By Brooke Sellhorn, M.A., LMFT, Director of Crosswinds Family Counseling
If you are wondering how to build a healthy teen-parent relationship with your teen, one of two things may be true:
- You are fearful of not having a close relationship with your child who is becoming a teenager.
- You already have a damaged or distant relationship with your teenager.
Either way, it is important to start with some self-exploration. Ask yourself: What are my expectations of my child during his teenage years? What type of relationship do I expect from my teenager? What kind of relationship does my teen expect from me? Revisit your own adolescent years and remember what you were thinking and feeling. Ask, what do I wish my parents may have done differently with me while I was a teen?
During the adolescent years, a sense of identity develops, focus on self increases, close friendships gain importance, and affection toward parents decline. All of these factors influence the parent-teen relationship. As teens increase in their independent functioning, they often experience emotions more intensely, frequently seek instant gratification, and regularly do not consider long-term consequences. During these years, they may not want a parent; but, they need a parent. They need the stability, consistency, discernment, and unconditional love that only a parent can provide. Parenting a teen starts with having realistic expectations, continues with accepting the developmental process, and ends with treating him with the same respect you desire. Approaching him with an affirming tone while also setting firm boundaries is a fantastic start to a close relationship with your teen.
Dr. Scott Sells in Parenting Your Out of Control Teenager suggests six strategies to reclaiming love between you and your teenager. These strategies are effective to build or to restore a relationship with your teen.
Strategy #1: Special Outings
Schedule special outings with your teen each week. This does not have to include expensive activities or an extended period of time. These outings should also not be a reward based on behavior, but a designation in the schedule to spend time together.
Strategy #2: Accept Underlying Feelings
When your teen is willing to share his thoughts and feelings, be willing to hear and acknowledge them. Provide undivided attention as he shares with you. Listen and respond with “oh” and “mmm”. Reply nonjudgmentally. When you criticize or react, he will then retreat. Identify what your teen might be feeling underneath the surface. Your goal is to help him to feel heard rather than ignored or misunderstood. The teen who hears words that describe what he is experiencing will be deeply comforted. Even if you are totally off base, your teenager will correct you and describe how he is really feeling. “it seems like…” “Sounds as if…” “Am I close or way off?”
Strategy #3: The Power of Hugs
Virginia Satir, family therapist, recommends four hugs per day for survival, six hugs per day for maintenance, and eight hugs per day for growth. Even if your teenager is acting “too cool” for a hug from his parent, find ways to initiate physical touch. Kisses on the forehead, a warm arm around the shoulder, a pat on the back are all ways to warm your teen up. Don’t stop offering and giving hugs, even when he seems “too old”.
Strategy #4: Be the First to Restore Good Feelings
If and when you have an argument with your teen, always be the first person to re-engage the relationship. Be the first to offer forgiveness and grace. Be the first to be warm in conversation again. Be the first to initiate time together.
Strategy #5: Give Your Teen Opportunities to Regain Trust
Your teenager will often test boundaries and experiment with the extent of his adolescent freedom. When he breaks your trust, allow for natural consequences and provide external negative consequences. Communicate to him that he has broken your trust. Then, provide mandatory, structured, and limited opportunities for him to regain your trust. Teens need to believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel when there has been a punishment. Provide him with ways to restore the trust and earn age-appropriate freedoms.
Strategy #6: Creating Soft Talk
Dr. Kevin Lehman in Have a New Kid by Friday writes: “If you want a child to talk to you, don’t ask questions. Instead, get quietly involved in their world. Talk about what they’re interested in—even if it’s not what you’re interested in….’That’s interesting. Tell me more about it.’” Find ways to engage in every day conversation with your teen. Be willing to get involved and to engage with him where he is.
Lehman, Kevin. Have a New Kid by Friday: How to change your child’s attitude, behavior, and character in five days. Grand Rapids: Revell Books, 2008. Print.
Sells, Scott P. Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager: 7 Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001. Print.