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Connecting with Teens

Connecting with Teens

Some principles and effective strategies to help you connect with your teen.


1. It’s all about me:

Teens are egocentric. They often only think about themselves because they’re experiencing so much inner turmoil. Their emotions over take them; they are dealing with their hormones, school, peers and other pressures. They don't have the experience and maturity that we have in handling their problems on their own.

This is when they start forming their own ideas and solutions on how to work life out.

Try to overlook this behavior. Help them to find volunteer opportunities that allow them to extend themselves and also highlight their strengths.

2. Does Punishment work?

Punishment and grounding teenagers is a popular method with parents but it generally does nothing to support our cause. Most psychologists agree: punishment only makes kids lie more and devise sneakier ways to do what they want to do. What we need to do is reach their conscience and give them the skills that need to cope with their challenges of high school, peer pressure, drugs and drinking.

It is critical to keep the lines of communication open. All your effort should be directed to this goal. Punishment shuts down communication.

It’s best if you invite your teen to brainstorm solutions to the problems that you are having. It should sound like this:

“Curfew was missed last night. We need to think of ways to make sure that curfew is adhered too, for your safety and my sanity. What are your thoughts and ideas?”

“I need to know where you are going when you leave the house. I know that you find that tiresome. What are some ideas that can make it less difficult for you?”

When you do hear their side of the story or their ideas for solutions, it will come along with lots of complaints and frustrations. Try to just listen and refrain from judging or interrupting. You can always redirect them back to the problem at hand.

3. You need to be bad to be good:

Teens like to push the envelope. It’s normal for them to act in ways that conflict with their parent’s principles. They are not doing it because they are out to get you or because they are inherently bad. They are trying to find out for themselves what is right and wrong. When teens push limits they are learning what their parents will and will not tolerate, helping them fully understand the moral values of their parents.

4. Let your teen be right:

Teens may adopt a moral position or make decisions that parents disagree with. It can be hard not to judge their child. Instead of being understanding they will try to change their child’s mind or force them to change their decision.

This only frustrates teens, making them dig in their heels and become even more passionate about their position or decision.

There are more gentle ways to let teens know your opinion. It is helpful to agree to disagree.

For example, your teen says, “Everybody should be a vegetarian. All my friends are. It is much healthier and it is better for the environment. Our whole family needs to stop eating meat!”

Adult: “You feel very strongly about your diet. You sound excited about being healthier and helping the environment. I am glad you told me your opinion and strong feelings about being a vegetarian. Your arguments are sound; adhering to this lifestyle is better for people and for the earth.”

Adult: (disagree in a non-confrontational way): “I am not sure if I totally agree or would be willing to make that change. I need to really think this over. I am glad that you shared some of your values and your friend’s values with me. It is important for adults to know what is important to kids.”

Teen: “I am going to come late to Grandma’s house on Thanksgiving. My friends and I are getting together for a little while. I will walk over there when I am done.”

Adult (empathize): “I know it is important for you to get together with your friends. It sounds like you made some exciting plans.”

Adult (disagree in a non-confrontational way) “I am concerned with your plans and how this will affect Grandma’s feelings and our day together with our family. In the end, it is your decision, but I am not comfortable with your plans.”

5. You can’t always tell them what to do:

Teens have reached a point in their lives where they have the freedom to do what they want to do. It is very hard to stop a teen from playing with violent video games or wearing that revealing outfit. The best way to help curb their behavior is to make sure that they hear your voice in their head when they are doing something that goes against your rules or your values.

One father told his teen, “I know you want to go to this movie with your friends. The fact is, I can’t stop you. I just need you to know if you decide to go to this movie that it stands for everything that I am against. The violence, the drug use and the attitude portrayed towards women and intimacy violates everything that I hold dear. Please remember that as you are watching the movie.”

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January 16, 2016

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 3

(2) Anonymous, January 21, 2016 5:33 PM

this article immediately starts off with a stereotype and proceeds to provide lots of advice that, while about issues that need to be addressed, is all about the parents, the parents, the parents. why will no one take into account the fact that each person is unique? no one should just be labeled like that. "If they're a teen they are always a) egocentric, b) hormonal, c) difficult, etc."

with all due respect to the author i disagree with at least 70% of what this article contains and all of the underlying stereotypes on which it is written.

Chana Mark L.C.S.W., January 24, 2016 7:52 PM

Calling teens egocentric is not a stereotype. It is a stage in development.

When Adina points out the teens are egocentric, she is making explicit a major factor of middle adolescence. There is a great deal of turmoil at this age. Some of it is the unconscious (or conscious) turmoil of almost-adult-but-not-ready-yet. This narcissism is ever-present, and parents are irritated without always being able to pinpoint the reason. I think Adina is telling us that this self-centeredness is normal and that, assuming normal development, the teen will outgrow it. Knowing this, it makes it easier to deal with the immediate problem at hand.

(1) Dvirah, January 20, 2016 7:38 PM

Being "Bad" to be Good

If we are never to punish our teenagers, in what way are we to be "bad" and show them that they have overstepped the limits? Surely this is exactly what a punishment is meant to convey? Although perhaps a more creative punishment is needed than grounding.

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