Some days, it may feel like your teen’s world is so different from yours that you do not have a strong connection. While every parent has been a teen at some point, it is also true that your remembered experience as a teen was not the same as your teen’s experience. After all, we didn’t grow up with all the social media apps, and surely we didn’t spend any of our adolescent years going through a pandemic.
Adolescence is an adventure. It is an interesting and yet confusing period between childhood and adulthood. As parents, we want to encourage our teens to express and explore themselves, build life skills, feel confident in their independence, and more. We also feel the racing of the clock, the widened divide between the social norms of our youth and what our teens are experiencing, and a desire to be listened to and respected for our life experiences. It’s an age-old struggle that can feel overwhelming. Some parents cope by not asking anything and giving lots of space. Some parents manage by asking a lot of questions and placing strict boundaries and rules.
What you may find most helpful is to give up trying to control the “how” and lean into your “why.” Your motivation for supporting, being curious about, asking questions of, placing expectations upon, and wanting to be connected with your teen is because you care about them. They have a lot of different information coming at them from a lot of different influences. How you can cut through that noise is by staying grounded in your love for your teen as your motivation.
5 Ways to Improve the Connection Between You and Your Teen
1) Ask for their advice:
As parents, we want to know about their lives. We want to get involved, be informed, and give feedback to try to prevent any future catastrophes. While these are good intentions, they can make teens feel like you are lecturing and/or surveilling them. “Who was there? What did you do? What did they say? Where else did you go?” The questioning can cause your teen to recoil. It is in their nature at this age to resist anyone who attempts to exert any influence over them. A lot of their day is already scheduled, supervised, and monitored – we as adults are used to clocking in at a job or a similar situation, but teens are still developing psychologically and pushing the boundaries of routine out of natural curiosity.
Instead of analyzing every last anecdote they share for clues about any impending doom, you can try to gauge their maturity and problem-solving skills differently. How about turning the tables around? When you share a problem or a conflict in your life and have them give you advice, you are able to get a sense of their point of view, how they approach a difficult situation and more. You might learn how they weigh and value positives and negatives, how methodical their thought process seems to be, and even maybe hear about a past similar situation that they had to resolve for themself. Also, make sure to show them that you tried their advice; don’t just pretend to ask for their opinion. Asking for their advice and taking it shows your teen that you trust, value, and respect them and their opinion.
2) Do things side by side:
We hear parents talk about their “inability to connect” quite often here at our therapy practice in Woodland Hills. They want to have deep, in-depth conversations with their teen where they can make eye contact and really observe everything their teen is saying and doing. This kind of focused attention can be beneficial, yes, but not always practical. At times, we have so much tunnel vision around doing things interactively that we forget that doing things side by side is valuable and, at times, the best way to connect. Think about things you and your teen can do side by side without the pressure of interacting and conversing with each other. Would it be taking a walk, or would it be reading your favorite book? What if it is just taking an afternoon nap in your living room, each resting on one couch?
It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. We as humans develop through paying attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues. Experiencing consistent physical closeness to someone is a great way to feel that they are familiar and safe, even if that realization is only a subconscious one. It’s a no-pressure way to spend quality time together; your teen isn’t bracing for you to inquire about their latest crush if you’re both reading your individual books. And going for a walk may spark a conversation about something you both see, or it may not. It’s the physical proximity that matters. But conversing about something low-stakes, like an interesting building or perhaps someone’s very distinctive style, is yet more practice at communicating with one another without all the pressure of it being about your teen.
3) Have consistent routines:
We often hear the value of having family dinners while growing up, which I personally loved. Having a set window in which you have access to one another is a great way to ensure you can spend time together and communicate. But having family dinner seven days a week may be too much for everyone to coordinate and participate in.
So when I suggest having consistent routines, I would like you to start with something you and your teen, and other family members can commit to doing together at least once a week. It could be the family hike you guys go to on Saturday morning or having Sunday BBQ. As time goes on, maybe you can add one more family routine to the schedule and go up to having consistent family routines 3 to 5 times a week, leaving you with a room at least two days/nights of the week where there is some flexibility and alone time.
You may feel that getting your teen to commit to a hike every Saturday morning is impossible or that your teen has zero interest in sitting down for family dinner. Obviously, if you are trying to figure out the one routine to institute, start with the one most appealing to your teen, or find a way to make it appealing. If your teen’s favorite food is sushi, you can suggest that every Tuesday is sushi Tuesday and see what they say. “Tuesdays are really busy, and it’s easy to pick up a takeaway on my way home from work – should we just make Tuesday a sushi dinner day?” Or there may be a favorite meal you make yourself that your teen loves. It’s not about bribing your teen to participate but about offering your teen something you think they will want to do. Make sure it is something you want, too! If you also love sushi, that is a win/win as it also helps you to bond over sharing something you both enjoy.
