It hurts when you see the little kid who used to wait up for you to tuck them into bed and share kisses suddenly wants nothing to do with you. The truth is, most people are distant in the teen years. This doesn’t mean your teenager doesn’t love you; often they just want to express their independence by cutting themselves off from the ones who raised them. It still hurts, though. If you want to reconnect with your distant teen, consider these six strategies to help.
1. Create Traditions
Develop quality time with your teenager with regular get-togethers. Weekly hangouts can be a way for you and your teen to bond over something you love and stay close as a family. Make your ritual fun, meaningful, and about what your teen wants to do. That way they will look forward to it instead of dreading it.
2. Get Involved in their Interests
If your teen is distancing themselves with a whole new string of interests or music, the first step in reconnecting is to do your research. Watch videos online, read articles, and study how your teen feels about their new interests. Ask them questions and show genuine interest so they open up to you about opinions they are passionate about. If your teen sees you care about what they care about, they might be more willing to share with you.
3. Search for Bonding Moments
Different from creating weekly traditions, look for ways to connect with your teen in everyday life. Doing chores together, going on drives, and sharing meals together are all great suggestions. Any time you can share an activity, you and your teen will slowly drop the barriers and find it easier to connect.
Try not to make your teen feel trapped by these bonding moments or they might actively avoid them. Instead of using this time to talk about serious lessons, try to make jokes, be light, and generally enjoy the simple time you have together. Your teen might find these moments to be relaxing and will look forward to sharing more with you.
4. Be Their Shoulder to Cry On
As a parent, you demonstrate unconditional love for your child. Even when teens try to gain distance, parents can get closer by reminding them how much they love them. One way you can show love without making your teen feel is to pay attention to when they’re feeling down. Give them support they can rely on, even if they make mistakes. If they try to resist, be patient. Instead of fighting your way in, just tell them how much you care. You could try saying, “Hey, I noticed there’s something bothering you and if you don’t want to talk about it with me, that’s okay. Just know I love and support you no matter what, and I’m here if you want to talk.”
5. Say Good Morning and Good Night
The simple ritual of wishing each other good morning and good night is a kind way to show attention to your teen without getting into their business. Get in the habit of doing this every day, and once they are used to it, they will start to feel like there’s something missing if you don’t say it. It can be comforting to be the first thing your teen sees in the morning and the last thing they see before bed. Eventually, they will come to expect this way to connect every day.
6. Apologize for Missteps in Parenting
This can be a tough one, but we all yell, fight, or make mistakes as parents. Your teen could be distancing themselves because they don’t think you have their best interest in mind. Admitting to them parenting a teenager is unknown ground to you can go a long way. Remind them you’re trying your best, but sometimes you make mistakes. It might even be a good idea to ask your teen if there’s something you’re doing that’s driving them away.
Have a conversation with them about how you can be a better parent, and how they can better connect with you. Of course, you don’t have to a take your teen’s advice, but it’s important to hear them out and make small changes if you can. A little adjustment based on their recommendation could improve the relationship because it shows them how much you care. You can always ask your teen to make a small change in return.
As much as it hurts to be rejected by your teen, rekindling your relationship can be easy if you find those key moments to connect. Whether it’s before bed, on the way to school, or wherever, finding time to show them you will always be there for them reminds them how much you care. Use these techniques and your teen will be more willing to come to you and share what’s going on their life because they will see how much you want to be involved without being overbearing.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of Talking to Teens and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.