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How to Connect with Your Teen, Whether You Want to or Not

Leave that lecturing behind if you're pressed for time — your child needs you more than you realize

Staying connected to your child during his teen years may be one of the greatest challenges of parenting.

Yet staying connected to your teen during these tumultuous years is also the most important thing for his well-being. Your relationship with him is what will give him his best shot at successful adulthood.

I recently spoke with Dr. Henry Cloud about this topic on my “Parenting Great Kids” podcast.

Dr. Cloud is the author of a famed book that I highly recommend every parent read — “Boundaries.” His most recent book, “The Power of Other,” addresses the importance of relationships in our lives. In this book, he talks about how we’ve known for a while now that our thought life and belief system greatly affects our lives, but the third leg of that is relationship.

If you only have 10 minutes of one-on-one time with your teen on a certain day, choose connecting with him over lecturing him.

Our relationships can actually affect the wiring in our brain and our outward behavior. Dr. Cloud gives the example of walking into a room and feeling anxious. If you can connect with someone in that room, that connection can make you feel less anxious. Or the reverse could happen. That person could make you feel more anxious depending on their attitude toward you.

Dr. Cloud explains that the teenage years are so difficult because a “transfer of power” is happening. You’re beginning to transition your child into adulthood. Your teen is given more freedom and more responsibility. This can only happen well if emotional investment is fueling the transition. You aren’t going to be able to successfully transition your teen to adulthood if you’re not connected to him.

It’s this lack of emotional investment and parent connectedness than can cause so much conflict and distrust during the teenage years. Teenagers, feeling adulthood is around the corner, begin to desire more freedom. But they can only be given as much freedom as they can handle responsibly. Knowing and feeling connected to your child will allow you to know what she can handle.

Some 15-year-olds can go to party at a friend’s house and avoid any negative activity happening there and come home by curfew. Some 15-year-olds can’t be trusted to do that. But you will never know where your own child stands if you don’t know her very well.

Related: The Urgent Talk to Have with Your Teen

I know that sometimes we as parents feel like we are only give so much time with our children, so we need to spend every spare moment instilling a lesson or talking to them about a behavior we disapprove of. Don’t do this.

Dr. Cloud and I agree: If you only have 10 minutes of one-on-one time with your teen on a certain day, choose connecting with him over lecturing him. Ask him how he is. How his day was. What’s going on in his life.

This will build that emotional investment that will successfully fuel your child’s teenage years, as you give him more and more freedom and, therefore, more and more responsibility.

Related: You Don’t Need a ‘March’ to Raise Strong Daughters

Parents, the teen years are tough. As Dr. Cloud put it, they are a like a coup d’état.

Your child is transitioning from living under your authority to living under his own authority in adulthood. Even though this may be the time you are most tempted to lose connection with your teen, don’t. Fight for it. This isn’t a struggle for power. This is a transfer of power. And you have the power to make that transition as smooth as possible, setting your teen up for a successful and healthy adulthood.

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the best-selling book “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters,” as well as a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.

meet the author

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the book “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need” (Regnery Publishing), along with a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.

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