Making the Parent-Teen Relationship Work
Feeling left out of your independent teenager's life? Here are some ways to get closer.
Picture it: your little one isn’t so little anymore, and even though seeing them come into their own has been an incredible journey, your relationship has faltered. They’re busy with school, their friends, and their newfound longing for independence — where do parents fit in?
Relax and Relate
You were a teenager once. Remember what that felt like? When trying to relate to and talk with your teen, the worst thing you can do is put them on the spot. Stephanie Newberg, a counselor with a private practice in Bryn Mawr, offers this advice: keep it casual, even when you’re desperate to get information from your child. Great places to strike up a conversation about their interests are on walks, during family excursions, at the mall or a restaurant. But remember, try not to be too specific. Ask them about a story that doesn’t have to do with them — they’re much more likely to open up that way. An hourlong conversation can be sparked (happily) by a question about a pop culture headline. You never know until you try!
Don’t Stress the Technology
They may spend a lot of time on their phones, but if you think about it, so do you. Don’t let the technology boom worry you, but use it to your advantage. Think of all the information at their fingertips! Instead of asking them to “look up,” ask them to look something up for you. Newberg suggested looking up locations for family trips, asking for their help on how to use devices (be careful and patient with this one!), or to look up directions to some place you want to take them. This directly includes them without being too forceful, and hey, they already had their phone out! Ultimately, technology can be used to help you. Newberg said, “it can make all family members’ lives easier and make some tasks can be less time consuming. This opens up time for ability to have fun and be relaxed together.”
If you think you’d like a better relationship with your teenager, tell them that straight up. Most teens nowadays would appreciate a bit of honesty (no one likes a “fake”) especially when they have amazing parent-child relationships all over Netflix to gush over (Gilmore Girls, anyone?) If you look at these relationships, they’ll have one thing in common: transparency. You have to keep boundaries but also share interests. With honesty and common ground will naturally come at least one similarity you share, and then you can use that to bond. But don’t lie to them and say you love Ariana Grande when you just don’t. They’ll sniff out your lie right away and then where will you be?
Know When You Need Help
Not every teenager becomes a rebellious hellion. But there’s always the chance that a little bit of discrepancy in the home becomes a much bigger problem. When do you need to seek help from an outside source? “When parents and teens are in constant conflict, when there is a lot of yelling and inability to understand one another’s viewpoints and have calm and open discussions, when there seems to be blatant disregard for parent’s values and rules, it is time to get outside help,” Newberg said. You know the signs: lack of motivation, fighting with peers, withdrawn behavior at home, and other high risk behavior. If it’s becoming a problem for not just them but for you and your family, that’s when a counselor can help.
Find Your Village
If you’re looking for resources and advice beyond this article, we can help. When there’s a village of support, there’s a way. Check out the Main Line Parent Community, on Facebook where you can ask (anonymously if you need to) for advice from other real parents like yourself. Other resources can be found in books. Newberg recommended these amazing reads:
Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers by Michael Riera
Dirty Little Secrets by Kerry Cohen
Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman
The Good Enough Teen by Brad E. Sachs
Photograph by Monkey Business Images for Canva.