Family, Kids & Relationships

Finding new ways to connect with teens — while respecting their independence

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The teen years can be tough for parents. You might be asking yourself: Why doesn’t my kid want to talk to me anymore? Why are they avoiding me at all costs?

That’s all normal. Adolescence is an exciting time for your child — they’re learning more independence, practicing important social skills, and finding out who they are. It can also be a challenging time, as they have a lot to figure out!

However, that doesn’t mean they don’t need a strong connection with you anymore — they just might need it in a totally different way than what you’re used to.

Meghan Leahy, parenting columnist for the Washington Post, explained, “When a child (and teen) is deeply and safely connected to a loving and warm adult, the teen is more likely to be self-governing, exercise judicious freewill and safely take calculated risks. … True freedom comes from connection, not despite it.”

Here are some ideas to help you find that balance as a parent, and come up with new, age-appropriate ways to connect with your older kid(s)!

Don’t be afraid to keep trying — while giving them space to explore on their own, of course. Although your teen might act embarrassed or avoidant at times, they still do benefit a lot from knowing you love and support them.

Connect with teens by asking the right questions

It can be hard to connect with teens when they won’t open up or respond to you. But it can help to ask better questions — specific but open-ended questions that get at the heart of what they are experiencing at their age. Here are some examples of questions to help you reconnect:

One of these may lead to your teen talking about their feelings, hopes, and stresses. And the more you know, the better you can support them in the days ahead!

Humor strengthens bonds

Share some funny content or memories — for example, text your teen an old baby picture or a vintage SNL skit. If you’re lucky, they’ll start sending you funny memes or comments back.

Even if you’re not in the same room together as frequently anymore, you can still attempt to connect with teens through shared experiences, and humor (and technology) might help with that.

Tell them to bring friends

Invite your teen AND their friend(s) out for pizza or to taste your new cookie recipe on the porch. Who wouldn’t want free food?

That way, you’ll be able to get a glimpse into their social life and share an experience together, even if it’s brief.

Find out what’s on their bucket list

Get your teen’s ideas, without the pressure. For instance, ask them to text you a list of 3-5 things they want to do this year. Then put some of them on the calendar!

They could be things to do together, like a trip to a climbing gym. Or they could be things you can offer support on, like helping them set up space at home for a creative project.

Learn their love language

Figure out your teen’s “love language” (physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, or acts of service) and adapt it for their age. What makes your child feel warm and fuzzy…even if they’d never tell you in a million years?

Maybe they don’t want hugs anymore, but they’d take a shoulder massage after a tough day of exams. Or, if they don’t have time to come home for dinner, maybe you can share a quick picnic in the trunk together before sports practice once a week.

Start something new…for YOU

Taking a cue from your teen, put yourself out there and get your own social or extracurricular life going again! Set up a weekly card game night with old friends, or finally sign up for that woodworking class you’ve been eyeing.

If you have your own exciting initiatives to focus on, you’ll actually have more in common with your busy teen — plus a healthier way to cope with all of life’s transitions!

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.