Being a teenager is not easy – you’re caught between being a child needing so much guidance and a young adult and needing to assert more independence. It’s a period of life where children begin to discover themselves and learn hard life lessons. I’m a 20-something-year old high school teacher and I’m not removed from their world, I’m a part of it. Each day, I get to experience the highs and the lows with my students. Over time, I’ve become their confidant with whom they share their joys and struggles. Over the last few years of teaching, I’ve had many students share things with me that they wouldn’t with their parents because they feel misunderstood by them.
With that in mind, here are a couple of things you can do to build a deeper rapport and better connection with your teen at this point in their life.
Don’t be an advice giver, be a listener
Your teenager wants to talk to you. I know it’s woven into you to want to protect them and solve all of their problems, but that’s not always necessary. If they come to you asking for your help you can give them advice, but sometimes they simply just want to talk openly and have you listen with compassion and empathy without feeling like they are going to be lectured.
Don’t eat their leftovers
I overheard a student talking about her annoyance with her dad explaining, “I have to work because my parents say that I need to make my own money. But then when I bring leftovers home and look for them the next day, my dad has already eaten them. It’s enraging. Like, stop eating my leftovers.” We went on to have a larger conversation about this and we concluded that the root of the frustration came from her dad not respecting what was hers. While you likely pay for most of your teenagers’ things such as their clothes, phone, or car, they still want to be informed if something that they identify as “theirs” is going to be used.
Give them space
Your teenager spends their entire day surrounded by people and rarely have moments to themselves. When they walk up to their room and close the door, it’s not because they don’t want to talk to you, it’s because they need to be alone for a while. Try not to take offense to it and allow them to have time to regroup. It may even help to suggest times for them to go do and things by themselves, such as take a drive, go for a walk, or read a book.
Be a parent but also be their friend
It’s your first priority to parent your teenager, but they also want to be your friend. Most of my students have said that their parents are unrelatable and totally removed from the 21st century. Find out what music they like, what shows they are watching, and what activities they like to do with their friends. Ask them questions about what they are interested in and maybe even enjoy some of these things with them (if, of course, they welcome it).
Support their individuality
You of all people know that your teenager is their own person. When they are interested in things that don’t make sense to you, try to keep in mind that what excites them may not make sense to you. One of the biggest challenges in high school is achieving an identity. Coercing your teen into doing activities, wearing clothes, or hanging out with certain people you want them to will inevitably push them away. Give them the freedom to figure out who they are and what they enjoy without judgment or bias.
Don’t treat them like children and then give them adult responsibilities
One of the biggest complaints I hear from my students is that they are often treated like they are still children but are given adult responsibilities. They get frustrated when their parents say things like, “Buy your own clothes. Pick up your siblings from school” and then in the same week will say, “No, you can’t stay out after 9pm. No, you can’t drive today because it’s raining.” They recognize that they are capable of doing things that hold greater responsibility and want to be given the opportunity to do so.
Be open to talking about taboo subjects
Talk about uncomfortable subjects with your teenagers. Discuss the dangers of texting and driving, have conversations about what abstinence and sex safe are, explain how abusing alcohol or drugs can impair your judgment or put you in compromising situations. If you are open to having these difficult discussions with your teens, when situations like this arise with them or with a friend, they’ll know that they can come to you with questions or advice. Avoiding these subjects will leave them uninformed or unable to trust you as someone they can confide in.
Trust them until they give you a reason not to
You might have drank and smoked weed, skinny dipped in the nearby lake, or drove way above the speed limit, but that doesn’t mean that your teenager has done these things. Trust them. Allow them to have fun with their friends (given they tell you where they are and when they’ll be home) and trust that they value your approval enough to make the right decisions. When they have messed up, approach them with kindness and understanding before delivering consequences, because face it, you’ve made mistakes, too.
More than anything they want quality time
I know you’re busy with your other children, deadlines at work, or chores around the house, but your teenager is dying for some alone time with you. Even if it’s once a month try to go to their favorite restaurant, rent a Redbox they’ve been dying to see, or take them to see a musical they’ve been talking about for weeks. While they are busy too, they still need uninterrupted time to reconnect and feel important to you.
You remember what it was like to be a teenager. You’re trying to balance the demands of school, extracurricular activities, work, and chores while meeting the needs for attention from your family, your friends, or a boyfriend/girlfriend. Maybe, just maybe, you might get moment to yourself at the end of the day before going to sleep and repeating the process again the next day. The roller coaster of emotions and experiences are difficult to handle but one thing is for certain, and that’s the need to have a supportive momma to help them navigate through this wonderful period of life.