Staying connected is worth the work!

Posted on August 4th, 2011, 0 Comments

When your teen feels a connection with you, they have a safety net to protect them from harm – including emotional distress, drug and alcohol use, violent behavior, early sexual activity and suicidal thoughts and attempts. This striking finding comes from a comprehensive national study involving 90,000 7th through 12th graders. Teens in this study who passed up risky behavior had one thing in common: a parent who was emotionally available and involved in their lives.

Your connection with your teen is your most important asset as a parent because (compared to when they were younger and you could control them) most of your parental power is now in your influence. And your connection is what gives you influence. In fact, your influence with your teen can be no stronger than your connection with them.

You can build the closeness your teen needs in both everyday and planned ways.

Staying connected to your teen means making yourself available when and where your teen is most apt to share what’s going on in their life with you. And summer’s vacation from school can be an ideal time for connecting through both casual and planned times together.

Teens’ brains are programmed to stay-up later than either children or adults. And late at night is when teens tend to let their guard down a bit and to be the most reflective. I’ve never been the night owl that either of my children is. But when they were teens, I found that it was worth my while to occasionally restructure my sleep schedule so that I could be around late at night for casual times with them. The best interactions happened when I didn’t lead the conversation but just listened.

Teens are also more apt to let you glimpse into their lives in settings that make them feel a bit out of their comfort zone. Planning a dinner at a nice restaurant (one fancy enough to require a little dressing up) can work well. There is something about this unfamiliar ambience – the formality, the leisureliness, the lack of their friends and yours – that encourages teens to share more about themselves. But don’t expect your teen to open up during the first course or two. The best conversations with my teens typically began as we lingered over dessert and sometimes continued as we walked to the car and on the drive home.

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