It’s like kids put on roller skates the minute they turn seven. One minute they’re calling us Mummy and telling us long-winded stories while we snuggle; next we blink and they’re calling us Life Wrecker and grunting at us through walls. The more they grow, the more they don’t seem to want us around so much. Connecting with teens and tweens can be so hard during this time, but that’s precisely what we need to do.
“Even though your child is programmed to become independent, this is the time where they actually need you more than ever before,” psychologist Karen Young writes at Hey Sigmund! “This is the time your child needs you to help guide them through all the mixed messages that they’re receiving about love, sex and relationships.”
Not to mention navigating social media pressures, education choices, friendship issues and establishing their own values away from the peer group. Adolescence is a very confusing time in life as kids grapple with societal expectations and peer pressures, while at the same time trying to understand and get to know themselves as individuals. They need us, whether they like us or not…
This might help too: A quick guide to managing temper tantrums in older kids
The trouble is, adolescents are prickly buggers. What with all the hormones circling and independence trying to break out along with faces. Apparently, kids think they are ready for adulthood about two years before they actually are, but parents lag behind their actual readiness by about two years. So there’s a gap of about four years there where we have to fight it out, making connecting with adolescents somewhat of a chore. Welcome to parenting!
These quick guides are all about by-passing the clutter and getting to the nitty-gritty of actionable things that will make a big difference. This guide to connecting with teens and tweens is no different. So, let’s figure this out right now.
1 x GAME CHANGER
Here’s the single-most important thing we can do: keep communication open.
There’s no point having a million rules that your kids just don’t buy into; just as it makes no sense to let them have free rein to do what they like. Tweens and teens are just not ready to run the show (despite what they think), but we do need to be considerate of the way they want to live their lives, as we try to make them fit into ours.
To keep communication open, try to:
• Resolve issues together – don’t ambush your tween or teen. Let them know when you want to have a ‘big talk’ and try to resolve issues during that time without lecturing (see below). Ask questions so you can make sure you understand their point of view, and remember to ask them for advice on how to resolve things.
Respect your child’s need for independence and they are more likely to respect your need for cooperation.
• Stop the nagging – the more we nag, the more our kids tune us out. When you keep going on and on about the same things every day, they simply don’t hear what you are trying to say. Eventually they will stop listening to you altogether. Instead, lay down some solid boundaries, agree consequences for overstepping them, and then respectfully allow your child to move within the boundaries as it suits them.
• Accept their point of view – it can be painful to realise that your child sees the world quite differently to you, but that is often the case. Be grateful that you have raised a person to think for themselves, and who stands up for their beliefs. Instead of dismissing their point of view out of hand, ask them more questions about why they feel the way they do. Try to arrive at a compromise you are both happy with.
It’s far better to compromise your views on life than to risk them shutting you out of theirs completely.
2 x THINGS THAT MATTER
1. Spend time together. Your kid may act like they would rather be with anyone but you, but it’s unlikely to be true. Weave regular points of contact into your weeks and get creative if you have to. If dinner together each night is impossible, how about making breakfast into more of a thing. Set the table, cook something to share, sit down to eat – even if you all have to get up a half-hour earlier to make it happen.
2. Don’t try to fix everything. We’re parents, we’re fixers, that’s just what we do. But kids of this age don’t want us to fix their problems, they just want us to listen. We might offer some advice, or tell them about our own experiences, but allow them to simply take our comments on board and figure things out for themselves.
The more we ask them “What do you think you should do?” rather than tell them what they “need to do”, the more likely they are to keep seeking our advice.
3 x IMPORTANT RULES
1. Little and often. Many touch points on a daily basis will form a stronger bond than attempting a big catch-up session (where they are most likely just going to grunt at you anyway). Check in with your kid in little ways like asking if there was “any news today” when they arrive home from school; driving them places; sharing chores together; or watching a movie together.
2. Always deliver a shit sandwich. Surrounding negative feedback with positive comment makes it go down so much easier. Goes something like this, “You’ve been amazing at bringing in the bins like I asked. I just wish you could be as diligent in keeping your room clean each week. I’m pretty sure you can do a better job, you’re pretty amazing at organising when you want to be…”
3. Focus on the positive. A bit like the shit sandwich above, but even tastier (euw!). It can be so easy to only see the sloppy negativity of our older kids. Their ability to push our buttons is just off the charts. Whenever you find yourself grumbling about your kid non-stop, it’s time to reframe your negativity. Fact is, your back-talking teen is actually really articulate. Your untidy tween is too busy being creative to care about her hair.
Seek out the positives to stay in control of your relationship with your adolescent.
4 x THINGS TO DO RIGHT NOW
1. Set some screen boundaries and stick with them. Screens are one of the top things parents argue with their kid about. Don’t keep having the same arguments without making changes to resolve your issues. So, set some screen rules, get the kids’ buy-in, and move on together. To help you make changes, pick up a copy of my ebook Screen Freedom here.
2. Go see a movie or show together. A shared movie is a nice night out, time together and a conduit to open up communication about all kinds of themes. My son and I have regular ‘mate nights‘ and we’ve had the best conversations as a result.
3. Ask specific questions. A “how are you?” is most likely to result in a “fine”, but a “What did you like best about X?” or “how did Y make you feel?” can elicit some surprising answers. You can really go to town by asking questions about their thoughts on all kinds of things, not just their daily life. Try something like: “If you were given $100 what would you spend it on?” Or “What country seems the most different to Australia?”
More ideas: 100+ family conversation starters
4. Identify and fix niggles. Just as screens bug the bejeezus out of most of us, each kid does niggly stuff that irritates their parents daily. These are small annoyances that on their own don’t seem big enough to worry about, but together add up to a constant drip-drip-drip of nagging irritation. Not good for any relationship. Work out what your niggles are, and come up with a plan to fix them.
For the record, here are a few niggles I’ve fixed lately:
• Won’t wear a jumper even when it’s freezing: I’ve learned to simply let this one go.
• Bombsite bedrooms: no screen time if bedroom isn’t tidy. Bedrooms are generally tidy.
• Won’t brush or style hair: agreed together that she will do better and if it gets too bad, she’ll get it chopped off. Hair improved immediately.
5 x RESOURCES
1. Hey Sigmund!: Proven way to strengthen your relationship with your teen
2. Psychology Today: 10 ways to stay connected with your adolescent
3. Tiny Buddha: The Zen of Anger: 5 tips to overcome negative reactions
4. Psychology Today: Worst mistakes parents make when talking to kids
5. Cracked: 5 stupid things adults do when talking to teens
What’s your biggest obstacle in your relationship with your adolescent?
Image by Annie Spratt