Creating that Parent Teen Connection
Summertime: beach, ice cream, sailboats, hiking...lots of opportunities for fun. AND, lots of opportunities to connect with your t(w)een! I know, I know, sometimes it feels like they don’t listen. But they do. And just as much as they do listen, they want to be listened to.
Over the last two decades, I’ve coached thousands of teens for the SAT/ACT. I can’t tell you how many students talk to me about their ‘stuff’: dating, sex, school, friends, bullying, suicide, you name it. And you’d be amazed – or maybe you wouldn’t – how many times I hear, ‘My parents just don’t get me.’ Or ‘They don’t listen to me.’ It breaks my heart every time.
As the daughter of a woman who wasn’t able to connect with her kid (me), I spent a huge chunk of my 20s and 30s in and out of therapy. It took a lot to recognize just how much my mom’s inability to connect with me impacted my life. It took living outside of her home for at least as long as I lived in it to figure out who I really was, without the shadow of her judgment clouding my vision.
In today’s world, we’re more connected digitally than we’ve ever been before. And we’re more disconnected personally than we’ve ever been before, too. And our kids are paying the price. In the latest data available from the CDC, 2015 saw the highest rate of suicide EVER among females aged 15 to 19. And while young men in the same age range are taking their own lives less frequently than they did in the 80s and 90s, their numbers are on the rise again. Based on personal experience and interview with folks who have survived suicide attempts, I believe that part of the solution to teen suicide is to intentionally improve the connections we have with our youth. Whether we’re parents, teachers, aunts, uncles, mentors….whatever. Every single one of us is part of the ‘village,’ and we can all impact someone else’s life.
To my eyes, the ten concepts that follow create the foundation of a successful connection with others in your world. These ideas can apply to any relationship, from your partner to your boss. They don’t have to be tackled in any particular order. And we constantly circle back around to areas we’ve already touched on to review and refine. Pick one that seems new, different – or completely lacking – in the relationship you’d most like to improve. Try it on, see how it feels. We’ll dive deeper in the coming months.
Create a safe place. If we don’t feel safe, we won’t open up. Period. So, outline a place/time/situation for your kids (or partner, or employee) so they know there won’t be hell to pay if they’re honest with you. Have you ever avoided telling someone something because you were afraid of their reaction? Others have probably felt that way, too, about YOUR reaction. Sucks to think about, but true.
Observe. Instead of responding, notice facial expressions & physical movements. And then share that observation with the other person, kindly. ‘I notice you’re having a hard time looking me in the eye. Are you okay?’
Nonjudgment. This is often tough to extend to the ones we love – and even tougher to offer to ourselves. Listen to how you respond to others – and how others respond to you. Judging doesn’t fix the situation.
(Smile and) Nod. You probably know someone who jumps in with exactly the response you expect – every time. And they probably cut you off, too. No one wants to be in relationship with that person, do they? Well…to make sure you’re not that gal, make a conscious effort to pause, smile, and nod in response when someone shares something. And this one can segue easily into…
Explore. ‘Tell me more.’ I use this ALL. THE. TIME. When I need a moment to process what I’ve just learned, I ask the other person to tell me more information. It also tells the other person that you want to learn more, which can be HUGE for someone who doesn’t feel heard.
Challenge Your Truths. ‘It’s always been this way.’ Yup, that may be true. And if you choose to stay in that paradigm, it will continue to be true. But when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. (Thank you, Wayne Dyer.) Play the ‘what if’ game with yourself: what if this isn’t really true?
Take Time – and the Process Takes Time. Set aside time to practice these ideas with the other person in your relationship. Make an appointment and keep it. And remember that things don’t change overnight. We live in a world where we’ve gotten used to having results NOW. But, like a fine wine or whiskey, good things often take time. A fantastic relationship is worth putting time into!
Innovate. Look for new ways to approach a situation. Even something as simple as driving home a different way or putting your shoes on left-right instead of right-left can change the way your brain processes things.
Own Your Own Story. Let’s be real. We all have baggage. Some of us have a carry-on, and some of us have a full 5-piece set. Own it. Own the impact it has on your life. Own the impact it has on another’s life. And if it’s having a negative effect on you or someone else, get help to lighten the load.
Nurture. Nurture yourself and others. There’s a reason flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first. If you can’t breathe, you’re no use to anyone else. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time. It doesn’t have to be expensive. But self-care MUST be intentional.
I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to email me at [email protected] or follow me on Instagram (@ClarissaSteinbachConstantine).
Clarissa Steinbach Constantine is the Founder and CEO of ParenTween Connection. When a friend was struggling with some tough stuff with her 15-year-old daughter, she told Clarissa: I just wish I had other parents to talk to. And so ParenTween Connection was born. Clarissa recognized that there are precious few places for parents of teenagers to go for insight and resources – especially without getting judged. So, she’s creating a safe space for parents to connect with each other and with the experts & education that can help them navigate life with teenagers.
Clarissa and her husband, Joe, live in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, with their dogs, Luna Belle and Chara. They don’t actually have kids of their own: between her test prep coaching and his sports performance coaching, they say they work with everyone else’s kids – they don’t need any of their own!
Join the ParenTween Connection Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/parentweenconnection
Email Clarissa: [email protected]