Parents of adolescents often worry that they are losing their connection with their child, that he or she hates them, and that they won’t remain an influence. Despite the normal developmental need for kids to become more independent and self-reliant, they also need strong ties with parents. Research has shown that having a supportive adult in their corner who loves and guides them is perhaps the most important protective factor for keeping them on track. The following will help maintain your relationship and, more importantly, allow you to remain an influence throughout your child’s teen years and beyond.
1. Be there: Children and teens need to know that you are available when they need you. This means being fully present when you are with them. Too many parents today are distracted with phones, work or worries. If kids sense that their parents are stressed and overwhelmed, they tend to shy away from sharing their own problems for fear of putting parents over the edge.
2. Hear them: Listen to adolescents without interrupting, judging or trying to fix them. Leave your own feelings at the door so that they don’t unintentionally cause emotional overload. Teens have enough on their plates to deal with without adding more to the mix.
3. Relate to them: Get in your child’s shoes and see issues from his or her point of view. This allows you to understand and empathize. Sharing your own related stories lets adolescents know that you get them.
4. Respect them: Don’t yell, criticize, spank or compare. Respect their opinions even if you don’t agree. Apologize when you make mistakes. Allow them to make decisions for themselves, and give them as much say-so and autonomy as possible.
5. See and accept them: Value who your child is even if he or she is different from you, family or peers. Never dismiss or minimize feelings even if you can’t relate. Value passion where you see it, even if it goes against the grain or isn’t valued by the culture. Love your children as they are.
6. Free them: Starting in early childhood, begin the process of letting go and giving kids the freedom they deserve and crave. Teach them how they can show you that they’re ready for and have earned the next privileges. If you let go all along the way, the big step-off at age 18 won’t be a big deal for either of you.
7. Love them: The best way to love is to add the six items above to your parenting toolbox. Adolescence doesn’t have to be a time where kids pull away and completely shut parents out. To remain an influence in your child’s life, what you need most of all is a full goodwill account that earns you a close, trusting relationship.
Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who works with girls in grade school through college. Check out his new online course, Parenting girls: The challenges girls face today with their feelings and friends and what they need, at drtimjordan.com.