There are many terrific ways for parents to connect with teens that do not involve either side being embarrassed or psychologically scarred for life, but why might you need them?
Well, in the blink of an eye, that cute, cuddly baby who gazes at you adoringly and depends on you for everything is suddenly a partially formed adult with opinions about everything and the certainty that they know it all.
Once your little one has stepped outside of the safe refuge of childhood and crossed into the no man's land of adolescence it can feel like the connection the two of you once shared is becoming stretched thin. Don’t worry. This is part of the natural order of things.
The bond you have with your child is like a thick band of elastic. As your child grows they venture further afield and the band stretches. For some parents and children, this band is not cared for, not nourished. In these cases, the rubber loses its elasticity, and the loose elastic maintains a connection, but there is little left to pull the child back to their family.
To preserve the elasticity and maintain a close connection with your child through the tricky adolescent years, you need to constantly work at your relationship. However, if you fear you and your teen may be drifting apart, there are plenty of ways to connect that both of you can enjoy.
20 Grab A Bite
When our ancestors shared food, they were not only feeding bodies, but they were feeding emotional bonds. The very act of handing over sustenance said: “I am taking this food, which I could use to sustain myself, and giving it to you because you are important to me.”
Taking your teen out for a meal might not have the same life-giving significance but spending time together, over food, still speaks to our primal emotions as well as our modern day feelings.
Going out to eat not only shows your teen you are interested in their life and are devoting time to them, but it gives you both an opportunity to share stories in a relaxed atmosphere.
19 Catch A Movie
If the pair of you have been struggling to connect and the one-on-one time of a meal feels like too much, to begin with, a trip to the cinema can do the trick. You are still devoting time and effort, but it takes off the pressure you might both feel when faced with trying to keep up the conversation for a couple of hours over some food.
By watching a movie you relieve each other of the burden of eye-contact and also share an experience you can easily discuss afterward.
Choose the movie together and remember not to put down your teen's choices, or impose yours on them. Make the most of the time together planning your evening and traveling to and from the cinema. Also, don’t forget to discuss the movie afterward and build on the experience by doing it again.
18 Teach A Skill
It can be easy to assume that your teen is uninterested in certain things, but if you ask, you might be surprised to discover what they would like to learn.
Teaching basic life skills such as how to change a tire and check your car's oil, baking a cake, opening a bank account, or sewing on a button might seem like the last thing your teen would want to know.
However, many soon-to-be adults will jump at the chance to spend a little time with mom or dad, learning something practical and sharing stories.
17 Learn A Skill
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking of your parent/teen relationship as a one-way street. You may have way more life experience than your teenager, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing worthwhile to offer you in the way of skills and knowledge.
If your teen has a particular hobby ask them about it and sees if you can have them teach you a specific skill. It doesn’t even have to be something you are particularly interested in or will use in the future. Just asking your teen to teach you is an important acknowledgment that they have important and worthwhile skills and knowledge.
16 Send A Text
Yes, you probably already text your teen or a semi-regular basis at least, but are those texts predominately questions about where they are, when they will be home for dinner or to remind them to fill up the tank with gas on the way home?
There is nothing wrong with those, but here we are talking about texting just to say “Hi,” “good luck with your presentation in class today,” or “You seem down, I’m here if you want to talk.”
Saying these things face-to-face can be overwhelming or just plain difficult if you are both always busy, but take the time to text them, and it shows you are thinking of them.
15 Ask For Help
Nobody likes to nag or to be nagged, but it is easy to fall into the habit when you have 1001 things to juggle, and you have to ask a sulky teen to do the same chore 20 times.
Instead of allocating everyone their own tasks and having them go off in different directions to do them, ask your teen to help you with something.
It can be as simple as raking the leaves in the yard together, but instead of instructing them to get on with it and coming back to check, do the work with them and use the opportunity to speak with them.
14 Start A Project
Maybe your teen wants to buy a car but can only afford a beat up a heap of rust. Or perhaps they want to redecorate their bedroom, but there’s no money for new furniture. Whatever the situation, try turning it into a project you can work on together.
Let your teen lead but instead of saying, “No, we can’t afford to redecorate,” look at Craigslist together for cheap, hackable furniture or find a car and bring it back to life.
Not only will you spend quality time together but you will be teaching valuable life lessons about working for what you want.
13 Host A Dinner Party
Ask your teenager if they would like to invite some friends over for dinner and suggest that the two of you plan, shop for, and prepare the meal together. Your teen and their friends will feel well thought of and spending this time with your teen is a great way to get to know their friends.
In addition, by inviting them to the house, you are telling these blossoming adults that your home is a safe and welcoming place to hang out. By encouraging them to relax in your house, you are discouraging them from hanging out in less desirable locations.
12 Shop ‘till You Drop
As the “wrong type of girl,” I loathe shopping, with a passion, however, our youngest tween daughter would happily spend the entire day wandering around the mall with no plan other than to enjoy looking.
I find that setting aside a couple of hours just hanging at the mall with her not only makes her feel important, but deep and meaningful conversations we might otherwise have never had can be prompted in the most random ways.
