Adolescence is a time when children and parents begin to spend less time together. It is a time when teens begin to develop their independence, understand their place in the world, and begin to work out their own values and beliefs.

It can be especially challenging to connect with teens who may seem like they don’t want anything to do with you. And with busy schedules it can be all too easy to share the same space with another family member without really connecting.

Your child still needs a strong relationship with you to feel safe and secure as they meet adolescence. Staying connected is about building closeness in relationship by being available and responsive to the other person. Connecting can be casual— involving frequent everyday interactions to build closeness—or connecting can be planned.

Tips for Casual Connection: One of the best opportunities to connect are when your teen starts a conversation with you—this is the cue that they are available.

  1. Stop what you’re doing and focus on the moment. Connection works best when the message is clear, “right now you are the most important thing to me.”
  2. Actively listen to your child, forget what you think or what you want to get across. Imagine your child being heard and seen, and how that will make them feel in that moment.
  3. Notice your child with all of your senses, their voice, face, body, movement; this will help you to connect with the present moment.
  4. Show interest. Encourage your child to enhance what they are saying; ask questions like, “I wonder what you were thinking when that happened? I wonder how you felt? What was that experience like for you?”
  5. Listen without judging. As a parent it is our tendency to give advice or to assume advice is being requested, your job in this interaction is just to be with your child.

Tips for Planned Connection: Busy lives and more time apart can make it hard to spend quality time together; this is when scheduling time to connect can be helpful.

  1. Schedule a time that suits you both. Start out with brief interactions or activities and then you can build the length as time goes on.
  2. Let your child choose what you’ll do—this will motivate them.
  3. Try to be enthusiastic and actively engaged. The shared fun is the focus!
  4. Be interested and accepting, rather than correcting them or giving advice. It’s not easy to move from the teaching role, but this is a designated time for just connecting.
  5. Stay consistent and positive. Your child may not want to engage at first. If that’s the case, you can give them more control over how long you will spend together, what activity you will do, and when you will do it.

At Parents Place, we know that teenagers who receive warmth, firmness, support, and connection from their parents are better equipped to develop independence and grow into stable adults. Stay connected and let us know if you need any help with parenting you teen.

Kathleen O’Conner, MSW is a Clinical Social Worker at Parents Place in San Francisco. Contact us to schedule a consultation with Kathleen.