Bringing your teen to counseling is a great step to combat anxiety, depression, self-harm, and other common mental health concerns. The work does not stop there! As a parent, you obviously have more access to your teen than their therapist does. One hour every week or so is minimal compared to the amount of communication your teen needs to have with you. Therapy is not the magic wand that will “fix” your teen, it is just one of many things that can help in their journey.
Teens most often complain that their parents just don’t understand or “get it.” They often forget their parents were once teens going through similar (although different) struggles. Social media has amplified this disconnect and increased the number of issues our teens have. Be aware of what your teen is accessing via social media and recognize how often they are accessing it.
So, how can parents connect with their teens? How can you help your teen through the swamp known as middle/high school, relationships, future planning, identity crisis, and more? While it is not the same for all teens, for most, they just want parents to LISTEN! They need a place to talk and not be bombarded with ways to fix it or feel overloaded by emotional reactions from adults. When appropriate ASK your teen if they want help to find a solution or if they just wanted to share, when they do open up.
Find a way you can connect on a deeper level with your teen. Put the phones and other devices away and get to know them again, really BE WITH THEM!!! Know their favorite fast food or drink and GO WITH THEM to get it. Ask them about their favorite bands and music and LISTEN WITH THEM! Do they play Roblox/Fortnite/XBOX/PlayStation? PLAY A GAME WITH THEM! What other hobbies do they enjoy? PARTICIPATE WITH THEM! Yes, even when you, as the parent, may not enjoy what they enjoy, paying attention and showing interest provides an opportunity to connect with your teen.
Are you wondering how to get more than “fine”, “good” or “boring” answers from your teen? Yes, they might be getting to an age where they do not rely on or need their parents as much, but they still need to connect on a deeper level than “How was school?” or “How are your grades?” Those things are important but we as parents are missing something by not just being with our teen and listening. Instead ask questions that will elicit more of a response such as “Tell me about your classes” or “Tell me about your favorite/worst part of today.” And recognize where they are struggling so you can ask more questions like, “How was that Algebra test today” or “Tell me about lunch today, do you think it went better/worse”.
I get it, your teen wants to hang in their room all day or go off to work or be with friends. Why would they want to spend time with their parents? This is where you get to use your parenting skills and invade their bubble a bit. Plan something to do FOR AND WITH THEM and then tell them about it. Don’t just ask if they want to, because trust me, you will be disappointed when they say “no.” Deeper relationships with them do not happen overnight so take the time to put more into the relationship now and be patient.
But what if I don’t have a teenager? It is NEVER too early (or too late) to start developing a stronger relationship with your child. Having a child gain independence versus disconnecting from a parent relationship are two completely different things. Start working to establish this healthy pattern of communication and connection NOW! Entering teen years with a strong relationship and level of trust can lead to stronger bonds and more open communication along the way.
Now go spend time with your teens, you’ve got this!!