Adolescence is a time when parents and children begin to spend more time apart. This is partly because teenagers need to explore relationships with friends and others outside their family. It helps them:
- develop a sense of independence
- understand their place in the world as young adults
- work out independent values and beliefs.
But your teenager still needs a strong relationship with you to feel safe and secure as she meets the challenges of adolescence.
Staying connected is about building closeness in a relationship by being available and responsive to the other person. It’s more than just spending time around each other – after all, family members can sometimes share the same physical space without really connecting.
Connecting can be casual, which involves using frequent everyday interactions to build closeness. Or connecting can be planned – this is when you schedule time to do things together that you both enjoy.
Our Talking to Teens interactive guide
explores some common parent and teenager situations. For example, you can see how different approaches to staying connected can get different results.
Keeping it casual
Casual connecting is a way of using everyday interactions to build closeness. The best opportunities for casual connecting are when your child starts a conversation with you – this generally means he’s in the mood to talk.
Tips for casual connecting
- Stop what you’re doing and focus on the moment. Even for just a few seconds, give your child your full attention. Connecting works best when you send the message that ‘Right now, you’re the most important thing to me’.
- Look at your child while she’s talking to you. Really listen to what she’s saying. This sends the message that what she has to say is important to you.
- Show interest. Encourage your child to expand on what he’s saying, and explore his views, opinions, feelings, expectations or plans.
- Listen without judging or correcting. Your aim is to be with your child, not to give advice or help unless she asks for it.
- Just be there – you might be in the kitchen when your child is in his bedroom. Teenagers benefit from knowing that sources of support are available.
You can also actively try to create opportunities for casual connecting, but don’t push it if your child doesn’t want to talk. Trying to force a conversation can lead to conflict and leave the two of you worse off.
When you stop what you’re doing and really listen to your teenager, you’re telling him that he’s important, respected and worth your time. You might like to read more about listening to your teenager
Planning your connections
Planned connecting involves scheduling time to do things with your child that you both enjoy.
Busy lives and more time apart can make it difficult to spend fun time together. That’s why you need to plan it. Teenagers aren’t always enthusiastic about spending time with their parents, but it’s worth insisting that they do – at least sometimes.
Tips for planned connecting
- Schedule time together. You need to find a time that suits you both. Initially, it can help to keep the time short.
- Let your child choose what you’ll do, and follow her lead. This will motivate her to want to spend time with you.
- Concentrate on enjoying your child’s company. Try to be an enthusiastic partner and actively cooperate with what your child is doing – the activity itself is less important than shared fun and talking with your child.
- Be interested and accepting, rather than correcting your child or giving advice. It’s not easy to give up the teaching and coaching role, but this is a time for building and improving your relationship. So if you see a mistake or an easier way to do something, let it go without comment.
- Keep trying and stay positive. At first, your child might not be as keen as you to take part in these activities, but don’t give up. Keep planned times brief to begin with, and your child will come to enjoy this time with you.
Teenagers who have stable, warm, trusting and open relationships with their parents are better equipped to develop independence and grow into responsible adults. They’re also more likely to be successful at negotiating commonly encountered high-risk situations (such as drug use and sexual activity). You might like to read more about teenagers and family relationships
Your child avoids spending time with you
Making the most of everyday opportunities to connect – such as chatting during the drive to school – can help you get over this hurdle. If your child is reluctant to spend scheduled time with you, you could try the following:
- Keep it brief to begin with – a cup of coffee at a favourite café after school, for example.
- Let your child choose the activity (even if you do have to sit through a teenage romantic comedy or action movie!)
- Don’t give up – it might take a little while but the more time you spend together, the more you can both relax into it.
Your child refuses to talk with you about what he’s doing
You and your child might feel closer if you make the most of casual conversations during the day. Every little chat is an opportunity to listen and talk in a relaxed, positive way.
You feel you’re the only one who’s making an effort
If you’re kind and considerate with your child, this can help create goodwill and positive feelings. Often, simple things make a big difference – for example, saying please, giving hugs, pats on the back, knocking before entering a bedroom, cooking a favourite meal, providing treats or surprise fun activities.
This approach creates a more positive environment, even if your child isn’t joining in. Make a point of doing kind things, even when you don’t feel like it. If you wait to feel positive before you act positively, you might never do it.
connecting through family meetings
This short video demonstration shows how you and your teenage children can use family meetings to stay connected with each other. Especially when you do it regularly, planned family time can be a great way for you to talk about upcoming events, changes to family life or just what’s going on for everyone.