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  • Dr. Teresa Edwards, LMFT

Connecting with Your Teen

It's amazing how quickly the teen years come. Some parents struggle to grow with their teen and don't successfully make the transition from parenting a child to parenting a teen. Many of the same skills that are necessary to have healthy communication with a spouse are also necessary to have healthy communication with your teen. Implementing small, positive behaviors with your teen can help turn disconnection to connection.

1. Minimize criticism.

So many teens tell me that their parents are quick to criticize them, but don't draw attention to times when they have met their parents' expectations. Take a minute and think... Would you want to be around someone or talk to someone that you felt was constantly criticizing you? I wouldn't. Criticism makes the person the problem, instead of letting the problem be the problem. For example, if a parent says, "Why can't you pick up your stuff? You are such a slob," the parent is making the teen the problem instead of the dirty room being the problem.

Parents can set boundaries and hold teens accountable without criticizing their character or making them the problem. A good way to do this is to use "I" statements instead of "you" statements. In the above example, the parent could say, "I feel frustrated when I see a mess in the living room. I would like you to put your stuff in your room when you are finished." Then, when your teen does what you've asked of them, let them know that you noticed and that you appreciate it.

2. Connect daily.

There are a lot of things competing for your attention on a daily basis like email, social media, the to-do list, and everything involved with just trying to manage life. Your teen shouldn't have to compete for your attention. Make it a priority to take at least 10 or 15 minutes everyday to have a distraction free conversation with your teen about their day or whatever they want to talk about. Listen with the goal of empathizing with them and validating their emotions. Making your teen feel heard, understood, and important involves slowing down, looking them in the eye, and emotionally checking in.

3. Be genuinely interested.

It's a wonderful experience to feel truly known and accepted. Some parents are more interested in seeing their teen for who they want them to be instead of getting to know who they actually are. Adolescence is a time for your teen to figure out who they are, what they want, and what they believe. Take the time to listen to their likes, dislikes, hopes, fears, dreams, and worries without trying to influence them or fix their life. If you need to brush up on your listening skills, check out Mastering the Techniques of Listening.

Don't allow criticism, busy schedules, or poor communication to erode your relationship with your teen. Making some small changes can make all the difference.

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