Struggling to connect with your teen? How to get that special parent-child relationship back

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There comes a time for many parents when they begin to see a shift in their child’s demeanour and attitude – a shift in behaviour they’ve anticipated, but dreaded nonetheless.

Welcome to adolescence – it’s not going to be easy.

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But while your child is dealing with plenty of changes of their own on their own (physically, mentally and emotionally), there’s another change that’s underway that parents may not immediately recognize but are starting to feel: a change in the parent-child relationship.

But at what point in their child’s teenage years they’ll experience this difference varies, parenting expert Ann Douglas says.

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“It really varies from kid to kid and from parent to parent,” Douglas says. “Some parents begin to notice changes from the moment their child heads into pre-teen years. Others don’t encounter any noticeable road bumps until well into the teen years. And some parents and kids pass through adolescence relatively unscathed.”

This transition can be particularly tough on parents if this is happening with their first or only child, Douglas points out because they haven’t lived through this transition before so they don’t know what to expect.

“They may worry about the long-term repercussions on their relationship with their child: will things always be this challenging? Will the warm spark of connection that seems to have gone AWOL for now ever find its way back into this relationship again?” Douglas says.

But it’s important to note that teens may be unsure of what’s happening as well, Douglas explains. The physical and emotional changes of adolescence are far-reaching, and teens may find it difficult to make sense of those changes.

So what kind of changes can parents expect?

“The teen years are all about trying on new identities and becoming your own person,” Douglas says. “For many teens, that may mean pulling away from parents as a means of asserting their own independence.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean that your teen is rejecting you or the relationship, Douglas says. It just means that the relationship is going through a period of change.

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Teen brains are also impulsive and thrive on novelty, Douglas explains. This can leave parents struggling to understand why teens do the things they do. But the teen brain is also creative and empathetic, so while this can be challenging, it can also be pretty amazing too, Douglas adds.

But is the change in the relationship permanent?

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In most cases, Douglas says, if you can maintain your sense of connection, you’ll be able to weather the relationship challenges that come along with the teen years.

“It’s all about understanding what’s happening with your teen and why – and allowing your parenting strategies to shift and evolve at the same time,” Douglas says. “Just as you had to shift your parenting strategies to accommodate your toddler’s growing sense of independence, you need to be nimble enough to make those same kinds of parenting shifts when you’re raising a teen.”

It’s also important to know that this change in the relationship happens because the adolescent years are a time of far-reaching changes overall, Douglas adds. Understanding that will make parenting less stressful.

So if you’re looking for new ways to try and connect with your teen, Douglas offers the following suggestions:

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  • Create opportunities for conversation: Wash the dishes together, or enjoy an after-dinner snack with your teen at the kitchen table or offer to drive your child to their part-time job. Encourage conversation, and at the same time, be comfortable with silence. You don’t always have to be saying something to another person in order to convey the depth of your caring. Silence can and does speak volumes.
  • Resist the temptation to offer a lot of advice when your teen opens up about problems: Offering too much advice too soon can shut a conversation down. Instead, focus on being a great listener and trusted confidant.
  • Connect with humour: But make sure it’s the right kind of humour. Sarcasm can be hurtful to even the most confident teen.
  • Understand that you are still important as ever to your teen: There may be days when you feel like you’re obsolete, but that isn’t true. Your teen still needs you more than ever. They just need you in a different way than they did when they were younger

Also, talk to other parents, Douglas says.

“They can reassure you what you and your teen are experiencing is normal and to be expected – and they can offer real-world advice about what it takes to navigate these challenging years with your teen,” she says.

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