Staying Connected to Your Teen

Recent research has suggested that a teen’s best protection against engaging in dangerous behavior (e.g. suicide, drug abuse, and violent acts) is a powerful emotional connection to a parent. How can parents develop and maintain a deep emotional connection with their adolescents? Here are some tips on communicating effectively with your teens and staying emotionally connected:

Tips on Staying Connected With Your Teen

  • When your teen wants to talk, make the time to talk then if at all possible. If you truly can’t talk then, schedule a time as soon as possible to do so. Teens eventually will stop initiating contact with you if you’re always too busy.
  • Take advantage of being in casual physical proximity to your teen. Some of the best opportunities to connect are the non-structured ones – doing the dishes, raking leaves, car trips. If you’re driving with your teen on a short car trip, this can be an ideal time for talking about anxiety-producing topics. Your teen can avoid eye contact (which usually heightens her anxiety), look out her window and be assured that a difficult conversation will last only as long as the car ride.
  • Don’t be put off by or stop talking to your teen because they give you “attitude” and/or because they appear annoyed when you try to talk with them. Just because they don’t respond does not mean that you should stop talking to them. Talk to them about your life, a project you’re working on, an upcoming family party. It keeps up the connection.
  • When you give your teens limits and rules, always state the values and principles that they are based on. They will protest them but they will respect what’s behind them. Also, involve your teens in negotiating some of your family’s rules.
  • What do your teens like to do? Find out and suggest doing some of these things together sometimes, even if they aren’t your “cup of tea”.
  • Give your teens physical affection. The same hug or kiss that may embarrass them in public may be very well received and appreciated at home, where no one can see.
  • Schedule pleasant ritualized time together. Going out regularly for late morning Sunday pancakes can be known as “our time”.
  • Honor your teens’ right and need for privacy. But don’t think that an always-closed bedroom door prevents you from knocking and interacting.

Communicating Effectively With Your Teen

  • When they talk with you, look for hidden clues and messages – their tone, body language, and facial expressions.
  • Listen more than talk. Listen without shaming, blaming and criticizing.
  • Make sure your praise/criticism ratio favors praise, appreciation and encouragement.
  • If you disagree with them, do so respectfully. Explain your disagreement without assailing their character.
  • Ask open-ended questions: “Do you think there are cliques in your high school who dislike one another? How can that situation be improved?”
  • Bring up and talk about things that your teen likes.
  • When it comes to talking about tough topics like sex and drug use, provide factual, accurate information along with your values – spare the self-righteous, threatening lectures and sermons.
  • Be aware of not only what you say but also how you say it. The tone that you use with your teens can either prolong or shut down a conversation. A sarcastic, condescending or harsh tone will quickly terminate a talk.
  • Don’t trivialize, minimize or deny your teens’ negative feelings. Acknowledge them with empathetic language and tone: “It seems like she really hurt your feelings with that comment. How did it make you feel? Can I help in any way?”