Teens long for independence. As kids get older, parents and teens often begin to have opposing goals which may create varied degrees of conflict. Kids are working to become free from their parents, while parents are still working at setting up needed boundaries. This creates tension and often a push-back on values. Parents are prone to feeling anxious when they see behaviors that seem to be a slippery slope away from their deeply held beliefs. It’s challenging to keep calm and stay connected!
As a parent coach for many years, I have seen and heard from a lot of parents. In recent weeks I have provided parent coaching to four separate parents with teens who are involved in things like drug use, identity and body image issues, disrespect, and lying.
It is normal for anxious parents to react in largely unhelpful ways and be reactionary instead of thoughtful when they feel their child may be pulling away. Parents tend to get more restrictive with a focus on behavior change. Restrictions and consequences may very well be needed, but if we start there we risk losing the relationship while demanding right behaviors. Then, at the end of the day, we have neither a good relationship nor a well-behaved kid.
If this dynamic is a relevant concern in your family, here are some helpful things to keep in mind:
Start by digging under the surface.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I believe about my struggling teen?
- How does that belief impact our relationship?
- What’s a “grace-and-truth-filled” perspective of my child?
- Am I making inside jokes (to myself or out loud) about jail time, or living in our basement for 20 more years, etc.?
- Am I simply focused on my child’s failures?
Allow fresh perspective to begin to influence your thinking so that you keep yourself from projecting a negative future for your kids.
Projecting a negative future can cause you to become more controlling and less connected to your child. To counteract this tendency, with my own teens, I would ask the Lord, “How do You see my struggling child?” This helped me get into a better frame of mind since I never got the sense that God was throwing up His hands in despair! Anchor in the truth: God is with you and has a good plan for your teen.
Determine to keep calm and stay connected.
Your teen needs more connection right now, not less. And yes, it can be very difficult to connect with a child who continues to push you away and is making choices with which you disagree. Keep in mind that sometimes it’s a child’s own sense of guilt or shame that is making it difficult for them to connect with you.
Practically speaking, what does crossing the connection gap look like?
- Send a text/snap/message affirming something about him.
- Take a calming breath and look at her with a pleasant look on your face!
- Bring home his favorite treat.
- Play/do something together that your teen is better at than you and laugh at yourself as you encourage them – whether it’s video games, a card game, a sport, etc.
- Watch some old home videos together or look at a photo album from when she was younger.
- Tell her you were thinking about something she did that made you laugh.
Persevere and don’t give up hope!
As your kids get older, it’s tempting to think, “It’s too late. I wasn’t good at connecting when they were little and I’m not good at it now. They just don’t want to be around me.” At Connected Families we believe it’s never too late to develop a connected relationship with your children (and even your parents!). There are many things to love about your kids!
Indeed, it’s never too late. The older your kids are when you make parenting changes, the more they are able to notice your effort to keep calm and stay connected and remember it! This coming year, we challenge you to have a NEW vision for your family – one filled with hope and promise rather than despair. We are praying you accept that challenge as you learn to lead your family (and teens!) with grace.