Dear Ask a Therapist, As my tween approaches teenage years, I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to keep a great relationship and to stay connected, but I’m not sure how? What can I do …
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Dear Ask a Therapist,
As my tween approaches teenage years, I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to keep a great relationship and to stay connected, but I’m not sure how? What can I do to connect?
Adolescence is a challenging, emotional time that is equal parts enthralling and overwhelming - not just for teenagers but for parents too! Adolescence gets a bad rap, because as challenging as it is, it can also be deeply rewarding for both teens and parents. It can be a great time to strengthen bonds as adulthood and increasing independence nears.
Some of what worked to connect with your child may be less effective in the teenage years, so it is important as a parent to adjust your responses and expectations accordingly. You may miss some metaphorical high fives as you navigate this stage of development, but if you lean in your teen will show you what they may need from you.
Here are a few key points to keep in mind:
1) Consider all things within context of their development. Your teen will be more emotional and passionate, may seek approval and engagement from their peers, may seek out new and exciting experiences and sensations, and may question and challenge the status quo. Each of these changes to the teenage brain have upsides and downsides, so cultivate and embrace the good and watch out for the challenging and risky.
2) Listen. Really listen. And keep the advice to a minimum. Be available when your teen wants to talk, because the opportunities may be few and far between. It may be in the middle of the night or right when you’re trying to file your taxes. Either way, if it’s important to your teen, turning them away will really hurt. Make the time, and turn toward them, no matter how big or small the issue may seem to you.
3) Be considerate of your teen’s changing moods, and don’t take it personally when they’re upset. Teenagers experience emotions intensely, and sometimes you may be on the receiving end of that. If that happens, take a deep breath, and respond with compassion. Connect and empathize first before attempting to correct or reprimand their tone of voice or their mood. Respect their need for space but be sure to check-in on them verbally or with a note or text.
4) Repair and model. When you do have challenging interactions with your teen or if conflict escalates, take a breath and a step back. Consider modeling awareness, humility and respect with your teen. This may involve apologizing for your role and asking for a do-over, while also holding them accountable for their behaviors.
5) Be mindful of technology. That means powering down your phone when you listen to your teen, having clear expectations about family rules around technology, and connecting with your teen using their language. Send them a meme or gif, download the same apps, text your teen. Join them in their world mindfully and with respect to their boundaries.
6) Continue to provide structure and limits. Yet don’t expect physical discipline or yelling to get you anywhere. Consider collaborative problem solving and involving your child in the challenges that come up. Be an ally with your teen against an issue rather than engaging in a power struggle and becoming the adversary.
7) Connect with them in small moments. Commiserate with how oppressive homework can feel, show up to their events, invite them to spend quality time with you, exercise together, cook together, remind them how special they are and how unconditional your love is.
8) It’s never too late. Truly!
Adolescence is challenging and not for the faint of heart. Reach out to a mental health professional if your child is having persistent difficulty managing extreme emotions, seems to be withdrawing or appears unsafe in any way. If you are feeling consistently lost or helpless with how to coach them through it, do not hesitate to reach out for guidance with individual or family therapy to get back on track.
Rachel Rossi, MS, LPC is a school-based therapist with Community Reach Center in Brighton. Please submit your questions to Ask A Therapist at AskATherapist@CommunityReachCenter.org. This column is for educational purposes only, and opinions are not those of Colorado Community Media.
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