The Secret Sauce for Connecting with your Teenager

This BLOG post originally appeared on schoolholidaysaustralia.com.au as “How to connect with your teenager”.

As parents, we have all had days when the eye rolls, stomping feet and slamming doors has spoken louder than any words. 

Some days the term ‘communication’ with teenagers can feel like an oxymoron. The grunts, the groans, eye rolls and slamming doors often speak far louder than words.  So how can we as parents start to create a culture of open communication with our teenage kids?

So close, but so far apart…

This year in lockdown and with restrictions on our movement and social activities, we have been geographically closer than ever to our children. And yet, I know I am not the only parent of teens who had days feeling like we were galaxies apart.  How can we be so close and yet so disconnected?

Every human, especially every teen, needs to feel they belong and feel empowered to make decisions. They need to feel connected.  It is an essential need in our psyche. Unfortunately, if teens don’t feel listened to or feel like they belong, they muck up for attention or withdraw to their rooms and devices.  And unfortunately for us as parents, your teen’s device offers plenty of short-lived, albeit sometimes shallow, opportunities to feel connected and part of something. 

We have to provide a reliable and viable alternative. 

The ‘secret sauce’

It is easy to get swept up in the challenge of working from home and home-schooling, leading to boundaries blurring around family time.  What is quality family time if you’ve already spent the day together as a family?  What is home time if you never leave the house?

The ‘secret sauce’ is in creating boundaries around sacred time and seizing opportunities for connection.   And that takes conscious effort. 

We need to start mindfully listening to our teens when we spend time with them.  Try setting aside time, blocking it in your calendar, to sit and have snacks and meals together. Set your phone aside (on silent) and ask open questions starting with ‘What’ that encourage more extended, developed answers.  Try responding directly to what they are saying.  Get curious about what is important to them. 

What if it doesn’t work?

If they don’t respond, then persevere.  It may take time to reset expectations and trust. 

Set simple boundaries around no devices at the dinner table and suggest family movie nights or games nights to add variety to your lives and mutual subjects to discuss.  You might disagree, but at least you are sharing opinions!  And remember, you don’t have to be correct, and you don’t have to say the last word. Instead, this exercise starts with listening and building trust that your teen will feel heard with a valid opinion. 

Communication starts with you.   Let’s get started!

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