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As teenagers become more independent, they often spend more time away from home. It might also feel like your child is less interested in talking to you. But there are plenty of things you can do to maintain a strong positive relationship and stay connected with your teenager.
Adolescence is a time when parents and children begin to spend more time apart. This is partly because teenagers need to explore relationships with friends and others outside their family. It helps them:
- develop a sense of independence
- understand their place in the world as young adults
- work out independent values and beliefs.
But your teenager still needs a strong relationship with you to feel safe and secure as she meets the challenges of adolescence.
Staying connected is about building closeness in a relationship by being available and responsive to the other person. It’s more than just spending time around each other - after all, family members can sometimes share the same physical space without really connecting.
Connecting can be casual, which involves using frequent everyday interactions to build closeness. Or connecting can be planned - this is when you schedule time to do things together that you both enjoy.
Keeping it casual
Casual connecting is a way of using everyday interactions to build closeness. The best opportunities for casual connecting are when your teen starts a conversation with you – this generally means he’s in the mood to talk.
Tips for casual connecting
- Stop what you’re doing and focus on the moment. Even for just a few seconds, give your teen your full attention. Connecting works best when you send the message that “Right now, you’re the most important thing to me”.
- Look at your teen while she’s talking to you. Really listen to what she’s saying. This sends the message that what she has to say is important to you.
- Show interest. Encourage your teen to expand on what he’s saying, and explore his views, opinions, feelings, expectations or plans.
- Listen without judging or correcting. Your aim is to be with your teen, not to give advice or help unless she asks for it.
- Just be there - you might be in the kitchen when your teen is in his bedroom. Teenagers benefit from knowing that sources of support are available.
You can also actively try to create opportunities for casual connecting, but don’t push it if your teen doesn’t want to talk. Trying to force a conversation can lead to conflict and leave the two of you worse off.
Did you know?
When you stop what you’re doing and really listen to your teenager, you’re telling him that he’s important, respected and worth your time.
Planning your connections
Planned connecting involves scheduling time to do things together that you both enjoy.
Busy lives and more time apart can make it difficult to spend fun time together. That’s why you need to plan it. Teenagers aren’t always enthusiastic about spending time with their parents, but it’s worth insisting that they do - at least sometimes.
Tips for planned connecting
- Schedule time together. You need to find a time that suits you both. Initially, it can help to keep the time short.
- Let your teen choose what you’ll do, and follow her lead. This will motivate her to want to spend time with you.
- Concentrate on enjoying your teen’s company. Try to be an enthusiastic partner and actively cooperate with what your teen is doing - the activity itself is less important than shared fun and talking with your teen.
- Be interested and accepting, rather than correcting or giving advice. It’s not easy to give up the teaching and coaching role, but this is a time for building and improving your relationship. So if you see a mistake or an easier way to do something, let it go without comment.
- Keep trying and stay positive. At first, your teen might not be as keen as you to take part in these activities, but don’t give up. Keep planned times brief to begin with, and your teen will come to enjoy this time with you.
Did you know?
Teenagers who have stable, warm, trusting and open relationships with their parents are better equipped to develop independence and grow into responsible adults. They’re also more likely to be successful at negotiating commonly encountered high-risk situations (such as drug use and sexual activity).
Your teen avoids spending time with you
Making the most of everyday opportunities to connect - such as chatting during the drive to school – can help you get over this hurdle. If your teen is reluctant to spend scheduled time with you, you could try the following:
- Keep it brief to begin with - a cup of coffee at a favourite café after school, for example.
- Let your teen choose the activity (even if you do have to sit through a teenage romantic comedy or action movie!)
- Don’t give up - it might take a little while but the more time you spend together, the more you can both relax into it.
Your teen refuses to talk with you about what he’s doing
You and your teen might feel closer if you make the most of casual conversations during the day. Every little chat is an opportunity to listen and talk in a relaxed, positive way.
You feel you’re the only one who’s making an effort
If you’re kind and considerate with your teen, this can help create goodwill and positive feelings. Often, simple things make a big difference - for example, saying please, giving hugs, pats on the back, knocking before entering a bedroom, cooking a favourite meal, providing treats or surprise fun activities.
This approach creates a more positive environment, even if your teen isn’t joining in. Make a point of doing kind things, even when you don’t feel like it. If you wait to feel positive before you act positively, you might never do it.
© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.