5 Strategies to Connect With Your Teenager

Abby looked across the gym at her friend, Chicken Little, and said, “You have got to stop messing around, and deal with the problem… Just repeat after me: You, your dad, talk.” Feeling the shame of having made a fool of himself and his father, Chicken Little responded “Abby, Abby, Abby, listen! Talking’s a waste of time. I got to do something great so my dad doesn’t think I’m such a loser.” The separation that exists between Chicken Little and his dad is the driving force behind most of what happens in their 2005 movie.

In my work as a youth minister, I often encounter teens in the same position—they feel like talking to their parents might be a waste of time. They often come to me instead to discuss relationship concerns, emotional crises, or other serious issues. While some of these teens have a great relationship with their parents, making me an extra support, others come to me first because they feel disengaged from their parents. Part of my job in those moments is to try to bring parents and teens together again. I’ve found that parents who have success in bridging this gap work hard to ensure their teens know that they really do care. Here are 5 strategies to connect with your teenager.

1. Be present.

The simplest way to stay connected to your teenager is to show up. Look for ways to be physically and consciously present in their day-to-day lives. Look for the simple moments in each day when you can be with them. Go out of your way to eat breakfast or dinner with them. Be ready to drive them to school, work, or practice. Show up for their games and performances. While they may not say something in the moment, your kids will remember the effort you make to always be there. So, if you want to know how to connect with your teenager, start with being present.

2. Look up.

Many parents lament the amount of time our kids spend looking at their phones. We can be guilty of the same thing, spending too much time looking at phone, TV, or computer screens. Setting your screens aside will both provide your kids a good example of what healthy screen time looks like and give you a chance to notice how your teen is doing. Is she upset or withdrawn? Has her behavior changed dramatically in the last few days? Having fewer screens between you will allow your teenager an easier chance to talk to you or to ask for help.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Teenagers don’t always have the tools to process their emotions. At the end of a day, they can be tired distracted, aloof, or moody. This can impact the way your teen treats you, like when he overreacts to some minor inconvenience. Certainly, you need to confront his disrespect, but don’t let his grunting and complaining set you off. Sometimes he needs to blow off steam, and venting to you or at you is the safest place in his life to do it. Offering teens that safe space will help you maintain your relationship with them.

4. Meet them in the big stuff.

Some teenagers are going through excruciatingly difficult things. It might be a moment of weakness with a boyfriend or girlfriend, a struggle with drugs or alcohol, or a situation that has left them deeply hurt. When we hear about it, we may not know what to do. When your teenager discloses to you that she has been hurt by someone or he’s done something stupid, take a deep breath and don’t fly off the handle. When teens are dealing with big problems, they need to know their dads love them and will be with them no matter what.

5. Don’t give up.

Teenagers can be good at giving one-word (or no-word) answers. It can get frustrating for a dad who may feel like he’s talking to a brick wall morning, noon, and night.  It is critically important in these moments that you keep asking anyway. Ask him how he slept. Ask him about his day. Ask him about his favorite sports team, show, or band. Whether your son answers or rolls his eyes at you, your persistence in asking about his life will tell him you really care.

Sound off: What are other ways to connect with your teenager?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Who can you talk to when you’re having a bad day?”