Navigating the ups and downs of adolescence can be quite an adventure for both teens and their parents. Teenagers not only transition through hormonal, physical and intellectual changes, they also face countless challenges from peer pressure and social media, all the while developing their own unique personalities, identities and interests. This period of growth and self-discovery can be riddled with emotions and conflict and can lead to gaps in communication between parents and children, especially as teenagers strive to establish more independence from their families as part of the natural growth process. Getting to know your teenage children therefore takes patience, understanding and persistence, since it can easily backfire when forced. Below are a few ideas on how to better connect with the teenagers in your life.
- Listen actively. Teenagers often want to be heard and they tend to connect with people who are genuinely interested in what they have to say, especially as they explore new ideas and begin to develop their own opinions, instincts and views about the world. If they feel like their thoughts and feelings are being dismissed, they tend to become defensive and uncommunicative. Try to listen without judgement, assumptions or disrespect and create a safe space for them to share their emotions, fears and doubts. Learn to read between the lines and help them articulate on things that they may not yet have the capacity to explain by gently asking them questions that help them explore their own thoughts and feelings.
- Don’t project yourself on to them. It is often natural for parents to have plans and visions for their children that mirror their own choices, interests and beliefs – this could involve hobbies, attitudes, behaviours, professions and so on. This can pose a challenge when teenagers begin to question or challenge choices that their parents make or want for them. Remember that adolescence is all about discovering one’s own identity so give them the space to be themselves, to explore their own ideas and creative instincts, and to develop their own style, interests and preferences, even if that means that they choose differently from you. Keep an open mind, support and encourage them on their own journey and offer guidance when needed – this will build trust and respect between you and your teenager.
- Normalize making mistakes. It is a common parental instinct to try to protect children from making mistakes, especially during teenage years when there are so many external pressures and influences that could lead to questionable choices. However, mistakes, setbacks and failures are inevitable and are all part of the natural process of growing and maturing. Trying to control all your teenager’s choices to ensure that they make the best decisions may backfire and result in them trying to distance themselves more from you. Instead, give them room to make their own mistakes, educate them on the consequences of their choices, guide them on how to use their experiences as learning opportunities and teach them resilience in the face of setbacks, Not only will this help them develop healthy habits and coping mechanisms, but it also provides reassurance that you’ll be there for them when they are in a bind.
- Regulate your own emotions – When things get heated (and there will be times when this happens) it is paramount that you remain calm and composed. Teenagers with heightened emotions are prone to reacting in anger, having outbursts, or being disrespectful in the heat of the moment. As hard as it might be to be on the receiving end of it, know that it is not personal or a reflection on you or your parenting skills. Take a deep breath and allow the moment to pass by letting them feel whatever they are feeling. Once everyone has had the chance to cool off, revisiting the encounter can lead to a more rational and productive conversation. Demonstrating understanding and empathy in those moments can pave the way for meaningful communication down the road. Remember that you are still a role model for them and how you navigate stress and conflict will greatly impact how well they learn to handle the same.
- Share activities and interests. Spend time doing things that you both enjoy, like cooking or baking, watching movies, going shopping, hiking or traveling. Whether it’s done with the whole family or on a one-on-one setting, it allows you to spend quality time together, build memories and get to know each other better. However, keep in mind that their interests evolve with age so follow their lead and let them pick the activity or try something new together – this will build their confidence while at the same time help them feel supported in their choices and endeavours.