Simple tips for staying connected to increasingly independent teens
By psychologist Jane Dodding
Staying connected to teenage children can feel difficult and frustrating, as they increasingly become more connected to their friends and peers than us.
It can sometimes feel like the only communication is us trying to get them to do something, change their behaviour or teach them something. And all we get in return is a grunt … if we're lucky! Yet they seem to talk constantly to their friends – either in person or on social media.
Although this can be hurtful, it's worth remembering that it is our responsibility as parents to maintain attachments with our children, to protect them and keep them close to ensure we are able to continue to influence and provide them with guidance and support. Here are some tips for maintaining communication and connection:
- Focus less on their behaviour and redirect your attention to restoring and maintaining the relationship. Woo them back into your relationship, be patient, give praise and be thankful.
- Protect your family time. Think about things they used to enjoy and create opportunities to do things together. Invite and entice them and expect them to be resistant or withdrawn initially, but persevere with patience.
- Be their compass. Assume your position as the person who helps them to orientate and navigate the world. When they were young, you instinctively did this by talking to them about what was going to happen, what something meant, who that particular person was and what was special about them etc. Regain your confidence to continue doing this (e.g. "This is where I’ll be today, you can contact me by phone if you need help." "What I have in mind for tonight is…" "You are the kind of girl who…" or "You have a real gift in...")
- Maintain connection when you are not together. Provide them with information about where you are – sending photos is an easy way to keep in contact and a great way to inject some humour and fun while maintaining regular contact.
- Use technology to your advantage. Know what social media they use, understand how it works, join in and use it to maintain regular connection.
If you regularly have time away from your kids (working FIFO or DIDO etc) you will need to work on reconnecting when you return. Create a ritual – something you always do together when you return (e.g. frisbee on the beach, hiking, breakfast out, movie night at home).
If you'd like to read more on this topic, check out the great book Hold on to your kids: why parents need to matter more than peers, by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Matè.
To read other columns written by our psychologists, please click here. And remember that we offer a free email Q&A service with our psychologists, so just click here to ask a question about relationships, parenting or your career.
All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.
Jane Dodding is a psychologist and director with MindsPlus, a group of psychologists and other mental health workers who came together in 2007 to provide support to people living and working in rural and remote regions of Australia. For further information about MindsPlus, contact 1300 312 202 or visit www.mindsplus.com.au.