Ways to Strengthen the Connection with your Teenager

Recently, while wasting time on Facebook, I saw a post that caught my attention. It was a list of 23 questions to ask your children. Many of my friends were posting their kid’s often hilarious and sometimes brutally truthful answers.

I did some searching and think this is the original blog post:

I am a sucker for these kinds of posts, so of course I went home and that night I asked my son the questions!

Want to try with your own kids? Here are the questions (with some slight modifications):

WITHOUT ANY prompting, ask your child these questions and write down EXACTLY what they say. It is a great way to find out what they really think.

1. What is something mom always says to you?

2. What makes mom happy?

3. What makes mom sad?

4. How does your mom make you laugh?

5. What was your mom like as a child?

6. How old is your mom?

7. How tall is your mom?

8. What is her favorite thing to do?

9. What does your mom do when you’re not around?

10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?

11. What is your mom really good at?

12. What is your mom not very good at?

13. What does your mom do for a job?

14. What is your mom’s favorite food?

15. What makes you proud of your mom?

16. If your mom were a character, who would she be?

17. What do you and your mom do together?

18. How are you and your mom the same?

19. How are you and your mom different?

20. How do you know your mom loves you?

21. What does your mom like most about your dad?

22. Where is your mom’s favorite place to go?

23. How old was your mom when you were born?

The conversation with my son about these questions reminded me of back when my son was in preschool. For Mother’s Day that year each student was “interviewed” about their mom. One of the questions was “how old is your mom?” my son responded with “84.”  He still likes to tease me about when he thought I was 84 years old! At least now he knows how old I am, even if he still refers to me as a senior citizen.

My son is no longer that preschooler. He’s turning 13 this March. Our relationship has morphed naturally with time. While for him family once encapsulated his existence, family is no longer the entirety of his world; friends make up at least half if not more of his life and activities.

As your child enters the teenage years they will become fully invested in the developmental goals of differentiation and independence. Or to put it in every day terms, there’s going to be some arguing happening around limits and rules as your teen learns how to grow up. These are natural conflicts that can unfortunately lead to strain and a distanced relationship. You may have noticed this growth in your own kids. Maybe they used to cuddle in your lap after dinner, whereas now they would rather facetime a friend and watch a new music video.

As any parent who has survived the teenage years with their children can attest, it’s a challenge to remain connected and close. Finding ways to spark conversations, to find commonalities, to create positive interactions can be a struggle. As with any relationship it takes effort.

Here are a couple of things you can try that might help you connect better with your teenager:

Participate in your teen’s activities and life. As your child moves into the teenage years, they will be developing and asserting their own interests more strongly by the day. Their drive to develop independence means they will be trying new activities. Allowing and supporting your child becoming more independent doesn’t mean backing away completely. If anything, it’s even more important now that you take an active interest in things that interest your child. Even if they are into an activity that you do not enjoy, be there for them. For example, learn about the music your child likes, the YouTubers they watch, the video games they play, and the social media platforms they are on. Remember actions speak louder than words. By participating in your child’s interests you are letting your child know that you value and care about them and their interests.

Shared journal.  As our children get older their comfort with verbally expressing their experiences, thoughts and emotions will wax and wane. Communicating through writing can be effective for many adolescents. One way you can do this is by using a notebook and writing back and forth to each other. You can use formal prompts where both the parent and child each respond to a common question, or it can be more informal by just sharing ideas throughout the day.  If you need ideas and prompts for writing, a fellow therapist, Bethany Raab shared this great post of 52 journal prompts for you and your teen to use to strengthen your relationship. 

Talk about the sticky stuff. As your child enters the teen years, they will eventually hear about and be exposed to some very mature issues: dating and sex, alcohol and drug use, domestic violence, self-harm, skipping school, and illegal activities like theft and vandalism.

Consider how you want your child to get information about any of the above topics. Do you want them learning about intimate experiences from their friends, social media, the internet, or movies and television? Or do you want them to learn about these issues from you, where you can provide them reliable and accurate information, and also encourage them to make choices that are the best for them?

It’s tough to bring up these topics (probably just as awkward an experience for you as it is for your child), but I guarantee you, your teenager is already starting to think about it.

Planned date nights.  As your child enters adolescence their interests will become more mature. You will no longer have to endure hour after hour of cartoons, but instead can try new adventures. Just like you plan for spending time with family and friends, planning a date night with your child will give you the opportunity for connection.  If you have more than one child, plan individual date nights with each. During your date night be sure to let your teen have a say in the activity, make it an electronics free zone (for both you and your child), and put forth the intention of connecting with your child.

Surviving the teenage years is possible, even if it’s not pretty. As author Andy Kerckhoff describes:

“Embrace your beautiful mess of a life with your child. No matter how hard it gets, do not disengage... Do something—anything—to connect with and guide your child today.”

What do you do to remain connected and attached to your teenager? I’d love to hear about it, drop me a line at adrianajoynermft@gmail.com or call at 916-537-3997.

Adriana Joyner, LMFT, is a Sacramento Area therapist who specializes in providing counseling to people healing from trauma and abuse, and those within the LGBTQIA community. Her office is located in Gold River, CA located off Highway 50 at Sunrise Blvd.  For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (916) 547-3997 or email adrianajoynermft@gmail.com.