Whether you’re a parent raising your biological child, or you’re the parent of an adopted or foster child, when it comes to teenagers it can feel like you’re trying to build a relationship with someone from a completely different world - a wildly different lifestyle and background. Even if you’ve gotten to know your child well throughout their formative years, this older stage of their life will see them develop into a different person, with a fresh take on the world around them. Therefore, you should be prepared to get to know them all over again. Don’t see this as a battle - it should be a slow and steady, but ultimately fulfilling process. Just be sure to keep an open mind! Here are 4 ways to establish a better connection with your teenager.
1. Be Supportive
This sounds like an obvious one, but parents are sometimes guilty of falling into the trap where they assume their ‘grown’ teenager no longer needs help and support. Just because your teen is now at a stage physically where they can support themselves (the potty training is now a distant memory), they still require as much care and attention as they did when they were learning to walk. This might be a combination of emotional and physical support, as well as an appropriate level of financial help where necessary. However, there are some key things to consider here. Supporting them physically - attending their soccer games, for instance - is all well and good, but you really have to be there for them, both in body and in mind. You’re showing up and cheering from the sidelines, but are you engaging in great conversation on the way home, or opening up about how proud you are of them? Likewise, financial support without any emotional commitment or care is simply reckless. No amount of money can replace genuine relationship building. Plying your teenager with excessive amounts of pocket money won’t bring you any closer together, or convince them to open up to you any more. True support for your teen is not just showing up and celebrating them through the good times. Rather, paying attention to when times are tough and being there for them is the sign of true support. Teenagers struggle to open up at the best of times, but no more so than when they’re going through a rough patch. This is where you have to demonstrate patience, and show them that no matter what, you’ll be by their side.
Okay, let’s be honest. There will be plenty of times when you’ll be on a completely different wavelength to your teenage daughter or son. And that’s fine. The key though, is how you go about learning to understand them. If you have no idea about their interests, or their social or school life, then don’t be afraid to ask. You’re from different generations - you can’t be expected to automatically understand everything that makes kids of that age tick. This advice is particularly important if you’re starting a brand new relationship with a teenager, either as a foster parent or a long-lost relative. Finding common ground is a great place to start. In an ideal world, you can share details about your own social and work life, interests, hobbies etc., but if there is no relatability at all then don’t panic. This is where you should learn to listen. Try not to jump in or interject, and be mindful that engaging with you like this might not be so easy for your teen. Listen to what they say, then engage with them and ask questions about some of the things they’ve spoken about. Keeping a healthy dialogue open is absolutely key in building healthy relationships in any situation, whether it’s personal or professional, and this very much applies to your teenager.
3. Make Plans
Sometimes, you might feel like your teen is pushing you away, that no matter how positive you are with them, they just don’t want to know. The chances are, it’s probably the complete opposite. Your teenager wants to spend one-on-one time with you, but they want it on their terms, which is fine. All you need to do is suggest - suggest a hobby or interest they’ve told you about, then make it known that you’d be genuinely interested in getting involved. Let your teen then decide if and when, and hopefully you’ll be making plans together before long. Remember that teenagers can’t stand being told what to do, and they’ll run a mile from any signs of micromanagement, so don’t push it!
4. Be Respectful
The reason establishing a connection with your teenager can be so tricky is because they’re in a volatile stage of their development, stuck halfway somewhere between childhood and adulthood. In many respects, you have to cater to both. Be understanding and respectful of your teen’s unique experience, and don’t try and compare theirs to how you navigated the world at their age. Even if your opinion is that ‘life was harder back in my day’, don’t place this burden on their shoulders. It isn’t helpful, or necessarily true.