The parent-child connection is one of the most important relationships you’ll experience in life, and should never be taken for granted. It’s arguably the foundation stone from which their future relationships are influenced. Adolescence is a time when teens start to drift from their parents as they seek independence on their road to becoming adults. That doesn’t mean that the parent-child connection has to fade away, nor should it. Let’s look at some ways to help maintain (or forge) a healthy emotional bond between parents and their children through adolescence.
Love should be unconditional
Unconditional love is essential in forming (and keeping) healthy connections between parents and teens. Not only that, but it’s vital for them to develop a healthy sense of self-worth. Consider a teen who only receives praise and affection when they achieve something; this is an unhealthy foundation to a positive parent-teen connection. Why? Well, think about it. If your teen only receives affection/positive affirmation when they succeed, that’s going to affect their sense of self-worth in a very skewed way. This will affect them beyond the parent-child dynamic, but potentially in all their relationships. Imagine the anxiety you would feel if you knew you were only of value (and worthy of love) if you performed well? Now imagine feeling like that as a child or teen. In contrast, consider a teen who is made to feel loved and valued regardless of how well they perform in life, even when they make mistakes? Which would you rather be? Which parent would be more likely to form a strong and healthy connection with?
Acknowledge their achievements. Praise them for how well they did on a test. Compliment them on their performance in a match (even if they didn’t win) or concert, poetry reading, etc. It’s not about rewarding your teen’s success. It’s about encouraging them to try and to let them know that they’re valued. In this day and age, perhaps more than ever, it’s very easy for us to get lost in a social media world where everybody but ourselves appears to be ‘living their best life’ and achieving great things. This can be overwhelming as it is for adults, let alone teens who may not have developed the cognitive reasoning to recognise that these stories and posts are often cherry-picked, if real at all. Positive affirmations help to counter this, letting your teen know they have value no matter what.
Physical touch can be a powerful means of connecting with people. Some people think that hugs are something teens grow out of, but that’s not always the case. If they’re comfortable with it, of course, hugs can say a lot more about your love and support for them than many words can. Or a subtle pat on the back when they need that extra bit of support or have gone through a hard time.
Empathy & Humility
Avoid speaking ‘down’ to them in a condescending tone. Show them empathy; perhaps you could relate to a current problem by recounting a story of your own from your teenage years (even if it’s not particularly flattering). If they’re going through their first relationship breakup, perhaps you could tell them about the first time it happened to you. It could be about a time you did something you regretted due to peer pressure and how you felt after (and before). By relating your own experiences to their own, you’re breaking down barriers and showing humility when they get these wrong; let them know that you too weren’t (and aren’t) perfect and that you would never expect them to be either.
Allow them to be them
Don’t let your expectations influence how your teen chooses to live. Accept that their tastes in fashion, music, sport, even friends may not reflect yours or what you expect of them. Let your teen discover their own path and support it. Be warm to their friends, even the ones you don’t like. Avoid being condescending about their new haircut or choice of clothes. Don’t pressure them into a sport or other extracurricular activity that they enjoy.
Of course, that’s not to say if your teen is rushing off to do drugs with their friends that you should just let them and say nothing. Illegal or harmful activities should, of course, be monitored. But again, empathise with them. Explain to them that you understand the pressure to engage in these activities, but outline the negative consequences, even if it means relating your own past mistakes to them.
To form a connection with anyone, we need to spend time with them. Be around them and be there for them. And look, it’s not always easy, especially if you’re working hard to make ends meet and provide for your family. However, it’s important to try. Allocate family time. If you have multiple children, make sure you allocate your time as fairly and equally as possible and practical. Check-in with them regularly, even if they don’t come to you or seem distant. Listen to them, even if it sometimes means curtailing your plans. Never let your teen feel that your work or friends are more important than they are. Be open and honest. And if there are times when you simply can’t get out of working late or similar, explain it to them.
I hope these points on connecting with your teens emotionally have been of use. However, if you are struggling with your child-parent relationship, please feel free to get in touch.