When teens are securely connected. . .
They talk with you!
They are pretty cooperative.
They can be vulnerable with you sometimes.
They can be kind to you.
If your teen seems defiant, rude, withdrawn, passive, distant, anxious, or disrespectful, it's a good idea to build connection!
We CAN strengthen connection! Here are some things to try:
Smile and be warm. When you see your teen, offer a smile and friendly words, every single time. Even if they're late for curfew or just overslept. Greet them! Ideally, don't say anything until they look at you. Definitely establish friendly communication before you make any suggestions. "Hey sweetie, I'm so glad you are home safe," comes before a lecture about curfew. Imagine how you want your partner, boss, or your own parent to talk with you and use that as a template.
Listen. I want to believe that I'm a good listener, but when my kids are going through rough or even just interesting times, I am so eager to talk! I want to tell them what I know, offer shortcuts, make their life easier, save them from themselves and bad experiences. I have learned (through hard experience) that doing those things actually blocks my ability to hear them. It communicates a lack of trust, a focus on me rather than them, and fear. So instead, I try to listen without judgment.
When your teen wants to talk, listen without interrupting, explaining, teaching, or advising. Show a genuine interest but don't take over. Keep your mouth shut most of the time. Even if they ask for advice, listen more than you talk, invite them to discover their own understanding by asking open-ended questions, and mirror what they are telling you.
Don't overfocus on them. Another mistake I make is to overdo it, asking too many questions. I am learning to follow their lead. Listen endlessly when they're talking. Accept it completely when they're quiet. Don't use the 'can opener' method of parenting, trying to force them to open up! When they're not interested in talking, it's time for us to be interested in our own lives.
Be patient. Connection takes time. Small moments of connection are great, don't try to force anything.
As a mom (to 2 teenage sons), wife, and person in the world, I have been on a long imperfect journey. I have made many mistakes, but with mindfulness, emotional reflection, and lots of support I have learned enormously from those mistakes.