2 Ways For Parents To Rekindle The Bond With Their Teenager

It can be hard to watch your teenage child drift away from you. Here's how to ensure that you always feel safely connected to one another.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | June 24, 2024

Many parents face a sense of disconnection with their kids as they grow into teenagers. They might express concerns like:

  • "It feels like my child is drifting away from me, and our relationship just isn't the same anymore."
  • "My child is growing up too fast, and I'm struggling to hold on and keep up."
  • "There's a communication gap between us that I just can't seem to bridge, no matter how hard I try."

According to a 2022 National Poll conducted by C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, 82% of parents stated they would talk to their adolescent if they believed they were facing problems. However, only one in four parents felt that their teen would confide in them if they were experiencing an issue.

Adolescence is a fragile time, rife with constant change and false starts at self-discovery. Teenagers navigate internal struggles, seek validation from peers and shape their identities. Therefore, having social support they can rely on unconditionally is essential. Parental support, in particular, plays a crucial role in providing a sense of security and belonging among adolescents.

To maintain a strong connection with your teenager during this turbulent period, consider the following strategies.

1. Let Your Teenager Own Their Independence

As teenagers learn and explore new aspects of life, it may feel like they are drifting away from you. This sense of disconnect can be unsettling, especially as they interact with new people, make friends and embrace new experiences.

The onset of puberty and the transition to high school introduce an entirely new phase of life. During this time, teenagers fear being cast out or judged by their peers because they can feel like the whole world is watching them, a phenomenon researchers refer to as the "spotlight effect."

A sense of social crisis can shake the beliefs and values you have carefully instilled in them during their earlier years. This does not mean, however, that your influence is waning. It simply means that your teen's social world is expanding, according to research published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Parents often maintain the same approach with their teenagers as they did when they were younger, leading to frustration when their teens don't behave as they used to. Teenagers may seem unusually grumpy, needing more space and may experience increased conflicts with parents. What previously worked with them suddenly doesn't work anymore.

You can adjust your parenting approach using the following strategies:

  • Let go of excess authority. As your child grows, it is essential to recognize and accept their transformation. Embrace their changes with open arms and without judgment. Holding on too tightly can backfire, and may even provoke rebellion or a breakdown in communication. Refrain from being overly commanding or expecting your teenager to behave in a specific way. Instead, adopt a collaborative approach, where you guide them while respecting their autonomy.
  • Acceptance and accommodation. Accept your teenager for who they are becoming. Accommodate their evolving personality and interests, showing that you respect and value their individuality. Try to be present without being intrusive. Let your teenager know that you are there for them whenever they need you, but also give them the space to navigate their own experiences.

Give your teenagers autonomy and encourage them to make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes. Offer guidance when necessary, but avoid imposing your will.

2. Building a Trusting Relationship

While teenagers are prone to making mistakes and may sometimes go astray, it is vital to create an environment where they trust you enough to turn to you when they need help. This trust is built through consistent, open and empathetic communication. Here's how to maintain open lines of communication with your children:

  • Maintain a good home environment. A 2023 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that a chaotic home environment, marked by noise, unpredictability, clutter and a lack of routine, isn't suitable for healthy family communication.
  • Practice active and empathetic listening. Listen to your teenager without interrupting or immediately offering solutions. Show empathy by acknowledging their feelings and validating their experiences. Adolescents often feel misunderstood, leading to a sense of isolation—by practicing active listening, parents can bridge this gap and demonstrate empathy and validation.
  • Adopt a non-confrontational approach. Rather than launching into a lecture following a misstep, take a conversational tone. Pose open-ended questions that invite more than a yes or no answer. For instance, instead of asking, "Did you finish your homework?" try, "What was the most interesting thing you learned today?" This approach fosters a more engaging and less adversarial dialogue.
  • Spend more time together and participate in shared activities. Adolescents often feel disconnected from their parents due to the generational gap and differing interests. Demonstrating genuine interest in their hobbies—whether it's a sport, a musical instrument or a video game—can show that you value and respect what they like, leading to more meaningful interactions.

Building trust and non-judgmental support is fundamental, as teenagers need to feel that they can rely on you without fear of being judged. When they know you are there to support them unconditionally, they are more likely to seek your guidance during challenging times.

Is a sense of exhaustion stopping you from bonding with your teen? Take the Parental Burnout Assessment to know if you need support.

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