When I was growing up, my mom would always ask me questions about how school was or where I was going with my friends. Every time, I would respond with my favorite 4-word phrase: “Don’t worry about it!” I know my mom was just showing interest in my life, but I was not interested in letting her in.
I’ve worked with teens and middle schoolers for many years since then, and have learned that developing deep, trusting relationships between a parent and a teen can be challenging.
Parenting teens is a frightening endeavor, because teens are becoming more independent and parents know the world is full of pitfalls, dangers, and temptations. As a result, a parent can become anxious and fearful resulting in hypersensitivity and over-controlling parenting, which pushes children further away. At the same time, children are constantly looking for approval from their parents, so they try to act “perfect” but never fill the parents in on what’s really going on in their lives.
Developing depth in relationships isn’t always easy and can take some time, so don’t get discouraged if the first couple conversations don’t go the way you have envisioned them. Here are some tips that can help you on your journey:
1. Start Small
One thing that I’ve seen that has helped breakdown those barriers is by transitioning from a parent/child relationship to more of a peer relationship. This doesn’t mean that parents stop parenting, but it means letting your kids into your life. Taking your son or daughter out for lunch and filling them in on your life—how work is going, the fears you feel, the things you are excited about, or how your marriage is doing—will do wonders in developing depth through meaningful conversation.
Sharing your whole entire life story at first might be too much to handle, so start with something small. Sharing one thing that made you afraid and one thing that went well for you that day could be a good start.
2. Be Consistent
The more you do it, the more comfortable it becomes. That’s when the relationship dynamic starts to change.
I know one father who worked on this every evening with his son. They would spend 15 minutes every night before going to bed talking to each other about the things I mentioned above and they learned more about each other in two weeks then they had previously known about each other in the last 15 years. This also helped their dynamic at home. There was less arguing and confrontation because they had mutual respect for each other because of the growth in their relationship.
3. Make the Time Special
Whether you spend quality time with your son or daughter daily or a few times a week, make sure you make it special: getting ice cream, grabbing a burger, taking a walk in your favorite park. Making family a priority is something you won’t regret.