2 Tips to improve your relationship with your teen
By: Skylar Nagy, LCPC
1. Avoid Trying to be Logical
It can make us feel confused, stressed, and helpless to be there for teens when they are struggling, crying, panicking, or otherwise feeling distressed. When they are upset about something that we feel is small or insignificant, it can feel like the most sensible thing to do is help them see that whatever they are upset about will get easier, or go away with time, or isn’t as big of a deal as they are making it; however, I’m willing to bet that if you’ve tried this before, you’ve noticed that this often makes them act more irrational or gets them more upset. In cases like this, it can be helpful to remember that humans in general, but particularly teens, don’t respond well to logic when they are distressed. This is because of a couple of reasons: 1) teens developmentally haven’t developed the physical/mental capability of thinking ahead or anticipating the consequences of their actions as well as adults, so it can be extra difficult to be forward-thinking in moments of distress. 2) The human brain is designed to shut off our “logical brain” when we are experiencing intense emotions, so in reality, if they are in distress, they literally can’t think logically. This means that whatever reasoning you are trying to do with them is falling completely on deaf ears.
The simplest solution to this is to stop trying to reason with someone who is being unreasonable; but that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless and you should give up! Instead, try listening, naming their emotions, validating their experience, and offering a calm, quiet presence. If your nervous system is calm and open, it will help their nervous system calm down. And once that happens, then you can attempt the logic route!
Example: “Hey, I can see you’re really feeling scared right now and I can totally understand how you would be feeling that way given everything that’s been going on. I just want to say that it’s okay that you’re upset and I’m here and ready to listen or help if you need it, or even just to give you a hug or sit with you for a little bit.”
2. Invest in more one-on-one time
Sometimes relationships with teens hurt simply because they don’t feel connected to their parents. In our busy worlds full of extracurriculars, deadlines, dinner, and bedtimes, it can be easy to overlook quality time. And the good news is that helping your teen feel more connected with you doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment–all it takes is 5-10 minutes at a time. Connection is about quality over quantity in that all it really requires is a genuine, attentive, and loving interaction to restart feelings of attachment and value. You can try this by setting aside 5-10 minutes a day for a week, say by stopping by his/her room in the evenings, taking him/her for a quick driving lesson, or by making a short trip to the grocery store or for a treat. It can also be done in longer but less frequent bouts, such as getting your nails done together, getting breakfast on a weekend morning, or doing some outdoor exercise. It can really be anywhere or anytime, but the most important thing to remember is to give your teen your absolute, undivided attention during the time together, meaning no phones, no interruptions, and no one else involved (if he/she has younger siblings, you can make separate time individually for them, too). It also helps that whatever it is you’re doing, that you allow your teen to be in control of the conversation, as well as the activity when possible. It also helps that you let them know the time is optional and they can decline the time if they want to (although I’m willing to bet once they know they’ll have your full attention, they likely won’t turn it down often). Even if he/she resists or seems uninterested, it is likely because it’s something new and they don’t know what to expect just yet, so keep offering even if they keep turning you down. No matter how much conflict or difficulty has been going on in the relationship, children always want and need undivided attention from their parents, even if they refuse to admit it at the time!