Building a relationship with your teen may seem futile and dangerous. After all, you’re not even sure if this is still your kid.
He vaguely looks like the adorable lad in his kindergarten picture, but long gone is the precious way he used to chatter on with you.
Now if you get a grunt or two from him before he leaves for school you feel you’ve had meaningful conversation.
And the daughter who used to care for her American Girl doll like it was a miniature version of herself—well, her moods go up and down at breakneck speed.
No matter what you do, you are the bad guy and the cause of all her problems. Yep, building a relationship with this strange teenager who calls you “Mom” or “Dad” can be frustrating.
While it would be easier to check out as a parent in these teen years (and many parents do), we will be missing priceless opportunities to influence our kids and build relationships that will last a lifetime.
Even though our kids act like they’d rather have acne than have us involved in their lives, it’s just that—an act.
My daughter Katie (now 26 and a former teen rebel) said, “It was really nice to have my parents at my band events for support and to know in case I needed anything they where there.”
Hanging in there with our kids in these teens years will not only build relationships for a lifetime, but it will help keep our kids from making even worse decisions than if we weren’t there.
Here are a few ways to build a relationship with your teen:
1. Love and accept your child where she is. Do you, or have you ever had, someone in your life that you could never please no matter how hard you tried?
If you have (and who hasn’t), you know the frustration of giving your best and yet it’s never enough.
Our teens live in a social mine field every day. They do their best with their limited maturity and reasoning abilities.
But in our eyes it can look like they’re failing miserably. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have reasonable expectations for our kids. But I am saying even when they fall short, love and accept them right where they are.
2. Stop nagging. Again, how effective is it when your spouse or boss or parents nag you? Does it make you want to do what they want you to do? Usually the exact opposite.
After Katie moved out, we were always thrilled when she came home for a visit. However, she would drop all her stuff right inside the back door.
I started to nag her but then I realized I didn’t want her to not visit because I nagged her about her stuff. So I moved it to her room without saying a word.
She later confessed when I stopped nagging she started moving it on her own because I was no longer making it a big deal.
Sure, our teens need to learn personal responsibility. When the kids all lived at home I used to give them until the end of the day to pick up their stuff. What was left lying around I collected in a bag and it cost them to buy it back. No nagging required.
3. Keep the wheels on the wagon. Encourage your child’s good decisions and successes. Help and enable your child in the positive things you see in their lives.
Once Katie became serious about finishing college, we had plenty of opportunities to encourage and advise (when asked).
She is a sculpture major, so my husband, Gene, has helped her build many supportive structures to hold her forms.
It’s a practical way he can help. What’s a positive thing your child is involved with? How can you keep the wheels on his wagon and keep it rolling down the street to his future?
4. Maximize technology appropriately. I love texting! It keeps me in contact with my girls without being invasive. My girls respond in their time. I text information that needs to be communicated, encouragement, and even funny pictures of the cat.
The key is don’t overuse it. Don’t text back, “Did you get my text?” if you don’t get a response. Also, remember that your Facebook page is just that—your Facebook page. Never post a picture of your kids or something about them without their permission.
5. Be available. Be home when your kids are home. Yes, they’re old enough to stay alone, but you never know when they’ll be ready to talk. You also never know when they’ve had a really bad day and need to talk.
Your presence gives them security, stability, and comfort. It tells our kids “You’re important to me. I’m here for you.”
Katie agrees, “In everything, my parents’ presence gave me an ongoing feeling of emotional and real security—knowing they were available to listen/talk and actually available if I needed help. ”
Building relationship with your teenager is difficult and often you won’t see results for years. Stay the course. Gene and I now enjoy being part of our adult children’s lives where we are loved and valued.
Brenda Garrison is an author and parenting expert. She speaks at retreats, workshops, professional groups, and government agencies that work with families. She and her husband, Gene, have three daughters. Her book "Love No Matter What: When Your Kids Make Decisions You Don't Agree With" (Thomas Nelson, March 2013).