We all know the "generation gap" is alive and kicking. No matter how well adjusted we think we are as parents or how "unlike" our parents we are, the truth is our kids don't usually see it that way. The connection to our children as they grow into adolescence is mired by their gigantic will to find their own identity. They may resist our values and beliefs that they have been raised with. Unfortunately, this is all part of the process.
Since scientists can't really tell us which of our kids are going to kick everything we've taught them to the curb and which ones will only mildly test the waters of rebellion, we as parents are left to pilot this journey blind. However, there are still a few skills you should hone to better connect with your teen. If we put these into practice they can mean all the difference in the world.
1. Ask your teen how he/she is doing.
It’s pretty simple. Ask your teen about his/her day. Know what’s going on, but don't push or judge—just be interested. You may not get anything more than a grunt as a response, but you should know your child enough to gauge whether something is off. Persistence and consistency are key. The more you ask, the more likely at some point you are going to get a direct answer.
2. Include your teen in family activities.
As our kids grow and try to figure out their own identity and where their independence lies, you will see them less and less involved in day-to-day family activities. Since we get busy with our own lives as well, the hassle to coax them in may sometimes seem like a fruitless act. It's not. We all live busy lives and sometimes a small gesture is all it takes. Whether it be a meal at the same table, making them do their homework with you in the kitchen while you do the dishes instead of locked up in their room or inviting them to watch a favorite TV show with you before they go to bed, these types of small gestures each day can make a huge impact. Keep the conversation light and without any purpose. The main goal is just to keep them included and not self-sequestered with their nose in their phone or computer.
3. Do chores together.
There are reasons beyond responsibility, lessons in teamwork and self-reliance that chores teach our kids. If you work alongside your teen while doing these chores it can be a great experience in bonding. This doesn't necessarily mean just the regular household chores either. Building, planting and tending a family garden can be something that shows your teen not only a sense of accomplishment but also gives you an opportunity to have them get to know you. A garden is just a suggestion, but you will be surprised when you go to pick the seeds or plants what your teen is interested in growing. You may also be surprised that the more effort and enthusiasm you put into this activity, the more they have put in as well. This goes without saying that any chore or project you decide to take part in with your teen can be a great experience.
4. Show them you like their friends.
Host a movie night, pizza party or even a sleepover for your teen and their friends. This goes for boys and girls. Having your kids and their friends over not only helps you to know what’s going on in their lives and who they are influenced by, but it also lets their friends know that you are involved and a part of your teen's life. Give them their space but take an opportunity or two to be part of the conversation. Laugh with them for a minute, and then go back to your corner. Letting your teen know that you like their friends and are supportive of their relationships will also translate to the people they end up surrounding themselves with.
5. Listen to your teen.
We often think we know more than our teen does. In most cases, this is true. But the world is ever-changing and, the truth is, being a teen today is very different than how it was for us. If you get them talking or there is a point of contention, listen to your teen. Open your mind and heart and set aside what you already know to be true. Don't toss your sage experience and knowledge out the window, but be willing to admit that they may have something to add to what you have already been through. Consider everything they say. What they say may not change your insight or how you will deal with what they are saying, but you just might learn something too. This way, your teen will feel validated and heard so if you want them to stay connected to you, learn to listen.
Somewhere between "tween" and "teen" we lose some aspect of a connection to our kids. There are so many factors at play such as parenting style, your teen’s personality and outside influences. It's hard to have a bulletproof blue print. The truth is no matter what you do you may find your young adult in the throes of addiction someday. But know that even if you do, these skills, these actions, all the words of wisdom and time spent with your child and teen are never truly forgotten.
Strengthen the bond and keep working at it. No matter what life brings you, these tools are invaluable. They may come into play in your darkest moments as a parent, and may be the foundation you lay for your teen to grow into a wonderful parent down the road as well. After all, no matter what we think, we are all more like our parents then we may ever want to admit.