Who knows what you might discover about your teen when you have an afternoon at the mall.
11 Volunteer Together
Another fabulous, low-intensity activity can be volunteering together. Be sure to agree on a voluntary opportunity you are both interested in or else you could end up with a reluctant teen being dragged along which is always counterproductive.
When you offer your time together, there are plenty of opportunities to chat as you travel to and from a location and if you are both off doing your own thing, during your volunteer time, it means you are not forced to spend a couple of hours one-on-one.
10 Say Goodnight
This might seem like an insignificant activity, and certainly not enough to build a bond with your young adult, but you’d be surprised.
When we all have conflicting schedules, and especially when your child reaches their later teens and have a much better social life than you, it can be easy for days on end to slip by without really talking.
By getting into the habit of always saying goodnight, you ensure you both touch base at least once a day.
Our oldest sons still make a point of saying goodnight to us both even though they are in their 20’s. We always get a quick, “love you mom goodnight, see you in the morning,” even if it is only 8 pm and they are going out for the night. It lets us know they are leaving the home and gives us a chance to ask where they are off to, etc.
9 Watch Together
You don’t need to go out or spend any money to connect with your teenager over some viewing material. Set a date and a time with your post-pubescent kiddo and ask them to share a movie, TV show, Youtube channel, a video, or a podcast that they have enjoyed recently. Maybe they have a sport they like to watch (or that they could even teach you about).
Be careful not to complain about or deride their choices but use the sharing opportunity to open up some lines of discussion and learn a little about each other.
8 Anything One-On-One
If you have a larger family, it can be especially difficult to give your teenager the time they need. This is even truer when you have a teen who really seems to be top of things and coping well.
The kid with the good grades and the nice friends is generally the one we spend the least time worrying about, but who can often feel left out.
Let your quiet star know how important they are by taking them out on a regular basis, even if it is just for a coffee or a bubble tea. Devote every ounce of your attention to them, and enjoy their company.
7 Welcome Friends
You don’t have to go as far as the previously suggested dinner party in order to welcome friends. If you have space and time, set aside one night a week when your teen's friends can come over and have use of the TV, den or kitchen, free from complaints from the adults.
Not only are you telling your child and their friends that they are important enough to warrant having a night in your home where they can call the shots, but you are building a more open relationship with all of these young adults and offering the support of an adult at a difficult time in their lives.
6 Live In The Little Moments
Connecting is not all about big events, it is just as important to share the little “in between” moments.
By making the most of five minutes here and ten minutes there, you are not only strengthening the relationship with your teenager, but you are also teaching them about friendships.
Taking time to ask about someone else, getting to know them and demonstrating an interest in their life builds a bond that can blossom into friendships, something your child will need to learn to do before they go out into the world.
5 Ask Surprising Questions
You know the routine, it goes something like this:
You: “How was your day?”
You: “Did anything interesting happen?”
And then they disappear to their room, only to emerge to forage in the kitchen or complain about a sibling.
Instead, when your child gets home try asking them something off the wall that will make them stop and think instead of answering on autopilot. Just be sure to ask open questions, something to which they have to say more than yes or no.
4 Give A Surprise Gift
Don’t wait until a birthday or another special occasion, and buy your teen a gift “just because.” The item itself doesn’t have to be costly; you can even give a homemade gift, it is the message it conveys that is important.
A random gift says “I was thinking of you. You are important to me,” and although your teen knows this on a dispassionate level, it never hurts to remind them how much they mean through a thoughtful action.
One word of advice. Give a gift they want, and that has no hidden undertones. Buying your teenage son a gift pack of toiletries after you have spoken to him about personal hygiene is not really in the spirit of “this is for you just because.”
3 Create A Ritual
It could be having breakfast together, checking the fluids and tire pressure together before they take the car, anything really that involve you both, carrying out a basic task together on a regular basis.
One great option is to sit down together on a Sunday evening and plan out the coming week.
You can catch up on what they will be doing, offer help and find out if they have any particular anxieties about what is happening in their life. It could be a test at school, team tryouts, or any other event they have to negotiate, but getting everything together for the coming week is the perfect chance for you both to discuss worries.
2 Play A Game
An oldie but a goldie, a family game night is a fabulous way to connect, but it doesn’t have to be a full-on, everyone around the table, five hour game of monopoly. There are plenty of games available that have a much more grown-up twist to them and which appeal to fully grown adults, adults in training and those of us who are only adults on the outside.
Sit on the floor and play a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity or similar.
Not only will you have laugh-out-loud, grossed out fun, but you will show your kids the inner child in you, and you’ll see a side of them that would typically be well hidden.
1 Give The Gift Of Time
If there is nothing in particular in this list that floats your boat, then set aside some time and ask your teen what they would like for the two of you to do together.
As with previous suggestions, be sure not to put a downer on your teenager's idea and don’t huff and puff or roll your eyes because you are doing something you don’t want to.
You know that feeling you get when your teen makes a drama out of something you think they should be enjoying - THAT is what your teen feels when you are reluctant to engage with their choices.