It seems like yesterday that you brought your baby home from the hospital. Now that crying baby has become a teenager … and you are wondering what happened? I can sympathize – I’m the father of a soon-to-be 13-year-old boy.
The changes are really noticeable. They may become moody and argumentative. It can feel like the bridge between the two of you has widened into a chasm that is as large as the Grand Canyon. They are ruled a lot by emotions, and that makes you ask yourself, “How do you emotionally connect with a teenager?” I’m doing that now.
So, what happened? I remember being a teenager myself … it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago, despite what my mirror shows me. You probably feel the same way. So why does it feel like talking two different languages at each at once ? The two of you are not emotionally connected. How can you close that gap and hopefully save yourself from some tumultuous times in the future? You don’t have to go on a syndicated talk show with a so-called “doctor” to resolve the issues.
Instead, here are some ways to emotionally connect with your teen. I’m trying them with my own kid.
See What Drives Them
There are a lot of things happening with your teenager, especially on the hormonal front. Their brains are changing and they might not always be rational when that happens. There are times when they can give in to impulses that would baffle an adult. So take a step back and realize that their mood swings are due to their ever-changing brain chemistry. Believe me, I have to remind myself of that all the time. If you do this, it can ease any rifts in the long run. It won’t be fun in the short term, but if you ride it out, things will be better.
Try to Learn The Reason For Their Behavior
When your teenager behaves in a way that seems to defy reason, it’s natural to ask them, “Why did you do that?” The thing is, both of you won’t be happy with any answer that comes from that line of questioning. I have to bite my tongue to keep from doing that myself. Instead, ask them “What happened to make you do that?’ What your teen is doing when they perform an action is trying to fulfill a need that they have. If you can get them to elaborate on that, then you will have a much better chance of getting the reasoning behind it. Yes, their behavior can be head-scratching, but you will be able to work more with the second answer than you probably would with the first one.
Do Not Be Offended By Their Need to Separate
You may be thinking fondly back to the days when the two of you were inseparable. Now they are in their room or spending time with friends. There is nothing wrong with that – they are looking to forge their own identity. That doesn’t mean that they don’t love you. They just have the need to learn who they are and what makes them tick.
So, don’t worry if you see them closing the door to their room all the time. My son does that all the time. It’s an important time for their development, so don’t take it personally.
Be Respectful Of Their Privacy
This one can feel like you’re walking a tightrope. You want them to feel safe expressing themselves on social media sites and other similar types of things. They aim to be their own people, but they are still developing their own logic. The last thing you want is to have them feel like they can’t open up – but you don’t want them to be putting themselves in danger. I worry about people who have bad intentions contacting my son.
The goal here is to make them not feel like they have to look behind their shoulder when they are expressing themselves on these platforms – but they should know that you still have their best interests and safety at heart. Be very frank and clear about your expectations when it comes to their use of these things. That should make the situation easier.
Let Them Make Mistakes
This can be a tough one. You have every instinct to protect your children and you want to keep them from doing anything that could hurt them. Still, you also need to let them be independent, since your goal is to raise children that become productive adults when they get older. Otherwise, you could wind up having them live with you until they are 40.
So, that means that you need to step aside sometimes when they are going to do something that could backfire. They need to learn from those mistakes. But you also don’t want them to do something that could hurt them physically. That is when you are going to let your parental instincts take over.
Do Not Give Orders But Ask For Their Support Instead
One thing that can really set off a yelling match between you and your teen is telling them to do something and have them be defiant. By the time that it is over, there are likely hurt feelings on both sides … and at least one of you is going to have a headache and possibly a sore throat. Yes, I’ve been there and was the one reaching for a Tylenol afterwards.
It’s better to frame these things in terms of how doing these things can help you out. Instead of “Take out the trash, now,” you can say “It’d really be great if you could take the trash out. It’s been a long day.” By phrasing it that way, you can defuse a potentially volatile situation.
Do Not Force Your Expectations To Them But Have A Healthy Discussion
There may be certain things that you want done around your home or at school or in other areas. Don’t just tell them that this is the way that it is going to be. There has to be a sense of fairness.
That means sitting down with them and talking things over and discussing these expectations. Let them express their feelings about what they expect too.
Let Them Experiment
You want your teenager to live their life the way they want. That might mean that they dress in a different way than you did or style their hair differently … like changing its color to something like blue. This is not an indictment of you. They may also do things that are risky, since they are seeking an immediate rush for a reward. All you can do is talk to them about being safe and not putting themselves in harm’s way.
Don’t Keep Them From Feeling Their Emotions
Telling them to bottle up their feelings – in not so many words but maybe with your own actions – is not a good thing. Your teenager needs to know that they are in a safe place to freely show what they are going through emotionally at any time, whether it is bad or good. That will allow them to express it and then possibly move ahead without feeling like something is lingering or possibly have them explode emotionally at a relatively minor thing. It will help them regulate themselves as they get older, too.
Another reason for this is to let them get if off their chests at the moment and then talk with them about it at a later time when they have a clearer mind. Trying to engage with them at the height of their emotional state is almost a guarantee of failure. Just remain calm – although that may seem easier said than done in some situations.
Actually Hear What They Are Saying
This is another thing that can be more difficult than it seems. You may be itching to insert your own adult logic into whatever they are saying instead of actually parsing what they are saying at a given moment. Your teenager is looking at the world going on around them and they may be inclined to speak out against what they perceive as just being the status quo. You may represent that status quo to them.
So hear what they are saying. Let it sink in and then do something more – validate their opinions. You might have to revisit a conversation if they are feeling heated at a given moment. But let them know that their thoughts are being heard. That is something that can greatly improve the channels of communication between the two of you. It’s a process, but it is one worth doing.
Give Them Approval and Validation
One thing that can make relationships with teens difficult is if they feel that they are not approved or validated. Show them that what they say and do matters to you. That can go a very long way to boosting your relationship. They will know that they can speak their minds without worrying about being ignored or ridiculed.
There is no way that you can give your teenager everything that they want – they need to seek out lasting friendships themselves,for example – but if you can give them the above, then they will feel much more secure in themselves.
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