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How to reconnect with your teen (even if it’s been a while)

How to reconnect with your teen (even if it’s been a while)

Remember when your kids clung to you like a shipwreck survivor to a life raft? (We were the raft in this situation, just to be clear.) Then, one day, unexpectedly, they simply weren’t around anymore. Not only were they not on you, they weren’t anywhere around you either.

Now, instead of feeling smothered with love and attention by small children, you suddenly find yourself wondering if you’ll ever be able to reconnect with your teen… AKA that elusive person who leaves dishes all over the house but you never actually see.

It starts happening in the early years of high school. One minute they’re cling-ons, next minute they’re gone.

Where do they go?

Their room, mostly. But also out to activities, work, see friends, presumably to attend school.

You wake up one day and wonder if you even know who your kid is anymore. What do they like doing? Who are their friends? Where did they put your phone charger? The answers are left blowing in the backdraft of the door closing as they rush off to god-knows-where-this-time.

If you’re feeling like this is ‘all normal’, you’re right. Turns out the rumours are all true: teenagers don’t especially want to hang out with their mother. Who knew? It’s all part of normal socialisation and we should be glad they’re off galivanting with friends.

How to reconnect with your teen

So much galivanting…

Normal, but not necessary

That said, just because friends are preferable, doesn’t mean your kid doesn’t ever want to hang out with you. Sometimes it’s just a matter of asking or arranging something fun to do and then inviting them.

That won’t mean they want to come to the family barbecue for Aunty Eileen’s 75th. They’re also unlikely to want to hang with the ‘old gang’ of your friends and their kids. They’ve got their own gang now and they’ve grown out of being portable enough to play with any kid that crosses their path (remember those good ol’ days? Sigh.)

They might, however, be tempted to cook a themed family dinner. As long as there is zero social media evidence of the evening ever happening, of course. Or to pull weeds for the local Bushcare group with you on a Sunday morning. Or take tuba lessons together if that’s both your thing and theirs.

Make it easier to connect

To make things easier for yourself, here are some guidelines:

  1. Catch them at a good time. Don’t launch into the ‘you never want to spend time with the family’ speech when they are reluctant to spend time with the family. Instead, catch them during a time when you are doing something together and say ‘this is really nice, I’d love to spend time together more regularly.’
  2. Schedule a time. It’s respectful of both your time and theirs.
  3. Make it a regular thing. It’s easier to do the same thing daily/ weekly / monthly than have to entice them to do something new every time.
  4. Ask them what they want to do. Express how much it would meant to you to do something regularly together then put the ball in their court to come up with some suggestions. Actually, a regular tennis game would be good, no?
  5. Be consistent, but flexible. Lock in a day and time, but be understanding if your teen wants to change plans. However, don’t accept them bailing on you for no good reason. Remind them that this time is precious to you and their commitment is important. Bribe them to be there if you have to. Honestly, do that.

Here are just some of the ways you can reconnect with your teen starting… now. Give one a go this week and let us know how you get on.

1. Family dinners with a twist

Family dinners are a classic way to be together and we’ve never stopped having them at our place. If you’re home, you’re at the dinner table. Of course, getting teens to ‘be home’ for dinner is tricky, but making them special might entice your teen to the table with a bit more excitement.

Read more: 100+ family conversation starters

One way is to do a themed family dinner once a month. Each person in the family gets to choose a theme when it’s their turn. It might be a cultural theme (‘French’ or ‘Italian’) or an era (‘1950s’ or ‘1070s’) or even a movie theme (‘Wonka’ or ‘The Hobbit’). They then prepare and cook the meal and decorate the table to suit their theme. 

Here's how to reconnect with your teen even if you think all hope is lost

But parents, I’ve been waiting my whole life for you to ask me to cook a Moroccan-themed dinner.

This not only gives the family a special occasion to come together, it also gives your teens a chance to showcase their talents. You’ll also be fostering a sense of responsibility and ownership plus helping them hone their planning and time management skills. Bonus: you might discover a hidden culinary prodigy in your midst. Handy!

