Sometimes it’s all you can do to keep up with life. To keep up with your teen can seem daunting.
Your relationship with your teen can make or break your teen’s experience and relationships with peers, friends, school, and family. Research shows that connection with family is the #1 preventive factor in substance abuse, addiction, pregnancy, and school failure throughout the teen years.
Connection means that when faced with a dilemma or decision, your teen will first think what would my parents say? instead of what would my friends say? Connection does not guarantee smart decision-making—your teen is in the developmental risk taking years—but it puts you first and foremost in your teen’s mind. If your teen fears punishment, thinks you will not understand, knows she can’t talk to you, she will turn to her friends for the support and understanding she needs.
Here are 10 ways to keep up and keep connected:
- Understand development — Your teen reverts to the egocentricity you haven’t seen since toddlerhood. Everything is about him. He is evolutionarily programmed to take risks in order to discover what you cannot teach. His prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until 25, which means he is less able to control impulses, allow thinking before acting, and foresee the consequences of his actions. Expect this!
- Be playful — Your teen is likely to think you are “clueless”. If you can play along you will gain points in her estimation. Counter with humor, “Back in the 1800s, we didn’t even have electricity. Can you help this old lady with her iPhone?” Light-heartedness may lead to laughter. Learn to tease her in a way that she likes, and she will tease you back. Humor cures most ills.
- Don’t take it personally — Your teen is going to throw barbs that can hurt if you let them penetrate. When you hurt, you are likely to retaliate. He can leave the house anytime he feels like it. Don’t kick him out the door with nagging, threats and blame and into the precarious security of his peers. Wait for your emotions to calm, but don’t let it go. Come back with, “I didn’t appreciate your comment. Can you say what you wanted in a more respectful way, please?” Be willing to take a certain amount of attitude before you draw your line.
- Set limits but allow independence — Your limits need to grow with your teens need for independence. Work out agreed upon limits and rules together. Let go of “No, you can’t.” She will show you she can. Get in the habit of “I don’t want… that doesn’t work for me… let’s figure this out so we’re both okay with it.”
- Trust — Beneath this egocentric, inconsiderate, risk taker, your teen has all the capability and kindness he has ever had. That child did not vanish although you wonder sometimes. If you send messages that you do not trust him, he will learn to be untrustworthy. When you show your trust in that wonderful person you know is still in there, he will not want to betray your trust. Trust involves allowing him to discover the mistakes he needs to make for himself.
- Accept — Unconditionally accept your teen no matter what. That does not mean accepting her behavior or agreeing with her. It means accepting that at this stage of development, given her circumstance, she will make mistakes, she will think she knows everything, and she will likely dismiss you. When you accept this, your reactions can calm to responses and fair limits.
- Be honest — Your teen wants to know what’s going on. He can see through attempts to skirt issues that feel uncomfortable or when you are being dishonest. Get in the habit of talking about the world, what’s going on in your life and your community. Don’t wait for his questions. Teens don’t want to let on they don’t know, so they don’t ask.
- Find windows of opportunity — Just because your teen chooses to spend time alone or with her friends and barely acknowledges your presence, she still wants you there. Keep a look out for those windows when she will connect. She wants to—just not most of the time.
- Make your house the hub — Encourage your teen to bring his friends to your house. Make it inviting with food and a welcoming atmosphere. Disappear when appropriate but also be a friend to his friends and have fun.
- Do your homework — find out what your teen is interested in and get interested too. Together watch favorite TV shows, look at fashion magazines and catalogues, attempt to play video games, go on bike rides, concerts, etc. Teens still like to have fun with their parents.
When your teen thinks you are cool even 5% of the time, your investment of trust pays off. As that prefrontal cortex completes its development in the twenties, your egocentric teen will morph into a more considerate, interested, helpful and less snarky human being. Your goal is a loving friendship that will support you both for the rest of your lives. It is well worth your patience through the teen years.