Fun ways to connect with teens

Parents often have difficulty communicating with their teenagers. To keep an open dialogue and help guide your child through this time in his life, relationship building is important. Look for fun ways to connect with your teen, and develop a relationship full of mutual respect and open dialogue.

Mom with teen daughter outdoors

We talked to several psychologists, psychiatrists and other experts in relating to teens for their insight on fun ways parents can connect with their teenagers.

Enjoy family activities

Dr. Kimberly Williams, Psy.D., offers the following tips for building a relationship with your teen.

  • Share a family Facebook account. Reaching out to friends and relatives through comments and photos enhances opportunity for dialogue.
  • Put down the cell phones and PDAs, and have family dinner or prepare meals together. Eating and conversation go hand in hand.
  • Plan and host teen events at your home. Planning a party with your teen lets you know who their friends are and their music interests, and helps you keep the pulse on their personality and motivation.
  • Join them on the screens. Family Wii and Xbox 360 nights go a long way!

Respect their interests

Allison S. Baker, M.D., director of the Adolescent Program at ColumbiaDoctors Eastside, stresses the importance of positive reinforcement and a respect of their interests.

“There are always opportunities to reward desired behaviour with your kids, so when this opportunity presents itself, go for it!” says Baker. “The message can be, ‘I respect what you did and what you like.’ So if your teen has been completing most of their homework this semester, take the opportunity to reward them for this with something fun. If your teen is interested in sports, try and get tickets to a local game. If your teen is interested in a particular band, spring for those concert tickets. The spontaneity of your actions will be viewed as fun by your teen, you will be using positive reinforcement to increase desired behaviours (completing homework), and you are sending the message to your teen that you know them and respect their interests.”

Be active, not passive

Several of the experts talked about the importance of interaction rather than passive activities.

“Do not overlook the basics,” says Michael Sweeney Ph.D., director of the Metropolitan Center for Cognitive Behavior Therapy. “Find mutual interests. Make sure to set aside time together. Have something active and interactive that you do together. Passive activities, like watching TV together, are not as good. These set aside times are also a good time to set aside the distraction of electronics.”

“Do an activity with them, not just watch them,” says Karen Sacks, M.S., L.C.P.C., L.M.H.C., founder and director of the Center for Rational Solutions. “The most important thing we can give our teens is time; spending time with them speaks volumes. Take a Zumba class together, play golf together, listen and talk about your favourite music, etc. Keep communicating. Whatever you can do to communicate and have a commonality with them helps to build and foster a relationship.”

Dr. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, recognizes the challenges many parents can face. “With many teens becoming completely immersed in the vacuous, media-controlled world of peer culture, this can be a challenge. It’s best met by taking teens as far as possible away from peers for a while — on a weekend or week trip to a fun place where the teen has agreed to go. Even better, have the teen plan the family vacation. Put him or her in charge. Let him or her decide!”

By showing your teens respect and building a relationship of trust, you can continue to guide and facilitate without taking over their lives. It’s important that parents do their best to take part in relationship-building activities and maintain an open dialogue with their teens as they have them prepare for independence and adulthood.

More on parenting teens

Teaching your teen about time management
4 Ways to talk so your teen listens
5 Important talking points for your teen

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