4) Share your favorite things with one another:
Watch their favorite movie; learn the lyrics to their favorite song; go to their favorite store. Be curious about their interests and genuinely find something in their world that you can learn from. This doesn’t mean that they have to be able to explain to you why they like something. It just means that you value what they value. Be curious about the culture of your teen’s generation; it is not the same culture you grew up in. Many people got on TikTok at the start of the pandemic, opening them up to an entire culture that their teens had been participating in for years. The sarcasm, the lingo, the meanings of the different emojis; those are all things that your teen sees as a baseline, and it’s in an app on your phone that you have full access to. Recently, news outlets exploded with a story about how the ‘thumbs up’ emoji is perceived as sarcastic by younger generations. Older generations were shocked to learn this, but anyone who spends a decent amount of time online could immediately understand how Gen Z and Gen Alpha might interpret it that way.
You may be surprised to learn that your teen appreciates a lot of the same things you do. Don’t forget: this is the generation who rediscovered Céline Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” and supported a chaotic and amazing viral trend to that song earlier this year. The styles we wore in the nineties are back in fashion. They have crushes on the heartthrobs of the eighties. You might not see eye to eye on everything, but there is a strong chance that your teen will like at least one thing that you do. After all, this is the same person you raised, who once wore your clothes and tried to use your makeup. That little kid is still in there, still looking up to you. The conflict occurs when your teen feels they have to be just like you to be accepted and respected by you. This means that when you share your favorite things, you don’t push your teen to like something. It’s an offer, an invitation to know you better that your teen is welcome to accept.
When you discover that you have some things in common, you will undoubtedly enjoy that. And your mutual appreciation for low-budget horror movies from the ‘70s and drawing will be much sweeter for your teen if you are just as enthusiastic about supporting them in their separate hobbies and interests. It is easier to appreciate our differences when we have something else in common, and vice versa. Your enjoyment of sharing your teen, combined with permission for your teen to be an individual, will make your teen feel supported for who they really are.
5) Be their loudest cheerleader:
No matter what, at the end of the day, every person, no matter their age, wants their parents’ support and approval. This may be hard to remember when your teen is acting unfriendly or uninterested in you. They may feel (or seem to feel) like you are not “cool enough” or “just don’t get it,” as you may have felt or still feel towards your parents. Remember, this is a typical phase of growing up where we have to detach from our parents during adolescence before we find ourselves back to relating to them. Even if we don’t feel particularly in tune with our parents, we still want them to support us. We still want them to be on our side. We want them to be a source of unconditional love. Your teen feels the same way.
As your teen explores their wants and needs and overall identity in this world, you will disagree with their choices and views. Remember, your biggest and most important job is to stand right behind them and be rooting for them. Focus your attention on how to be their loudest cheerleader, and the rest will follow. When you think back to your teen years, you might remember a parent commenting on one of your hobbies or passions in a dismissive way; that messaging sticks with you.
You may not love Billie Eilish, but if your teen does, it’s not hard to say, “I love how passionate you are about her music!” You might ask your teen to talk about their favorite songs of hers and learn that there are certain lyrics that your teen relates to. You might also learn that you do not like a single Billie Eilish song, but so what? You don’t have to listen to that music. Your teen may be exploring career options that you wouldn’t choose for them, and it may feel like they are choosing a path that could have issues. Is it going to benefit them for you to doubt their path, or will it be more helpful for you to ask them about why they’re choosing that choice? “I want to be as excited as you are; can you share with me what it is that you like about that idea?” or “I’d never thought about that job; tell me about it!” Being supportive doesn’t mean abandoning how much you care about the outcome; it just means remembering that “the outcome” is your teen’s happiness.
Every generation of parents faces the same issues and obstacles when it comes to connecting with their teenagers. New and seemingly unknowable technology, pop culture references, slang, global context, generational trauma, the list goes on and on. All it takes is one thing in common, one thing you can relate to your teen about, to keep that connection. You can always create more connections as long as you are still tethered by at least one. Focus on, maintain, invest, and be proud of that. Your teen won’t be a teen forever, but they will always be your child.
Therapy Services for Teens at Embracing You Therapy
Our therapy for teens and young adults in Woodland Hills, CA is a personal time for you to work on having a better relationship with yourself, your feelings, and your ideal life. We offer individual therapy for teens between the ages of 15 and 17 at Embracing You Therapy.
Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinators.
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