Connecting With Your Teen

Teens today are experts in the art of mass communications. They have every communications gadget imaginable and they communicate to friends and the whole world about things that might be better left unsaid. After all, does the world really need to know they just let their cat out, or brushed their teeth, or that they like to play Farmville for hours on end? I don’t think so, but they do.

This form of one-way communication, however, doesn’t mean that kids are connecting.

It does little to develop meaningful personal relationships and the feeling of connectedness that all teens long for. The fast-paced culture in which we live is tough on relationships. It confuses kids more than anything, and blocks the route to more meaningful communications. Parents may not feel that they have much to offer the younger generation in terms of relationship. They may wonder what in the world to talk about with their teen. But just the opposite is true on both counts. You can offer a better way to communicate that provides a teen access to the value, wisdom, time, and sense of relationship they long for – the kind of true connectedness that only comes within their family?

How do you get from a place of disconnectedness to a real connection?

You may not have a clue how to get from where you are now, to the place where your relationship with your child feels connected; or, where he begins to ask you for your opinion, value your time, and relish your wisdom. But you have to begin somewhere, and it starts with asking them a few good questions. When you hang out with your kids, ask them all kinds of questions. Not just as a drill for information, but more of an attempt to establish the idea that you are willing to spend time with someone because you value their presence. Sit lower than they are sitting, and never share your opinion unless they ask you for it. You may wonder, “How do you make a point, or share truth, if you never share your opinion? “ It is a matter of listening for the sake of establishing a relationship. Set it up from the beginning that you want to listen to your teen’s opinion, even if you don’t agree. Ask them about things in their life without sounding as though you are prying, and without providing a response or giving a lecture. Never demean what they say they believe – even when you know spoken from immaturity. You don’t have to agree with what they say to be respectful of the person saying it.

Do some pre-emptive research into your teenager’s interests and hobbies

It takes some planning and thinking about the kinds of questions your teen will respond to, but a good place to start is by doing some research. Keep up with places they’ve been, what they’re doing, what’s popular in their culture and what they like. When they see that you value understanding their life, their struggles and their thinking, it begins to establish that you respect and care for them. One may say, “Well you lost your chance by not speaking up when they said something stupid!” No, the time for truth will come. It is more important to open the door and communicate about any subject then to stand on a soapbox with no audience. Let them know it is okay to have their own opinion, despite your opinion of it. There will come a time when you do not agree, and instead of an argument, you can have a discussion, and hopefully come to a reasonable solution.

When you teach your child that you are willing to listen, they learn to be willing to listen in return. They will learn to be respectful of other’s opinions by your example..

The need to feel connected is within everyone. Everyone wants to find acceptance for their strengths and good qualities, and challenged to grow in their areas of weakness. Parents are the first line of impact on a child and using their strengths to encourage them to grow personally will also help them learn how to become more connected to others. Encourage your child to discover their gifts and talents, and then provide the support that will spur them in that direction. Sometimes parents try to live vicariously through their children or lead them into a direction they believe will suit a child, but you cannot do that. Your child will appreciate you more for recognizing their passions and interests and trying to help them pursue it. That means you may have to get involved in something your child loves to do, even if you don’t love it. Your actions will convey a sense of value and connectedness that no words can impart. And when they feel a sense of value, they will move toward you in a way you would have never dreamed possible. So foster a sense of relationship and connectedness by nurturing your teen, talking with them (not to them), and valuing their opinions and interests even when they are counter to your own.