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Posted on 10/28/2021 in Preteens & Teens

What are some ways I can connect with my teen when he is struggling?

What are some ways I can connect with my teen when he is struggling?

Parenting is hard. Parenting teens is even harder, especially when you are parenting a troubled teen who prioritizes the perspective of their peers over your wisdom. It is normal for teens to crave independence, but if this psychological shift towards autonomy is not matched by emotional maturity, then the relationship between a parent and their teen may become challenging.  

In this pivotal stage of life, it can be tempting for teenagers to make impulsive and even rebellious decisions in an attempt to gain individuality. Unfortunately, not all risks are worth taking and the decisions teenagers make can have lifelong consequences. Even though teenagers may crave distance from authority, parental guidance and support remains crucial.

The good news is that not all teen-parent relationships need to be conflict ridden. By taking a strategic approach to parenting teens, you and your child can navigate these transformative years the best way possible: together.

Here’s some things to keep in mind when parenting a troubled teen:

1. Start building a positive relationship early.

Don’t wait for things to get hard. Especially when children are young, capitalize on moments to be silly and make time for play. Indulge whatever creative streak your child naturally has an inclination for. Be intentionally interested in the things your child is interested in, even if that means making a Tik Tok video with them or watching some of their favorite YouTube influencer’s videos with them. 

2. Be openminded to how you connect with them.

It can be tempting for parents to micromanage their relationships with their children, but this is ultimately damaging to the goal of authentic relationship building. Be openminded and allow space for both you and your child to come up with ways to experience connection so that the relationship is cultivated on the inclusive foundation of mutual respect. For example, you might want to bond over dinner by talking about their day, but they might want to connect by sharing their favorite music artist with you.

3. Set aside time daily to listen.
Just like when they were younger, make time at mealtime or at bedtime to ask them about the best and hardest part of their day. Focus on listening and try not to default into problem-solving mode. Most often, teens just want to know that you have their back, so reflect their feelings back to them and ask open-ended questions. Pro-Parenting Tip: Do not emotionally punish or discipline teens for disclosing troubling information as that will only discourage them from sharing future information with you. 

4. Give them some autonomy.
 Your teen is likely not ready to have complete authority over themselves, but that does not mean that they do not have a perspective with considering. Include them in family decision-making as much as appropriate to the issue, their age, and their maturity. For example, instead of dividing up chores among siblings as you see fit, include them in your scheduling process by asking them what day they would prefer to be responsible for a certain task.

5. Become an expert in your teen.
During teen years, parents can become hyperalert to their teen child’s shortcomings. Given the numerous risks associated with teenage interactions, this hyper sense of awareness is understandable. However, it is important to also spend time becoming an expert in your child’s strengths, and instead of being critical, prioritize words of affirmation to reinforce their finest qualities. 

6. Stay informed.
 Keep in touch with their teachers and monitor their academics so you are instantly aware of changes. If something positive happens, capitalize on the moment and celebrate, and if something challenging happens, reach out quickly to offer support. Take the time to get to know your child’s friends and stay involved in your teen’s world by volunteering at their school, hosting teen hangouts at your house, and offering to transport your child and their friends to activities or social events. 

7. Keep your cool if/when things do get hard.
Your ability to cope effectively with difficult situations and model appropriate behavior amidst relational mishaps is very important. Keep your cool and be a thermostat, not a thermometer. Regulate your own emotional temperature and theirs by connecting before correcting and listening before responding. By not jumping to conclusions and keeping emotional thresholds within the manageable range, you will be better able to teach your child effective problem solving, resiliency and coping strategies.   

8. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, know when and where to find help. Don’t wait too long! Even if your relationship with your adolescent is currently going well, the nature of the teenage years are marked with unpredictable behavior and sudden changes. It is wise to begin incorporating talk therapy with your child now so that if/when an issue does come up, your child has an established relationship with a provider. 

To find a qualified therapist for you and/or your child, search providers on our directory: www.KIDStherapyfinder.com 

For additional child and teen mental health resources consult the child and teen mental health resources list on our website.  

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