Teenagers are creative, impulsive, passionate and often confounding. They want to be understood but may lack the ability to communicate their needs in a way that is relatable to their parents. Parents often attempt to decipher their teen’s behavior and can find themselves frustrated in the process.
I speak with teenagers every day about their hopes, dreams, challenges and worries. As a counselor, I’ve rarely met a student that doesn’t have a desire to improve their relationship with their parents. They often lack an understanding of how to do it.
From a teenager’s perspective, below are a few ways to connect with your teen.
“Try to be more understanding. There’s a lot of pressure to decide how to shape your life.”
Teens haven’t interacted with the world as long as you have as an adult, so they lack the perspective and wisdom you may possess. They don’t have it all figured out, and it scares them. They feel constant pressure with their grades, their future and their relationships. Adolescence is a time of great highs and deep lows. Insecurities can be louder than any compliment.
Brain research has taught us that because their frontal lobe is still developing, emotional regulation is difficult. We also know from research that teens are wired to seek rewards, and they process those rewards differently than adults or even smaller children. When they stumble or fail to meet expectations, remember that this is how they learn and grow. You set the example of how to handle frustration and disappointment. It is important to model the type of behavior and reaction you wish to see in your child.
“Parents often say, ‘You are just in high school, how bad can it be?’ I wished they knew that while it doesn’t seem so bad to them, it still sucks.”
Be careful not to overemphasize “it will be okay” or “you will get through this.” Your child wants to have their feelings validated. They want you to acknowledge that although in the grand scheme of things, it may not be a big deal, you recognize that it is important to them. They don’t want or expect you to fix it; they want you to listen. This is one of the hardest instincts as a parent to suppress. Your desire to protect your child and help them navigate the complex world is natural. Learn to listen to understand rather than listen to respond.
“Parents think we are trying to live our lives locked in our rooms. We’re just at a place where we’re too lost in our own thoughts, insecurities and issues that sometimes it’s difficult to function properly around too many people.”
Teens are often completely overstimulated by the end of the day. Their long days are filled with classes, dozens of social interactions that can be both positive and stressful, and often concludes with co-curricular activities. Then every spare moment is filled with electronic connections that can challenge their self-image and plague them with the pressure to live up to an unattainable standard. While you may want to reconnect with your child at the end of the school day, try to balance this with their desire to unwind and decompress. This doesn’t mean allowing them to hide in their rooms at all hours of the day and night. However, sometimes simply acknowledging how they feel can go a long way in making them feel connected to you.
“Tell me truthfully who you were as a teenager. I want to be able to relate to your struggles.”
They want you to be vulnerable, which can be difficult for some. It is important to show them you have stumbled and understand what it feels like. It is helpful if you can put it into context and talk with them in detail about the steps you took to rectify the situation. They need to know that failure is not always a bad thing and can be essential to their growth and understanding of themselves. Teens also need concrete examples of how to handle setbacks and disappointments in a healthy way.
Given the complexities of our world, relationships with our children are more complicated than ever. In the midst of our hectic lives, don’t forget that the gift of your time and undivided attention are powerful tools to forge a connection with your teen. It will outlast the difficult moments. You are not alone in this journey. The counseling department, faculty, staff, coaches and advisors at school are here to help and support you and your family as you navigate both the highs and lows of adolescence.