and with the developmental changes of our children, however if the background work has been done (no not always work, but sometimes…yes!) then you are well on your way to holding on to that connection throughout all sorts of trying times.
2. LISTEN TO YOUR CHILDREN– and by listening we are not necessarily saying agreeing. You can understand someone’s point of view without agreeing with it. You are often not going to see eye to eye with your teenager on a whole range of issues , but it is important that by listening to each other you are able to gain a greater understanding of where your beliefs are coming from and therefore be much better placed to reach a mutually beneficial compromise. When listening to your child remember to:
- Avoid questions that interrupt their train of thought (when a teenager is willing to talk, the more information we can get out of them the better, so let them finish before you cut them off with a rebuttal!)
- Concentrate on what it really is your child is saying, rather than concentrating on what you are going to say next. I.e. if they are asking to go somewhere you know you are not going to allow, let them have their say and listen to their reasoning so that you are better equipped to enforce your stance, or reach a compromise if that is going to be a possibility.
- Try to give them the attention they need when they are asking for it. If your child knows you care and are interested, even if it is about seemingly insignificant things, they are far more likely to go to you should any major concerns arise.
- Summarise your child’s request so they know you have understood, even if you are not giving them the answer they want. I.e. “so you want to go to the football on the train and catch the train home late at night with a large group of people, most of whom I do not know? ….”I know you think that you will be OK and you may well be, however I am standing firm on my rule of not allowing you out in the city at night and catching public transport without an adult”. If you can offer a compromise such as “I am more than happy to drop you off and pick you up outside the gate”, then go for it, but if its not an option, you are perfectly within your rights to stick to your guns!
3.PLAN TIME TOGETHER– with our busy lives of work, sport, parties, study and friends this is something that often sounds easier than it is to achieve. Teenagers are not always overly enthused about hanging out with their parents, however if it is something they enjoy you are far more likely to get them to participate. I was lucky growing up that I had the football in common with my dad, (and still do) and thus we always had that scheduled time together. When there is more than one child it is important that each child knows they can have some of your time with you alone. This doesn’t have to be a whole day or big shebang activity, it can be grabbing a milkshake at a cafe together on the way home from an appointment, watching a TV show you both enjoy or going outside to have a quick kick of the footy.
4. BE PRESENT IN THE UNPLANNED TIMES– these are the times when our active listening comes into play. Try and stop what you are doing or at least let them know they have your attention. I recently counselled a young girl who complained that her mum was spending too much time on chat sites on the computer. She wanted to tell her mum things about her day and so started talking away, realised she didn’t have her mums attention and turned the conversation into something that should have shocked her mother into at the very least, a turn of the head! Instead she kept tapping away and her daughter was left with a feeling of not being sure if her mum would be the best person to take her problems to in the future. And yes I know, we all get engrossed in what we are doing and cant be expected to drop everything all the time, however we need to be in tune to our children’s needs and if they are wanting an ear to listen to them then we should be thankful that it is our ear they are wanting to chew!
5. BELIEVE IN YOUR CHILD – We know our children better than anyone. If you have had a good connection throughout the early years, then you will know their strengths and weaknesses, their likes and their dislikes and most of all you will know what they are capable of achieving. If you are open to recognising that we all go through difficult times and accept that your child is not going to be perfect, you are letting them know that you will continue to believe in them, supported by an unconditional love only you can give.
So whether you are about to embark on the teenage years, whether you are smack bang in the midst or if you’ve just bought home your newest bundle of joy…..staying connected to your child is something that is not only desirable for relative peace and mutual respect, but is also an essential tool for the healthy endeavour of both parent and child to meet the challenges of adolescence.