Many parents worry when their children become teenagers, go into secondary school, and don’t won’t want to spend as much time with the family as they did when they were younger.
Guiding a developing child through their teens can be quite an adventure for you, and for them – as you help them work out their boundaries, navigate their social relationships, and explore their own identity.
In this article, we look at some key areas of supporting and staying connected with your teenager.
- How to move apart but stay together
- Building the family connections
- Tips for connecting with your teenager
- Tips for dad dates with teenagers
One of the greatest challenges for a teenager is trying to establish their own independence, while keeping a loving relationship with their parents.
While it is normal for teenagers to begin to want to spend more time with their friends, it shouldn’t mean they detach completely from their families.
Parents need to take deliberate action to stay connected with their teenagers or to re-establish strong connections during this time.
Even though a major task of adolescence is to become ‘your own person’, teenagers can swing back and forth between being dependent and being independent as they work on this task.
Sometimes they will be pushing you away and other times they may be ‘super needy’ and wanting all your attention. It is easy for parents to get frustrated. Poor judgment and impulsive actions, plus social, behavioural and emotional mistakes are all part of growing up.
The parents’ task is to help teenagers through this stage by supporting them to make their own decisions as well as their own mistakes and letting them slowly take greater responsibility for their lives.
As a parent, your responsibility is to be in touch with your child. Listen to them, get to know them as teenager, and support their journey to fit in and feel comfortable with themselves as they head towards the adult world.
Current research around family connectedness confirms the strong link between the connection teenagers have with their families and their subsequent mental and physical health (Gervais C 2019).
Family connectedness not only gives teenagers a strong sense of belonging and emotional stability, it also has lasting effects on their health and wellbeing into adulthood.
While it is true that one of the main developmental tasks of adolescence is to separate from parents and that friends take on greater and greater importance during adolescent years, there is still no substitute for the parent-adolescent relationship.
Teenagers who describe their relationship with their parents as warm, kind and consistent, are more likely to be involved in positive social contact with other teenagers, as well as with other adults. In fact, the research shows teenagers with these kinds of positive relationships with their parents, struggle less with depression, have higher self-esteem and are less likely to have relationship problems with others, such as being bullied or bullying.
The older children get, the busier they become and the harder it can be to find moments to connect.
Here are a few tips for finding a few extra minutes with your teenager.
- Be involved in your teenager’s activities, at school, at sport, their hobbies
- Take an interest in your teenager’s friends. This will give you an idea about the way they get along with their peers and what their interests are.
- Make the most of time in the car – drive them to and from friends’ houses or outings, and spend the travel time catching-up.
- Encourage them to help you cook meals in the kitchen or on the barbecue.
- When they are learning to drive, supervise their driving practice.
- Watch sport together – either at the game or on TV.
- Exercise together – go to the gym, for a run or sign up for a social team sport together.
- Participate in activities as a family – creating lasting memories of fun times with the family is crucial for family connection.
Being close and connected to your teenager means knowing how they feel about things, such as who their friends are, what activities and sports they like doing, what they are doing at school and how they feel about school.
Taking a deep interest in your teenager will build a relationship that will consist of good open communication, mutual trust and respect.
Taking an interest in your teenager’s friends will give you an idea about the way they get along with their peers and what their interests are.
Dad Dates are an oldie, but a goodie. Even with teenagers, one-on-one time is still our most tried, tested and recommended tip – and it’s never too late to start.
Tips on Dad Dates:
- Dad Dates are best practiced with one child at a time. This means one-on-one time with no-one else and no interruptions.
- Dad Dates are an opportunity for connection and they help your child to feel like they are valued, loved and worth your time.
- Dad Dates don’t have to be elaborate; a simple coffee, lunch or just going for a walk are easy ways to create one-on-one time.
- Occasionally, have a special Dad Date. Try doing something your teenager has been wanting to try, this will help them notice you are really listening.
- Dad Dates will give you a chance to listen. Try to be interested and avoid judgment or criticism.
- Take time and make the effort. Make a point of scheduling this in your diary, just like a business meeting.
- While on the Dad Dates it may be difficult at first to find a good flow of activity and conversation, but persevere. Learning something new together can help by giving you both something to focus on doing and saying while you become comfortable spending time and talking naturally one-on-one.