Connecting with Your Teenager

It is important to spend time with teenagers.

A sense of connection between a teenager and parent provides a backdrop against which all other interaction takes place.  If the parent-child connection is consistent, positive, and characterized by warmth, kindness, love, and stability, children are more likely to flourish socially.   Adolescents who describe their relationship with their parents as warm, kind, and consistent are more likely to initiate social interaction with other adolescents and with other adults.  They are more likely to respond to others positively and with greater empathy.  They are more likely to be self-confident in their relationships with others, and to be more cooperative with others.   Also, teens with these kinds of positive relationships with their parents on the whole struggle less with depression, and have higher self-esteem.  Relationships characterized by kindness and devoid of unkind words or acts appear to be important to healthy adolescent development. 

While it is true that one of the main developmental tasks of adolescence is to separate from parents, and that peer influence takes on greater and greater importance during teen years, there is still no substitute for the parent-teen relationship.

Parents who wish to enhance their connection with their teenager often find that choosing leisure activities wisely can do much to further the cause.  In addition to the opportunity to spend time together amiably, engaging teenagers in fun activities that foster sportsmanship, service, creativity, intellectual development, etiquette, honesty, and respect for each other brings all of those aspects into the parent-child relationship, providing an enjoyable forum for both teenagers and parents to practice those skills with one another.

Engaging in recreational activities with teenagers is a way to connect regularly in a pleasant setting.  Regular, positive interaction is crucial if discipline is to be effective.  When the parent/child relationship is built on a foundation of warmth and kindness, it can withstand the unpleasantness of discipline.  Parties to relationships void of such a foundation often either disengage or become conflicted in the face of the uncomfortable consequences imposed by discipline.

Spending leisure time together also gives parents a leg-up on the monitoring process.  First, it cuts down on the amount of free time kids spend without supervision.  Second, discussions about friends and other leisure activities tend to come up easily, and can be discussed in a relaxed atmosphere.  Often, parents get a chance to know their teenager's friends through recreational activities, either by attending school or team performances in which their child is involved with friends, or by allowing a child to invite a friend along on a family outing.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about the monitoring process is that it is a delicate balance between too much and too little, and it requires the energy to set firm limits when it would just be easier to let things slide.  It requires continued vigilance on the part of parents to ensure that they know where children are and what they are doing.  It also requires that parents enforce consequences when family rules are broken.  Although discipline is genuinely unpleasant for all involved, attention to monitoring activities and providing consequences for inappropriate behavior on a daily basis will alleviate major heartache later.