How can you improve your relationship with your teen when one party wants nothing to do with the other? It takes work but is worth the effort. It seems that many parents go about it the wrong way – vacillating between a desire to be a friend on the one hand and a dictator on the other. Here we will address ways you can break down the walls between you and your teen. Surprise! You won’t need a sledge hammer, but rather a small pick axe.
- Be available. Instead of forcing a relationship by asking a barrage of questions, make the relationship available to him. When you know your teen will be home, don’t busy yourself with housework or bury your head in your laptop or a newspaper. Do some mundane task and look available. Smile. Make eye contact. Offer to make a snack and eat together (they are always hungry). Food is one of the great communication high way on-ramps.
- Be quick to listen and slow to speak. If your teen starts to open up, just listen. Don’t try to imitate a peer to keep them talking. Just be yourself. Use facial expressions and eye contact to communicate that you are listening and hearing what they have to say. Empathize – try to remember what it felt like to be a teen. Don’t moralize or lecture. Provide honest feedback if asked. Leave the door open to future conversations by saying something like, “I enjoy our talks. I hope you know you can always come to me.” If you follow step 1 above, he will know this is true.
- Try what he likes. If your teen has a favorite video game or style of music, try it out for yourself. When he walks by and sees you playing or listening to it, you can say, “I see how much you play this. I wanted to give it a try to see what it is all about.” You can then add a genuine comment about what you think. Don’t fake your interest – he can spot a counterfeit a mile away. Showing interest in what he likes shows interest in him.
- Notice what he is good at. Maybe you think the only thing your teen does well is make a mess, sleep late and give you a hard time. Look deeper. Is he kind to animals? Does he help carry in the groceries without being asked? Does he make a great hamburger? Simply observe what you see. Say, “I like to watch you play with the cat. You have a nice way with her.” Despite what he says, your teen is desperate for your approval.
- Have an “I’ve noticed . . .” conversation. If your child is repeatedly demonstrating the same problem, point it out at a time of calm. Don’t accuse or point fingers, just make an observation. You can say something like, “I’ve noticed that things have been a little explosive around here lately. I’d like to work on it.” If your teen is amenable, share what you plan to do – even if that plan is to simply walk away when he shouts, “I hate you!” Just remember, with teens, less is more.
- Do things together. This may seem painfully obvious, but the modern family is becoming more and more fragmented. You cannot get to know someone if you don’t spend any time together. Go get ice cream together (let him drive if he’s licensed) or bring a picnic dinner to his sports meet and enjoy it together after wards.
Remember, you are not trying to be your teen’s friend. He has plenty of those. You are the one who provides limits, structure and foundational values. Having all the elements for a good working relationship makes it much more pleasurable to do so.