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I'm a mom of 4. To stay connected with my teens, I engage in their favorite activities and tuck them in at night.

Rachel Garlinghouse   

I'm a mom of 4. To stay connected with my teens, I engage in their favorite activities and tuck them in at night.
  • I'm a mom of four kids, two of which are teens.
  • I make an effort to connect with all of them as they grow older and distant.

As some of the older folks in the grocery store frequently remind me, I have my hands full with four kids. My kids are 7, 11, 13, and 15 years old. Like many parents, I've sometimes wondered where the time has gone and how my babies are growing up, with two already being teenagers.

Connecting with younger kids is fairly easy. They impulsively speak their truth and are thrilled with the occasional new toy or fast food meal. Teens, however, not only find parents unimpressive but downright annoying. The eye roll, grunt, and sigh game is strong.

Despite how much my teens are trying to gain independence while also telling us just how wrong and uncool we are, they still need me. Specifically, they need my guidance, empathy, encouragement, support, and, of course, love. The push and pull is a real and necessary struggle. This is why I think parents have to strategically find ways to connect with their adolescent kids.

Here are four ways I've been able to successfully connect with my teens.

I tuck my teens in at night

When our kids were little, we had a whole bedtime routine that required one to two stories, multiple drinks of water, checking for monsters under the bed, and, of course, answering their big and surprising questions about religion, death, and the supernatural.

I have found that teens really aren't that much different.

Bedtime is when teens are most likely to open up to me because this is the time of day when they're more relaxed, available, and comfortable. A "good night," "Can we talk about…," and "I love you" is better received at this time of day than any other. You might be surprised when they choose to spill the tea about a friend or school issue, ask you a deep question, or occasionally return the "I love you."

I engage with my teens in their favorite activities

One of my teens is an athlete who thrives on the basketball court. Fortunately, We have a basketball hoop in our driveway and plenty of space. I am no basketball player, which is actually a positive, as my teen is highly competitive. I ask my teen to explain basketball terminology, demonstrate techniques, and even have a free-throw contest. She always beats me, but that's not the point. I've been known to shoot the ball in the most unflattering and ridiculous way just to get a smirk from her.

My other teen is artistic. Sometimes, we'll pull out an adult coloring book and color side by side, or she'll give each of us paper and spread markers between us. We will silently create art near each other until one of us has a question or thought to share, sometimes while listening to her favorite music. The goal is to do what they like while creating space for conversation.

I take my teens on individual dates

Having one-on-one time with my teens outside our home is important. For one, it gets them away from their younger siblings, and two, it allows them to have my full attention. One of my kids prefers to go on a walk or window shop, while another likes trying new restaurants. It's not necessarily important what we do, as long as it's something the teen enjoys.

There's also a perk to taking our teens on dates. They get to have some decision-making power, as well as understand that they are worthy of a loved one's attention, feeling special and deserving of being treated well. I love taking my teens on dates because we're making memories together while utilizing some of the precious time we have.

I text my teens

Face-to-face conversations with teens can be a constant game of tug-of-war. After all, it's rare that both of us are in a good mood at the same time and in the right headspace to discuss everything from the mundane to the critically important. Texting memes, GIFs, videos, emojis, screenshots, and even words can be powerful in helping my teens remember I am here for them and they can tell me anything.

At times, a topic comes up that we need to visit in person. I give them a heads up that we should chat about that together and when it might work to do so. This is incredibly helpful because they have time to mentally prepare to chat versus feeling bombarded in person. In case you didn't know, teens do not like sudden demands, and especially not for serious talks.

Despite the air of I'm-fine-without-you, teens crave the approval, support, and attention of their parents. I try to connect with my teens and not take any rejections personally. If at first, I don't succeed, I keep trying. I hope one day they will thank me for showing up and caring about their inner world.

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