Connect better with your teen – 3 strategies

Hello hello!

I just finished two whole weeks of quarantine in an RV.

Secretly, I have always wanted to live in an RV so I can’t complain.

The RV was situated on my parent’s property and seeing everyone in the house through the windows while I stood outside like an awkward loner was hard. I sang happy birthday to my dad in the rain from the front lawn.

I was quarantining because I have temporarily moved from my tiny apartment in Ontario, Canada to my parent’s place in Nova Scotia, Canada.

When it’s a pandemic, and you don’t even have a balcony, and you haven’t seen your family for over a year, and both your sisters have relocated to NS, and you are the only one left miles and miles away, and you miss the outdoors…well it’s a no brainer.

Oh…and I’m expecting a baby and I can’t do it alone!

So my hubby and I asked a friend to water our plants and off we went. To have a baby, and to feel connected again.

After two weeks in an RV one thing I am super craving now is family connection. Aren’t you?

Today let’s chat about how to maintain connection – and specifically how to connect with your kids so you can have a solid enough relationship that in the future they move back into your house at close to 40 years old … wait, what?

Almost every parenting expert I have ever talked to or worked with has said the exact same thing: The only thing that matters is the relationship you form with your kid.

Whether you have money and nannies and can buy your kid every gadget in the world, or live in a small apartment and steal trash furniture from the side of the road like me (shhhh, I enjoy it. Free stuff is great and it’s like a treasure hunt), everyone is in the same boat when it comes to parenting; if you don’t foster the connection now, you will lose them and it will be heartbreaking. Gadgets, grades, in style clothes or hand-me-downs, single parenting or dual parenting, shared bedrooms or a separate bedroom with master bath for each kid…. none of it is relevant if the connection isn’t there.

There are many things we aspire to as parents (setting the perfect house rules, having amazing meals, keeping the place tidy, totally not feeling tired and run down 24/7, having teens that look up to you, being just embarrassing enough to be a Certified Parent (TM)…but there is only one thing that will actually make or break your teens wellbeing – and that is: Do they feel safe, accepted, and loved by you?

Even the most loving parents can neglect their kid accidentally

That’s a pretty bold statement. However, Jonice Webb, author of “Running on Empty” explains just that. She says that even if you think the world of your children, you may inadvertently make them feel invalidated emotionally. This is a type of neglect that can affect how well kids grow up to be well-adjusted and emotionally healthy adults. A kid that feels they cannot express their emotions, or cannot express themselves tend to become people pleasers and may even experience depression and anxiety.

She says this happens when parents do things like tell their child “it’s not that bad. You shouldn’t be upset about that” or “don’t do that/you can’t do that”, or “you won’t be respected if you dress that way” or even “Don’t cry, it will be ok!”. These are subtle statements that honestly look like decent parenting and wanting a child to feel better, or be safe, or be liked by others.

But what they really are is control. And children don’t grow strong identities if they are controlled. They grow confusing identities.

So what to do instead?

Here are three simple steps to connect better with your tweens and teens:

1. Remain curious
2. Establish mutual boundaries
3. Step back and give space

Being curious, as opposed to instructional, means that instead of feeling you need to have all the answers, instead you ask a lot more questions. For example, “You can’t wear that outfit” turns into “tell me what you like about this outfit.” “Don’t feel sad, it’s OK” turns into “tell me how you’re feeling? I want to understand.”

Imagine the transformation when a child feels heard by you. Imagine how it feels to them to have you take a genuine interest in their lived experience!

Establishing mutual boundaries, instead of imposing rules, means that you both engage in conversation that helps you respect each others needs and preferences. For example, “You are forbidden to date until you are 16” becomes “I hear you like this guy/girl. What do you want out of dating them? What do you think that will look like?”

But don’t stop there, now you can say “here’s what I envision when I think of you dating…and here’s why I feel comfortable with these limits…”

Doing this helps you get on the same page and both feel respected. Sometimes parents overreact …and sometimes teens do. Rather than make assumptions about each other, why not put it all on the table and build trust?

Giving space, as opposed to fixing or trying to control, means that you allow your tween or teen to experience a few of the consequences of their behaviour and choices. This is often the hardest one for parents because it necessitates that you let them get their heart broken, or experience rejection, or let them feel angry and upset without rushing in to wipe the tears away. It is also hard because it means you have to deal with your own parental anxiety rather than telling them they can’t do something so that you feel better. Yikes.

But this is absolutely crucial for healthy emotional development. When a tween or teen is allowed to experience their emotions fully, and knows you are still there to love them, they feel safe. And they are more likely to come to you in the future when times are tough. Bonus, this is one of the best ways to help them reduce anxiety and depression.