Five Tips to Connect to Your Teen

Five Tips to Connect to Your Teen

by Miriah Tomich, MFT
The teenage years are not only difficult for teens, but they are also difficult for parents. You used to have a little “mini-me” following you around who not only loved spending time with you, but was direct in their needs, wants, and concerns. You used to hear things such as, “Mom, I need to go to the potty.” “Dad, I want to go to the park.” “Today little Johnny pushed me on the playground.” In those moments you felt important and you felt competent in your ability to help. Now the teenage years are upon you, and it has you second-guessing your overall parenting as hormones increase and communication decreases. Your teen is trying to find a level of autonomy and independence in his/her world.

    1. Respond to your teen’s emotions.  As all of us do, your teen desires to be heard. If your teen is expressing a negative emotion such as frustration, sadness, exhaustion, anger, etc. validate his/her feeling and reflect it back to them, EVEN IF YOU DISAGREE. For example, “You’re feeling overwhelmed by all the homework Ms. Smith is giving you.” Or “You’re feeling hurt and confused that Sam did not include you in the movie night at his house with your other friends.” It is important that you do NOT problem solve during this time. Simply listen and respond with empathetic reflections to how your teen is feeling.
    2. Get on your teen’s literal level If your teen comes home after school receiving “another bad grade” or something else than has you frustrated and/or a bit disappointed, get on his/her physical level before starting a conversation with your teen. For example, if your teen is sitting, you should also sit down so that your eye level is in line or a bit lower than your teen. You want your body language to communicate comfort and openness, not threat. If your body language communicates threat, then your teen has a greater chance of going on the defensive so that he/she is unable to truly hear your concerns, as the reactive, impulsive regions of the brain are triggered, further creating barriers in connected communication.
    3. Problem solve when given permission As teens are exploring their independence, it is important for parents to respect that growth toward greater autonomy and even more important for your teen to feel like their growth toward autonomy is respected. One way to do this is to problem solve your teen’s concerns by either waiting for him/her to ask for help or asking permission to help him/her problem solve, once you have responded to his/her emotions noted in tip #1.  For example, “I know you still feel overwhelmed by all the homework in Ms. Smith’s class, and I was wondering if you would be comfortable with me sharing some ideas I think could help you feel less overwhelmed?”
    4. Remember “bad behavior” can serve a purpose When your teen is behaving poorly whether at school or home, try to figure out the “why” of the behavior, because sometimes your teen’s poor behavior serves a purpose and is adaptive.  For example, your teen is getting in trouble for skipping class…Instead of starting off the conversation with why he/she needs to attend class or the consequences if he/she does not go to class, state in curious tone, “You must have a good reason for skipping class.” A parent could learn that his/her teen is skipping class not because they want to miss out on his/her education, but possibly because someone is bullying them in his/her English class or he/she is feeling incredibly restless while sitting for extended periods of time or for some other adaptive purpose.
    5. Self care, Self care, SELF CARE! You can’t give to your teen to the best of your ability if you do not refuel your own tank. Take time to care for yourself, whether it is going for a run, watching your favorite movie, slowly sipping your morning cup of coffee. Not only will you have more energy to give to your teen, but you’ll also be communicating or modeling for your teen the importance of caring for yourself so you can give to others in a way that feels energetically balanced and helpful.