how to stay connected with your teen
Staying emotionally engaged with our children is one of the most important and satisfying parts of being a parent. It’s also one of the most difficult, particularly as our kids get older.
We want to understand their lives, and try to influence the way they think and feel. We can’t do that if they deny us entry into their inner worlds. Our good intentions may be met by being ignored or by a flippant and irritating dismissal.
We know what doesn’t work. “How was school today?” “Let’s just go for a walk and talk.” “Why did you do that?” By the preteen years, long lectures about what it was like when we were growing up are a guaranteed turn off for most kids.
One strategy that does work well with kids, particularly teens, is reminiscing or story telling about past family events. If done correctly, it’s a great way to stay engaged with your child.
Reminiscing is neither a speech nor an interrogation. It’s a conversation about memorable family events, with both parent and child reflecting upon something that is mutually meaningful. Avoid asking lots of questions or talking too much.
Here’s the way it works.
1. Keep it real. Reminiscing works best when it is a natural part of your interactions with your child. It shouldn’t be perceived as forced or contrived. If your teen’s birthday is coming up soon, start off by saying a few words about something you remember from a previous celebration. “Making that Batman cake for your nine-year-old party was really fun....” See what reaction you get from your child. You might follow it up by an open-ended question such as, “what do you remember about that party?” or, “do you have a birthday that was really special for you?”
The fun part of this exercise is that kids will talk about things that are insignificant to you but may be memorable to them. Reflecting upon those experiences is the emotional glue that connects you with your kids.
Be prepared for surprises, some of which you won’t like. Kids will recount events from their perspective that are gross misperceptions from your point of view. Resist the strong temptation to convince them that you are right.
2. Try different approaches. Some kids respond to this technique when looking at photos on their iPhone, visiting an amusement park, or planning a family trip. Remember that you are reliving, and hopefully enjoying again some memorable event. What is noteworthy for you may not be so for your child.
3. Timing is everything. You are a great judge of your child’s moods. Try this technique when your child appears receptive.