While you might have bonded easily with your child when he or she was young, it might be a different story now that the teenage years have taken root. Having a close parent-teen relationship is something that most teens do want, but with fluctuating hormones, the stress of growing up, and increasing responsibilities, many teens tend to pull away from mom and dad. If you are having trouble creating a strong parent-teen relationship, you’re not alone; many parents find it difficult to reach out to and communicate effectively with their nearly grown children. Here are some tips for continuing to forge that bond and for staying close during the tumultuous teenage years.
1. Spend Time Together
Chances are great that you and your teen are both busy. He or she puts in a full day at school, then likely has a couple of hours of homework or studying to do. If your teen plays sports or is in another time-consuming activity after school, they might have to spend additional hours away from school each day. In addition, many teens have part-time jobs, and most want to get together with their friends on the weekends. As a parent, you undoubtedly have a lot on your plate, too. Between work, household responsibilities, volunteer obligations, and maybe even time in the classroom yourself, it’s no wonder that it is difficult to find time to spend with your teen.
Still, it’s important to make time. Schedule a standing weekly date. Even if the two of you just go sit and have coffee or go grocery shopping together, carving out time to spend one-on-one with your teenager can go a long way toward showing him or her that they’re still one of your top priorities. Try to talk to your teenager privately for at least a few minutes each day, and make the effort to share the highs and lows of your days with each other. It can be difficult to squeeze it into already-busy days, but you and your teen will probably both appreciate the effort.
2. Have Fun Together
Your teenager is at the age where you can relate to him or her more like an adult, and you might find the same types of activities to be fun. No longer do you have to pretend to enjoy a children’s cartoon or spend hours playing with blocks or action figures. Now you can do things that you both like! Whether it’s strolling through an art museum, seeing a non-PG-rated comedy at the movie theater, or pursuing a hobby like gardening or a book club, get involved in something with your teenager. Watch funny videos on YouTube or find a show on Netflix that you both like.
Make sure you keep your sense of humor. It’s likely that your teen will test you occasionally with inappropriate jokes and other teenager-isms. It’s up to you how you want to respond, but you might consider surprising your teen with a laid-back approach. You might even toss a few zingers back! While you don’t want to be “just one of the girls or guys,” teens often appreciate a bit of unexpected parental humor that is on their level.
3. Be Fully Present
When you’re spending time with your teenager, put away your phone. Yes, you can ignore your email and texts for a couple of hours! Also, ask your teen to do the same. Get rid of the distractions so you can focus only on your child and what he or she is saying, both with words and with body language. If you have something to discuss with your teenager, save it for another time; your planned outings should be focused on fun and on building your parent-teen relationship, not on discipline issues.
4. Set Fair Boundaries
Teens still need to know that you are the parent and that there are boundaries, expectations, and consequences. Even though your child is likely used to and in search of a good deal of freedom, you still need to be the one to grant it. Adolescents who sense that they have no boundaries are likely to act out with risky behaviors in an effort to find out where the line is. While you are having fun and enjoying your teen, be sure that they know where that line is drawn and what the consequences will be if they step over them. Removing privileges temporarily for a misbehaving teen is often the best course of action, and reinstating or adding privileges is a great incentive for teens to pursue better behavior. If you are currently having difficulty with your teen’s behavior, find a quiet time to discuss it and to come up with boundaries that seem fair to both of you.
5. Recognize Their Achievements
One mistake that parents sometimes make is to focus on their children’s mistakes rather than their triumphs. Your teen still wants your approval, even if he or she acts otherwise. Be sure to “catch them being good” and recognizing achievements like improved grades, a new job, an excellent performance on the field or on the stage, and trustworthiness. A kind word can go farther as an incentive for good behavior than hearing disapproval in your voice will go as a deterrent for breaking rules. As a bonus, encouraging your child now will help build a better parent-teen relationship that will hopefully last for many decades.
Creating a strong parent-teen relationship might seem nearly impossible, particularly on hard days when your teen is moody, disrespectful, or just being difficult. Working together to forge a bond can get you through those frustrating times. If you are having a hard time relating to your teen or they’re getting into real trouble outside of normal teenage hijinks, it might be worth it to seek professional help. Talk to your teen’s doctor about whether his or her behavior seems normal, and if not, or if you’re finding it too difficult to cope without feeling angry or sad much of the time, ask for a referral to a mental health care professional. Counseling can help both of you reclaim your relationship so that you can have a healthy bond as your teen journeys into adulthood.