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Kristen Anderson, Waterloo, ON
Attachment is a part of everyone’s life. It is our bond with those we turn to when in distress or when in need of comfort and closeness. Sometimes we feel that we are losing that attachment–connection–with our teens. As friends, classmates, coaches and other adults in their lives seem to become more and more important, we see less and less of them and feel less and less involved in their lives. Our natural reaction can be to increase our attempts to be more involved–we ask a lot of questions, push for more time together, hold tight to the limits and structure we have been used to with them. This transition to young adulthood can be just as difficult for us as it is for them.
Even though our teens look to their friends for some of their attachment needs, they still look to us as parents to be their “safe haven”- to be their source of safety, comfort and closeness. Despite what their behaviour might hint at, they still need us. Attachment with our teens looks different now that they are exploring their independence and it is up to us to navigate the relationship a bit differently. We can encourage healthy connection with our teens while at the same time, respecting their independence.
We all know how important this is and yet it can be one of the most difficult tasks of parenting. In our busy worlds, those moments of full connection, when we are able to be fully available are rare and precious. But it matters so very much. If we take the time to give our kids our FULL attention – no texting, work-related tasks, or our own problems; If we try hard to listen with an open mind and keep advice to a minimum; And, if we communicate a genuine interest in what our teen is doing, feeling, thinking…it will make a difference.
Continue to show warmth and affection.
Our teens need to know we love them–even in the face of conflict or disagreement. Smiles, eye contact, warm tone of voice, hugs, humour, affection…all matter to our teens. We may not be able to be as public in our affection for our teens as we could be when they were younger, but they still need to see it….even if it is just a wink or a smile from across the room. Does your face light up when your teen comes into the room? A simple smile and friendly greeting when they come in the door can shift the mood for an entire evening.
Recognize and value your teen as an individual.
Our teens are going through tremendous transformation–in their bodies, their beliefs, their emotions. Notice these changes, pay attention to the way they are thinking and acting differently from when they were younger—take and express interest. Notice, also, how they are different from us—and how you love that about them. It does not mean you have to agree with all the changes or decisions they are making, but when we pay attention and value what matters to our teens, they are going to be more willing to explore and talk about these changes with us.
Stay interested in their activities, coming and goings, etc.
Pay attention to what they are doing, who they are spending time with. Be curious and interested in meeting the people who matter to them now. Take the time to get to know their friends, go to watch their school or community activities. Learn about their music and other interests by asking them to tell you about them. I know my boys love to talk to me about their video games sometimes. Sometimes I even play (much to their dismay).
Continue to set clear limits.
Teens DO respond to limits—and feel safer when we hold to the limits we have for them. They value structure, routine and predictability, but, like everything else with our teens, it has to look and flow differently. Limits need to be negotiated and re-negotiated as teens get older. While there are certainly times when “because I said so!” is going to be the final word, we also need to know that teens need rules and limits to make sense to them. They might not agree with the rationale, but we should try to help them understand the purpose of our limits. Often, when they are really pushing, it is because they do want us to set limits for them.
Provide support during times of stress and difficulty.
When we are open to hearing from our teens when they are in trouble and need our help, we become the person they can turn to in these moments. It means that we take the time to listen to the whole story before offering our take on the issue. It means responding with support and empathy, understanding that the situation is difficult for our teen. Check out if or what kind of help they need from us, before jumping into problem-solving mode. Offer support and love, even when there is nothing we can do to solve the problem. Remember, too, that not all problems need a solution–sometimes they are just something we experience. In times of stress, you can even let them off the hook (once in awhile) from their responsibilities. Make dates to hang out together! We all need a break from our hectic lives sometimes and what better way to spend a day or evening than hanging out and sharing some laughs with your child.
Be joyful about your teen!
Express what you love about them to the people in your life, including your teen. Tell people positive things about your child. Focus on their strengths. Compliment them—their efforts as well as their accomplishments, the process and progress, not only the results. I find it so very important to always remark upon the journey, especially when it’s rough going. There is no bravery without struggle. Notice things—new hair cut, different shirt, looking stressed (acknowledging both the positive and the difficult). Our kids are teenagers for such a short period of time, we need to treasure this time in both of our lives. This does not mean that we don’t challenge or confront our teens, get angry with them or feel frustrated by them. That would be impossible! When we are able to hold on to the joy we feel about our teen, those other moments, well, they are just moments. ♥
Kristen Anderson is the Website and Digital Content Editor for Parenting Now. She is also the parent of three active teenagers. You can connect with Kristen on our FaceBook page or find her at our online chat. Check our Let’s Talk Parenting page to see her schedule. Ask her about parent teen attachment–or any other parenting concern. She would love to chat!