Establishing Connection with Your Teen

You may feel as if your teenager connects with you in one of the following ways — either as a standoffish, I-don’t-need-you, underage adult, or as a clingy, help-me-now, grown-up kid. There is actually another way your teen can relate to you, and that is not all.

Teenagers have the ability, and the option, to disconnect from their parents entirely. They may not do it physically for a few more years, but they can certainly do it emotionally and relationally right now.

Photo by Anthony Ginsbrook on Unsplash

If your relationship is too troubled, too complicated, too stressful or painful, your teen may decide to stoically ride it out, knowing that time is on his side, and that he’ll eventually be out on his own and gone. If your relationship is too smothering, too judgmental, too negative or controlling, your teen may decide to reciprocate in anger, allowing herself to feed off it until she finds someplace else to live and someone else to love.

You are in a competition for your teenager’s connection. You are competing with peers and with technology, because many of those other options for connection are only a cell phone or keypad away. Just because your teenager is in your house, in his room, doesn’t mean he’s alone.

I think most parents would be surprised by how much connection their kids are doing over those cell phones. Here are a couple of summary points from the Pew study, which I encourage you to read:

  • Teens are more apt to text their friends than call them up and talk to them.
  • Of the vast majority of teens who text, over half of them send more than one hundred messages per day, and 15 percent send more than two hundred messages per day.
  • There is a difference between girls and boys when it comes to texting. Girls send and receive an average of eighty messages per day, while for boys it’s an average of thirty messages per day.
  • Teens do more with their phones than just text or talk. They also take pictures (83 percent) and share those pictures (64 percent), play music on their phones (60 percent), and play games (46 percent). They go online (27 percent) and access social networks (23 percent). [1]

Teens say they like texting because it’s easier and more convenient than talking. In other words, they are in charge of if they text, what they text, and when they text. Interestingly, teens say they will avoid answering their cell phones in order to train people to text them instead of call them. This has forced parents to take up texting, even when they don’t really like it, because it’s the only way to get their teens to answer them back.

It also means that if a teen has a cell phone, he or she has access to other people, to other connections. Fifteen percent of teens say they’ve gotten a text message with sexually suggestive, nude, or nearly nude picture of someone they know. This isn’t surfing general porn; this is intentional, directed sexual pictures of someone they know sent to them.

This is just one of the reasons why it is so important you maintain connection to your teenager. You are going to have to be like a tenacious rodeo rider. To me, navigating this time of transition is like being on the back of a bucking bronco. You’re going to do a lot of shifting and moving in order to stay ahead of the twists and turns of your teenager. There are times you’re probably going to feel like losing your lunch, but you’ve got to hang on. You’ve got to be the parent and stay the parent. You’ve got to keep the lines of communication open and available.

Be aware of how you’re reacting to your teenager and why, including reasons that have nothing to do with your teen and everything to do with you. Avoid the tendency to blame, and look for ways to understand what and who are responsible for difficulties in the relationship. Come clean about your own past mistakes and work toward forgiveness.

You’re vitally important. You’re still the one they’re going to come running to when they realize they’ve messed up and have only two days left to finish that project at school. When they’re in trouble and need help, you want to be the one they connect with, no matter the personal cost.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 36 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.

[1] Lenhart et al., “Teens and Mobile Phones.”