The Struggle to Connect
Often times, parents of tweens and teens contact me because they’re having a hard time connecting with their teens. Can you relate? If so, I hope you’ll read on!
There are a whole lot of reasons why you may be experiencing disconnection from your teen. Often times, teenagers are experimenting with their identity, personal power, and/or privacy; by the way, these are normal and expected parts of development during adolescence. In other cases, parents and caregivers are realizing that their teen has very different interests than and finding quality time that fulfills everyone feels tough or strained. Additionally, timing and schedules can contribute to a lack of connection. If you ever get sick of looking at calendars and aligning schedules, this may be true for you.
Also, remember that your relationship with your teen is exactly that– a relationship. And all relationships take work in order to grow. This article offers mindset and communication tools to support you and your family during this interesting developmental time.
Broadening the Definition of Connection
As we consider the idea of connection in this article, there are a few ideas I invite you to consider. These ideas can set the foundation for your mindset as you approach your teenager.
- It’s okay to be kind and firm. Parenting involves setting expectations and creating structure, and it also requires mutual respect and a willingness to collaborate– from the parents, just as much as the kids.
- Quality matters more than quantity. There’s not a certain number of conversations you need to have with your teen. Additionally, you don’t have to get to every topic. What would it be like if you let yourself focus on quality connections?
- Listening is powerful. A crucial part of being kind in your role as a parent or caregiver is listening. If this is challenging at first, I encourage you to coach yourself through it. You might give yourself a motto to help you through the tougher moments. For example, “Listening is part of parenting,” “Listening is powerful,” or “I am a curious listener.”
- Problem-solving is a valuable life skill. When you ask your teen questions and allow them time and space to consider their answers, you are supporting them in growing their problem-solving toolbox.
- Nothing is personal. Big thanks to Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, for this reminder. The more you can trust this, the more curious you will be. If you aren’t taking your teen’s behaviors personally, you’ll be able to ask questions with care and listen with patience.
- Curiosity takes compassion. It’s imperative that your curiosity is genuine and compassionate. Remember, the teen years are tough for many. If you’re like me, they may have been challenging for you, too! (Try this inner teenager practice if you need a little support in this process!)
Conversational Curiosity Questions
When (not if) your teen “shuts down” or presents an undesirable behavior, you have an opportunity to ASK about it, rather than telling them about (aka lecturing them). I invite you to explore the following 5 steps, inspired by and adapted from Positive Discipline, the next time you notice your teen experiencing an emotion that they don’t seem to be enjoying.
- Start with, “I’m noticing _______________.” Name/label the challenge at hand or the emotion you guess they’re experiencing with empathy. For instance, “I noticed that you rushed up to your room when we walked into the house” or “I’m noticing that your arms are crossed and you aren’t smiling”
- Ask a curiosity question. These are just a few ideas to get you started; please adapt to make them unique to you and the situation.
- What happened?
- What were you trying to accomplish?
- How do you feel about what happened?
- What do you think caused it to happened?
- What did you learn from this experience?
- What ideas do you have to solve this problem?
- Keep listening. Whenever your teen pauses or seems to come to a close, you might ask, “Is there anything else?”
- Repeat back what you heard. In your own words, repeat back what you heard. Then ask, “Is that right?”
- Offer support or resources as relevant. This conversation might lead you to believe that your teenager needs and/or wants support. In this case, you might ask, “Is there any way I can help?” or “Are you willing to hear a few of my ideas?” Asking permission before offering advice is a key part of this process.
Connection is a Process
It might feel like you’re not getting anywhere with your teen even when you begin asking curiosity questions. If this is new, your teenager might need some time to step into the space you are offering them. Connection is a process, which means that it takes time, attention, and sustained energy. Finally, as you and your family develop curiosity and connection, you may enjoy documenting your go-to supports together using this support system map.