Parenting Teens: How to Stay Connected

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We have all heard negative assumptions about teens and middle-schoolers; we may have thought or said them ourselves:

"Teens are so hard to parent."

"You never know what they are going to do next."

"They push all the limits."

"Just leave them on their own because they won't listen to you anyway."

Remember back to when you were a teen. You probably wanted a healthy amount of independence as well as someone who would listen objectively and not judge. Your teen may not dress, talk, share interests or have a haircut like yours, but that does not mean he doesn't respect you. He likely wants your attention and your listening ear.

Teens are intelligent, funny, and caring. Despite their seeming nonchalance or teenage rebellion, they care deeply about their future and what is happening in the world. They often face major challenges in their middle or high school lives that affect how much we see of those positive qualities, including:

  • Rapidly changing bodies.
  • Increasing pressures in terms of school work expectations, extracurricular activities and maybe a job.
  • Anxiety about what they want to do after high school.
  • New and changing relationships with friends and significant others.

Teens continue to need our love, closeness, appreciation and interest in their lives during these challenging years. While they may not openly show it, our teenagers want and need our support and caring.

How to Better Communicate with Your Teen Children

Author and early childhood expert, Karen Miller, talks about the "plop and do" approach with toddlers. You sit down on the floor and toddlers will gather around you. With teens, this parenting strategy works a little differently. You plop down in their space - in their room, by the TV or computer, etc. - and show an interest in what they are doing, but don't dominate or pepper them with questions. Mostly you are there to listen, although it may take awhile for your teen to open up. Show an interest in her homework, music, video game, or TV show. Talk about what she wants to talk about. Often, but not always, the conversation will lead to important discussions.

After trying this parenting tip and investing some time in listening and respecting your teen, you may come to new conclusions about teens, such as:

"I have great conversations with my middle-school-age son. He is old enough to talk about issues of import."

"This is such an exciting time in her life. I love hearing about what she is trying and about her hopes and dreams."

If you haven't spent time listening to your teen before, it may take a while to build respect. You also have to do this on his time frame which might be inconvenient for you, e.g., late at night. Work patiently to build trust and improve your relationship so you can stay connected to your teen and middle school child.

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