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Listen Up: How to connect with your Teen

Do you ever wish you could turn back the clock to a time when your children shared everything with you, and they couldn’t get enough hugs? Your teenager might still let you hug them on occasion, but it’s not always as big or as long. Teens do like to live life on their terms, and they can be touchy about being touchy.

A lot of us see this as we get older and are about to head off to college. That senior year can be a bear, and so can they! But the animal kingdom is full of similar phenomena. Scientists believe that the teenage equivalents in animals exhibit obnoxious behavior for a reason. It drives the parents crazy enough to finally kick them out of the tree, cave, or burrow. It’s likely to be a similar phenomenon with human teenagers. Where would the human race be if no one ever left home?

If you’re feeling a bit disconnected and would like to shift that and reconnect with your teen, here are a few tips:

  1. Don’t force the closeness. When you go in for that hug and they aren’t too into it or they start squirming? Let them go and don’t take their pulling away personally. They always come back, and it’s important that they have the body autonomy to retreat. When they next lean in, be sure to jump right in and hug them back.

This growing-up thing is a delicate balancing act. They need their space–that’s what they are supposed to be doing now. Honestly, chasing after them or nagging about it only makes it worse. On the other hand, not doing anything can send the message that you don’t care. Try telling them that you understand they need space.

  1. Discover new ways to be affectionate. A squeeze on the arm or a quick back scratch might be more acceptable to your teen than a hug or a kiss on the forehead. Sometimes a good high five or a fist bump is enough. Take your lead from them. Affection doesn’t have to be physical either. Try spending time with them o their terms. Take them for a coffee or a treat; watch tv with them without even talking or play a game. A good game of Catan can work some magic. Or you might have to sit on the couch and endure the agony of a video game you can’t comprehend to spend time with your teenager.

  2. It’s all about being present. Be part of your child’s day-to-day activities. Go to their ball games if they still do sports or make their favorite meal. Sometimes just sending a quick text is a perfect balance. They might not want to hear from you, or they think you may nag, but they like to know that you’re there.

  3. Understand their need to look good to their friends. At some point, most adults attain a view of the world that permits them to comfortably get the mail in nothing but a bathrobe. Ok, not everyone! But teenagers are very concerned with the opinions of their peers. It’s important to respect and nurture that. If you want to alienate your child quickly, make them look bad in front of their friends.

  4. Focus on listening. By the time our kids reach their teenage years, we’ve lived quite a bit and have plenty of advice to dish out. But many times our kids would prefer–greatly–that we keep our mouths shut. It’s challenging, but try to listen and keep quiet unless asked for advice. Listen with curiosity; listen to the emotions below the surface. With active listening, you don’t have to talk too much. In fact, the less you talk, the more opportunities you give yourself to understand what your child is saying. This not only takes the pressure off you to come up with answers but it also makes it more likely that your teen might ask your opinion. It’s also good for your child’s thinking processes because it allows them to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment or correction. Honestly, all relationships are enhanced by effective listening skills.

  5. Allow your child to make mistakes. I say this all the time. We need to back off, let our kids make mistakes, and let them also step up when we step back. While we’d all like to protect our children from everything, everyone must make their own mistakes and learn from them. How can we expect our kids to be resilient if they haven’t had to get back up after falling down? We want them to persevere, but to do so they have to stick with something and not give up. This is how they learn, grow and gain confidence. Over-protected children frequently struggle when it’s time to face the world on their own.

  6. Remember what it was like. When you want to spend time with them, when you feel the need to nag, take a pause. It’s one of the best things we can all learn to do. That pause gives you a moment to think and reflect before you speak. Think back. When you were a teenager, you were probably preoccupied with your friends and maybe even a girlfriend or boyfriend; you were worried about the future and wanted more privacy. Well, here’s the thing: Your child is no different.

It’s natural for space to develop between teenagers and their parents. A child can’t suddenly transform from being your baby to fending for himself overnight. There’s a transitional period that everyone passes through. It’s challenging for both the teen and the parents.

It’s important to be available for your child but not smother them. Be patient and love them; they’ll come back.

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