Don’t overlook your teens! Discover the importance of staying connected and engaged with your teenage children in this insightful article.
by Lori Gurtman | Follow what Lori’s up to on Twitter @LoriGurtman
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When my kids were younger, and I was putting them to bed, they used to pull my arm in a futile attempt to restrain me from leaving their rooms. They begged me to stay longer, pleading for more cuddles. I often gave in, but I’d lie in their beds counting the seconds until I could leave and enjoy some me-time.
Back then, my kids treated me like a rock star, fighting for my attention, seeking my approval, wanting every part of me. And then, one day, they turned into teenagers, and my rock star status took a nosedive.
Now, instead of holding me hostage in their rooms, my teens shut their bedroom doors in my face—asking me to leave them alone. I suppose I should be happy. After all these years, I finally have freedom. They don’t need me the way they used to. They’re independent. They can feed and cook for themselves. They can do their homework for the most part without my help. They go to bed on their own. And, since they have their driver’s licenses, they no longer depend on me as their chauffeur.
As a parent of teenagers, I’ve learned an important lesson: it’s easy to ignore them—and even though they act like they want nothing to do with you, deep down, they still want you and need you in their lives.
The question is, how do you effectively communicate with your teenagers when every signal they give indicates that they want you to back off?
It’s about timing.
It’s about showing them that you’re present.
It’s about listening without judgment.
And sometimes, it’s refraining from asking nagging questions that trigger them.
Let’s face it: teens are moody. One minute they’re laughing and acting like they’re on top of the world, and the next minute they’re snapping at you when you ask them about their day.
When your teen is in a low vibration, it might not be an ideal time to engage, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. For example, you might want to ask your teenagers if they’re okay, or just let them know that you’re available if they need to talk.
The key is to read their body language and energy, which will help determine if it’s the right time to get them to share their feelings with you.
Fiction writers are often told: show, don’t tell, which implies showing how someone feels through action rather than saying it. Well, the same applies to parenting. Of course, you should tell your kids that you’re there for them, but take it one step further and show it.
When you’re alone in the car with your child, get off the phone unless it’s an emergency or a work call.
If I haven’t had a chance to speak to my kids all day, in the evening, I’ll go into their bedrooms, take a seat on the edge of their bed, and initiate conversation. Sometimes they talk to me, and sometimes they don’t. It usually depends on the timing of their moods. If I catch them at the right time, they talk. If I catch them at the wrong time, they won’t. But, at least I showed them that I’m ready to listen.
This is a hard one, but also critical. You want your teens to talk to you, to know they can come to you as a safe place with their worries and insecurities. They need to feel that what they share with you won’t affect how you think about them.
My son plays on a travel lacrosse team, and for many years we drove long distances to practices—just the two of us, alone in the car for hours. A lot came out on those car rides. The conversations started casually, chatting about his friends, girls he liked, sports, and then we moved on to heavier discussions about drinking, drugs, etc. He told me when he drank alcohol for the first time or tried smoking pot. I didn’t judge, didn’t show disapproval. I listened. Now and then, I’d sprinkle some advice into our talks, but I was careful not to preach too much. And I always thanked him for being honest with me.
Do you have homework?
Did you take out the garbage?
Did you clean your room?
The more you nag your teens, the less they want to talk to you––I guarantee it. This is challenging because, as their parent, you want to be sure they’re becoming responsible adults, doing their chores, completing their school work, and so on. Of course, throughout the day, there are plenty of times we have to remind our teens to do something or ensure they are staying on-task at school. But the nagging questions shouldn’t be conversation starters. Instead, you need to learn how to ask in a way that doesn’t get on their nerves.
This goes back to timing. If your teen is in a well-balanced mood and willing to talk to you, then you can slip in the nagging questions when necessary. An open dialogue is first and foremost, to foster a healthy connection with your teenager.
These tips take practice. Occasionally, you might feel like you’re walking on eggshells trying to converse with them––but don’t give up.
My seventeen-year-old son leads a busy life. He’s in school all day, then he usually goes to sports practice or the gym, and sometimes doesn’t get home until after 10:00 pm when he’s traveling for a game or has a late practice. I like to get in bed at that hour, but I drag myself out of bed and meet with him in the kitchen or his bedroom as soon as he gets home. Would I rather finish watching my TV show or the book I’m reading? You bet. But hanging out with my teen and chatting with him is far more important than anything I’m doing—no matter how tired I am.
Do I still nag? Yep. Do I still get the timing off when I try to talk to him when he’s in a sour mood? Yep. Do I still make disapproving comments about his behavior? Yep. Do we annoy each other? Yep.
I am not perfect or have a picture-perfect relationship with my teenagers. However, I try to remain a present force in their lives daily. And I go out of my way to talk to them when it’s often much easier to ignore them—because that, my fellow parents, is one of the most vital aspects of raising teenagers.