It is extremely important to actively work on your relationship with your teenager. It is such a big deal to your teenager that in their own way, they will let you know if it’s not being done properly. They don’t often sit you down to have a chat about how you should spend more time together. Instead teenagers act out by getting poor grades, experimenting with drugs or alcohol, becoming sexually active, or being rude towards you at home, etc. (There are other reasons teens might behave this way too; it’s not one size fits all).
In order to build a stronger relationship with your teenager, there are some things you can do. Start with obvious common ground. I worked with one teenage boy that hadn’t spoken a word to his father in two years, and they lived in the same house. His father knew the boy liked certain music from the Seventies. The father had some of the music on vinyl, so he set up his old record player. He started playing his old albums and didn’t say a word. That got the teenage boy to come out of his room at look at what was going on. His father simply asked him if he’d like to see what other records there were. The teenage boy said he would, and looked through them with his father standing there. They didn’t say anything to one another, but they were spending time together. They slowly built a relationship around music. The father bought concert tickets and invited the boy. When they went to the concert, the father was very careful not to say anything judgmental about his son, any of the concert-goers, or on any topic for that matter. Over time the boy began to trust his father not to be critical (a past problem between these two). After a year of very slow progress, there is now a real relationship between father and son.
You can do this too. Assess where you are in your relationship with your teen. Start right there. Don’t try and force something that doesn’t exist, and don’t try and make it happen too quickly. Take your time and be patient. Be very cognizant of how many judgments you are making. It is a great idea to keep those to yourself. Be aware of how defensive you are feeling. Remember that you don’t have to respond if your teenager says something offensive, responding is up to you.
Make your teenager a priority. I guarantee you have some stupid priorities that seem incredibly important to you. I know that for a fact because we all do. My most stupid priority that sometimes gets put in front of relationship with my kids is cleanliness. I get so worked up if the house isn’t clean that I miss valuable time with her. What are your stupid priorities? Is it work? Golf? Football? Exercise? All those things are great, and so is a clean house. They just aren’t great when they become the thing that MUST be done before having focused time with your family.
A lot of parents come to me and blame their teens for disrupted relationships. They tell me that it was much better a couple years ago, while they still had an elementary school aged child. However, elementary school aged children usually go with the flow more and do what you say. They will take an interest in what you’re doing in order to get your attention. Once you have a teenager, he thinks for himself. He knows what he finds enjoyable. Even though that might be a little bit different than what you like to do, it doesn’t mean he prefers you not be around. He will just prefer you leave if you consistently criticize what he likes to do. So,consider taking an interest in it. Then you still have an influence on, and still get to spend time with your kid.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT