By Guest Blogger, Christine Murray, Ph.D., LCMHC, LMFT
As a mom to one pre-teen and one teenager, I often find myself thinking that I’ve only got a certain number of summers left with my boys before they head off to college. Although this thought can make me sad, it also can feel like pressure to want to make the most of our remaining summers and spend as much family time together as possible.
But then, there’s also the reality that, as kids grow older, their desire to spend more time with their friends than their parents grows as well. On top of that, teens’ worlds are increasingly digitally connected, whether that means social media, TV, or video games.
So, as a parent of teens, how can we balance our kids’ growing need for independence, while also still staying connected as a family? Below are some tips to help parents connect with their teens this summer, even in the midst of all their time with friends, screens, and all the other things that occupy their time and attention, such as a summer job, volunteering, and sleep!
1. Remind yourself that it’s natural for teens to gravitate more toward peers and individual interests and away from family time. It may help to reflect back on your own teen years and remember how you felt about family time compared to your other relationships and interests. The teen years are an important stage of life in which young people start to move toward greater independence as part of the early start to their transition to adulthood. Try to view these changes as healthy and not necessarily as a threat to your relationship.
2. Embrace problems and mistakes as life lessons. With growing independence and more freedom to make decisions for themselves, there is an increasing chance that our teens will make mistakes, unhealthy choices, or do things with which we don’t agree. While it’s still very important as parents to work toward instilling the values that are important to your family and helping your child make wise choices, remember that teens can learn valuable life lessons through their mistakes and imperfect choices. This is especially true if they know that you as their parent are in their corner, and that they can talk to you about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Check out this past TMoM blog post that I wrote with some tips on helping your teen feel comfortable talking with you for ideas on how to keep an open door to these types of conversations.
3. Meet your teen where they are. There are probably at least a million things that I would rather learn about than Fortnite or any other video game that my sons happen to be interested in at any given time. I don’t necessarily have to learn to play those games with my kids (although some parents do take it to that level to connect with their kids!), but I often remind myself that the things that my kids are interested in are windows into their worlds. If you find yourself frustrated by how much time, attention, and energy your child is spending on certain interests, try to view this as an opportunity to learn more about them and connect with them. For example, you might ask them, “What do you like most about playing this video game?” Or, “What is it about this game that is so fun to you and your friends?” By showing interest in your teen’s interests, you’re signaling to them that you are open to learning about the world as they see it and not just stuck on seeing things your own way.
4. Create experiences for family fun–even if you hear some protests. Recently, our family took our second day trip to do a bike ride on the Virginia Creeper Trail. We had done this same trip just two years ago, and my boys loved it and couldn’t wait to go back. Well, this year, when it was time to actually go back, they complained for days ahead of time, saying they didn’t want to go and asking, “Why are you making us do this!?!?” I trusted my instincts and planning, and we went ahead with the trip. It was music to my ears when, about an hour into the ride, one of my sons said, without prompting, “Mom, you were right. I’m having a good time. I’m sorry I gave you a hard time.” This experience was a great reminder for me that even our teenage children have needs for time with their families. We may have to push through some initial protests, but teens often find themselves having fun once they are in the moment of some family fun time–whether or not they’ll admit it!
5. Know when to reach out for professional help. The teen years are notoriously challenging, and some difficulties staying connected with children during the teens years can be expected. However, for some teens, withdrawing from healthy connections with their families and other previous interests and activities might be a signal of more significant mental health or relationship challenges. If you are concerned about your teen’s emotional or mental wellbeing at any time, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional support from a counselor or therapist. In the Triad, we are fortunate to have many mental health professionals who enjoy working with teens. To learn more about when to seek professional help for your child, check out this other previous TMoM blog post I wrote on that subject.
It can be tempting as a parent of teens to long for the earlier years when your child was so eager to have time with you during the summer. Try to embrace those memories, while also staying open to the new memories and opportunities for connection that you can have while your children are in their teen years.
Christine Murray, Ph.D., LCMHC, LMFT, is the Director of the UNCG Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships, where she also oversees the Healthy Relationships Initiative. The Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously here.
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Christine – Great article! – Jeanna