Have you heard the saying, “The days are long, but the years are short?” I remember when my kids were younger, and someone would stop me and say this as I looked harried at the grocery store or chasing someone at the park, and I didn’t quite understand it, but now here we are in 2024: My oldest turned 18 and will be graduating in May.
The teen years can be challenging — while we want to pull them closer, they pull away, discovering their independence and relying on friends more than their parents. So finding time and ways to connect with them becomes more challenging. Seeking out those moments where you aren’t nagging about a clean room, study habits, or curfew become more important. While there is still plenty of nagging happening in our house, these are some tried-and-true ways I have found to connect and strengthen the bond with my teens.
BE OF SERVICE
Volunteering together is one of the best ways I have found to connect. The key is finding a meaningful experience where you are both doing something you enjoy and feel like you are making an impact. Unfortunately, this isn’t always their first choice of activity and when it is suggested often, I am met with eye rolls and a little attitude, but then we get there and are focused on the task at hand, I can see them start to soften. While the shifts are usually only a few hours, and we are working together, it is the usually the ride home I cherish the most. We are often both in the best mood and experiencing what I refer to as the “helper’s high,” that feeling of having helped someone and given back to your community or someone in need. The conversations about our experience volunteering often lead to much deeper conversations. These experiences help teens discover there is a bigger world around them.
SHARE AN ACTIVITY
The college application process is sure to test even the strongest bond between parent and child. There are deadlines, lots of stress, anxiousness, and big decisions. One of the best ways my daughter and I found to deal with this was by baking. If I sensed she was at a breaking point I would say, “Is it time to bake?” which was our quiet code to take a break and focus on something yummy and sweet. It could also be going for a walk or shooting some hoops together as long as you know it is something they enjoy, and they will appreciate the effort you are making to do it with them.
Another way to connect with your teens is over their music. Music is very important to them and if you ask them to play their favorite songs for you in the car or at home, they are eager to do this. Now be careful what you ask for — some of the lyrics may leave you cringing and regretting you asked.
Other shared activities I enjoy with my teens are getting a manicure with my daughter or attending a sporting event with my son. Carving out time to enjoy an activity together is important to keeping the bond strong.
Often the times our teens feel like talking are late at night after a long day, which is not the most ideal for parents. Usually this is past my bedtime but a few nights a week I make a point to stay up until they go to sleep and make it known I am around if they need me. This is usually the time they are the chattiest and need me to just listen. I offer advice if they ask but most of the time just listen and let them know I am there for them. They may want to act or be treated as if they are all grown up, but most are appreciative of the small gestures such as giving them a hug on their way out the door in the morning, asking about their day, or saying goodnight.
One of the benefits of technology is it provides us another way to connect with our teens. Texting to remind them how special they are and that you hope they have a good day or wishing them good luck on a test, or a sporting event are great ways to connect while they are away from you. This is their world and how they communicate, so meeting them where they are goes a long way. The key to connection is to keep trying, accept there are times it is better than others, and don’t ever give up. They see you trying and won’t always admit it, but they appreciate it.
Liz Farrell is the mother of three children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive conversations around social media and technology. Comments: [email protected].