• Daniel Jenkins

Four Ways to Bridge the Relationship Gap With Your Teens

Updated: Oct 19, 2018

Do you want to feel more connected to your teenage son or daughter?

Photo by The One Project on Unsplash

Many parents experience a relationship gap with their teenage children. It's not uncommon for parents to struggle with their teen's emotional & behavioral issues, unhealthy social circles, and generally negative behavior. Parents can often feel sad, confused, frustrated, angry, or worried about their teens. If this sounds like something you or another person in your life experience, this article is for you.

Parents shouldn't have to feel disconnected from their teenage children! In fact, as teens transition from being children to being independent adults, these years should be the ones where families grow closer than ever.

As someone who has been working with teens since 2006, I've also had those moments where I've felt disconnected from the teens in my life. There have been moments in mentoring or coaching sessions where the young man sitting across from me would fail to open up and engage in conversation, ignore me completely & play on their phones, and even cuss me out and tell me I'm wasting their time.

Through all of that, I've discovered that, typically, a teen's lack of engagement and vulnerability had been caused by something I did or didn't do. I've also been that teen who didn't want to open up or be vulnerable. I acted out at times and struggled with my own relationship with my parents. Since then, I've developed and honed techniques which allow me to engage teens on a deeper level. Now, I get to share these time-tested techniques with you to help bridge that relationship gap between you and your teen:

1. Be available.

Life doesn't happen on our schedule. I once had a wise friend tell me "If you wanna make God laugh, tell Him your plans." The simple truth is that, as parents, there's no way to know when the meaningful moments with our teens will occur. There seems to be a commonly held fallacy that "quality time" with our children is a suitable replacement for "quantity time" spent with them. So, some parents will schedule out one time a week to be with their kids, but justify it under the guise of "quality time."

Here's the deal though, your kids need you to be available when life happens. They need you to be there for them to share in their joys and their heartbreaks. Their successes and their failures. And there's no way for us to know when those will be. The solution? Make time each and every day to be fully present with your teens. And yes, it should be quality time, but it doesn't require you to take your kid out for a fun and exciting event. It could be as simple as shutting off your electronic devices, mitigating distractions, and opening yourself up for discussion with your teens. Simply put, pursue a relationship with your kids, be there for them, and when they come around give them your complete, undivided attention.

2. Ask more. Tell less.

When we have discussions with our teens, our basic instinct is to guide them to the solution we believe is best for them by telling them what to do. For what it's worth, there is a time and place for mentoring our kid and giving them specific advice and instruction. However, parents should more often fulfill a coach role for their teens. The key difference is that mentors give instruction by telling and coaches guide by asking questions.

As a general rule, when you're in conversation with your teen, you should be listening 80% of the time and talking 20%; if you're talking, you're not listening. My good friend, Dr. Greg Joiner wrote a book on the subject titled RISER: A Practical Toolkit for Strengthening Your Relationships with Young People. In the book, Dr. Joiner guides people through what he calls "RISER conversations."

- Reach beneath the surface

- Investigate with powerful questions

- Stay present in the moment

- Explore possibilities

- Respond with permission

I highly recommend buying a copy of RISER and working through it!

3. Show up unexpectedly.

Where step one is about ensuring that your teen can count on you to be there when they need you, this step is all about pursuing your teen and showing up in their life when they least expect it. So, what does that look like? When your son is playing a video game in the other room, go and sit there with him and ask him how to play. When your daughter has that away game in another city, be there to cheer her on. When your kid is watching their favorite TV show, watch it with them and ask them questions about the plot. When your kid appears to need a break from the stresses of life, "break them out"of school and do something fun together!

Don't be surprised if your kid appears shocked, embarrassed, or "annoyed" that you're there. The fact of the matter is, regardless of their response, showing up unexpectedly shows your son or daughter that you care about knowing them and love being with them.

4. Demonstrate vulnerability.

If you want your kid to open up and be vulnerable with you about the most sorrowful, heartbreaking, embarrassing, or shameful moments in their life, then you first need to be vulnerable with them. Sometimes, it's so easy to hide behind the facade of strength; appearing that you have it all figured out. We want to be strong for our children, right? We want them to know they're safe and protected. But, sometimes, the thing our teens need most from us is to know that they're not alone in what they're feeling and experiencing. To know that their parents aren't perfect and struggle through challenges as well.

By being vulnerable with your teen, you open up the door for them to be vulnerable with you. You also open the door for discussion to guide them through processing what's going on in their life. Here's the deal though, when your teens finally do open up and share those darks moments and thoughts from their lives, you need to honor that vulnerability by not immediately passing judgment or attempting to solve their problems. Show empathy, sit with them in the uneasy moments, and ask questions which guide them to their own solutions.

I'm not going to pass judgment on you. I assume that you have always had the best of intentions for the relationship with your children. Sometimes, it's so easy to find ourselves drifting through life and look around to wonder where we are and how we got there. It happens to the best of us.

Photo from Neil D. Brown, LCSW

Here's my challenge to you: starting today, make time to be available for your teen. When talking with your teen, make sure you're doing more asking & listening than you are telling & talking. Show up unexpectedly in your teen's life, partaking in things which bring them joy. Demonstrate what it looks like to be courageously real and vulnerable.

If this is new to you, feels overwhelming, or you could simply use someone to bounce ideas off of and guide you through this process, Equipping Teens offers Parent Coaching for you. Send me an e-mail at Daniel@EquippingTeens.com or give me a call at (386) 479-2961 to discuss your situation and how I can serve you and your family!

By engaging your teen using these four techniques, you will begin building the bridge to overcome the relationship gap with your teen. Over time, you should experience improvements in your teen's behavior and emotional health as they become more connected to you, their parent.

If you fail to implement these steps to begin building that bridge of connection with your teen, that relationship gap may not close on its own. As time passes, it will become more and more difficult to repair that relationship. Unless you make these positive changes in the way you relate to your teen, you can't expect to see positive changes in your teen.

Right now, you may be feeling overwhelmed, burdened, frustrated, or disconnected from your teen. You may even feel like your teen doesn't want anything to do with you.

But if you take the time to lean in and bridge that gap with your teen by being available, asking better questions & listening more, showing up unexpectedly, and demonstrating vulnerability, your relationship with your teen should be vastly improved!

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Fairview, TN​​

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