2. Walk and talk

I’m a huge believer in going for a walk with your kids. It works for little kids (treasure hunts! people! birds! running!) and just as well for big kids… they might just need a little reminding.

Your teen will most definitely have a million other things to do after dinner than take a stroll around the block with their parents. Do what you have to do to get them moving anyway.

It will be worth pushing through the resistance when you find yourselves having big and important conversations along the way.

It won’t happen the first time, or maybe even the second or third, but eventually once the walk becomes a habit, so will the chatter.

3. Share a hobby

Discovering shared interests can be a powerful way to bond as a family. Encourage each family member to explore their hobbies and interests, and then find ways to engage in these activities together.

Whether it’s bushwalking, painting, gardening or (at a pinch) birdwatching, shared hobbies provide common ground to reconnect with your teen in an engaging way. Here are a few ideas if you’re not into any of the above:

  • Learn some YouTube dances together. Start with this one as it’s super basic and even I can do the moves:

  • Learn a musical instrument like the guitar. Make it competitive to keep their interest alive. We love Andy Guitar. My son and I started learning guitar with Andy during the first pandemic lockdown. We started together and I can now play exactly nothing and Max is in a band, so there you go.
  • Do a martial art. An excellent way to get any pent-up aggro out in a fun and ‘friendly’ way.
  • Take up gaming. If you can’t beat ’em, etc.

4. Daily check-ins

Make it a habit to have daily check-ins with each family member. This can be as simple as asking about their day or sharing a funny anecdote. It’s especially powerful when you ask your teen for advice about something you’re facing.

More on this: The daily kid check-in

This brief moment of connection helps keep the lines of communication open and let’s your kid know they are valued and supported. It’s especially nice if you take it outside, and, of course, you can combine this one with the after-dinner walk…

5. Volunteer together

I mentioned bush regeneration above, but there are loads of things families can do to together help others. It’s an especially satisfying way to reconnect with your teen. Try something like:

  • Help out at an animal shelter. We used to walk dogs on the weekend for Monika’s Doggie Rescue. You can also take puppies and kittens in for pet shops.
  • Visit the elderly. Many nursing homes and retirement villages welcome families to sit and be with people who don’t get to regularly see their own relatives.
This one is especially good for kids who don't get to see their grandparents much

This one is especially good for kids who don’t get to see their grandparents much.

  • Give your time to charity events like fun runs or music festivals. You’ll be the registered volunteer, but your teens are generally able to accompany you to help out.
  • Work at a food kitchen. Cook, deliver or serve meals for those in need.
  • Deliver food for Meals on Wheels. You do the driving, your teen can do the delivering. Matter of fact, why not sign up as an ubereats driver and your teen can come along and do the deliveries while you drive. Loads of bonding time together plus they’ll earn some money so they’re likely to keep hanging out with you…

Pro tip: this is a good one to suggest if your kid is doing their Duke of Ed. The volunteering time will hopefully count towards their program, so it’s a double win.

6. Commit to a family fitness challenge

 Staying active as a family not only promotes health but may also the perfect way to reconnect with your teen.

Challenge each other to a weekly fitness challenge, whether it’s a friendly competition to see who can log the most steps or a group fitness session on the back deck. The ‘challenge’ part is key here: hopefully your teen won’t be able to resist the opportunity to show their parents up in a fitness activity. Challenge accepted to:

  • See who can do the most burpees each week (note: this will never be me).
  • Or make it push ups or sit ups, or all three.
  • Set up a beep test on the median strip out the front of the house and run that timer down.
  • Do a different fitness YouTube video each night after dinner (and after your walk! See above).
  • Streeeeetch to get more flexible together.
  • Check out the latest #tiktokchallenge. Assess for general safety and lack of idiocy then go for it.

Sure, burpees bite hard, but they’re actually a real laugh when you’re doing them with the ones you love. An absolute riot, to be sure.

Feature image by Karolina Grabowska; gallivanting teens by cottonbro studio; cooking dinner by Anastasia Shuraeva; old person visit by cottonbro studio