Focus on the Family

How to Connect With Young Teens

Connecting with young teens can be challenging but time spent with them will be rewarding for both parents and kids

Take Time to Engage

Ever wonder how to connect with young teens? My wife and I connected with our kids at a local stock car race. During the opening lap, we each picked the car we hoped would win. Then we cheered our drivers on as they raced, slid and bumped their way to the finish line.

One of my children described what we watched as “drivers going in circles, trying to get ahead of one another. They ended up right where they started — and most of them with nothing.”

This child’s deduction gave us an entrance ramp to talk to our kids about how some people go through life. They’re going in circles — trying to get ahead of one another and ending up with nothing that really counts for all eternity.

“If you go the way of the world, kids, get ready for the oval track,” I told them. “But if you choose to go with God, He won’t lead you in circles. You may bump others, but not to get ahead of them. You’ll connect to impact their lives in ways that count for eternity.”

It was a great night — and a great reminder. Sometimes as parents we’re racing through life, trying to get ahead. But we must remember we need to impact our kids for eternity, and we’ll have an easier time doing that if we truly connect with them. Connecting can be more challenging as the kids get older, especially when they’re in that 13- to 15-year-old range—but it’s doable. 

The time my wife and I invested in our kids in the 7- to 12-year-old stage paid huge dividends later on. So how did we connect with them at this stage?

Start with an appreciation of all that young teens have to offer and encourage them with the words found in 1 Timothy 4:12:

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” (NIV)

Each Child is Different

When our kids were younger, it was easier to get them involved in the same activities. But as young teens, kids are entering puberty. Changes are happening — or not. This transition and the uncertainty of it are hard on them physically and emotionally.

At the same time, their interests may be changing. To stay close, parents need to keep up with these changes. Some kids like playing games. Often their game choices will now change. Some kids like movies and books. Their preferences may start to change here also.

The old “go-to” choices we once made may not work anymore — but we can’t give up. We simply need to keep thinking about how to connect with young teens — especially one-on-one. As we learn more about their new interests, we can meet each of our kids in the direction they’re heading.

How To Connect with Young Teens: Include Their Friends

Friendships are a scary-strong influence at this stage. Rather than fighting it, we can use their friendships to connect with our kids. One way to do that is to encourage our kids to have friends over.

My wife and I kept our refrigerator and freezer stocked with treats. And sometimes we let our older kids invite a friend to a family outing. We found that we were able to be an influence on our kids — and their friends — this way.

If you want to know how to connect with young teens, here’s one sure way: invite over their friends. But, be sure to keep from embarrassing them. Teasing, telling insider “secrets” or stories or even dressing a certain way can humiliate our kids, depending on the child. Before they invite friends over, I asked my kids how I could avoid embarrassing them. Their answers often surprised me, but I abided by their suggestions.

Friends talking on a bench

How To Connect With Young Teens: Show Them We Listen

“But you don’t understand.” When one of my kids would say this, the child was telling me that he didn’t think I was listening to him. In his opinion, if I were truly listening, I’d see things his way. If he didn’t think I was listening, he may have tried to find someone who would, potentially creating a chasm between us. Here’s what I learned to do:

Avoid multi-tasking. When my kids were talking to me about anything important to them, I set the phone aside, turned off the television and stopped doing what I was doing. I gave them my attention — my eyes.

Resist interrupting or speeding things up. Often we know what our kids are going to say, and likely we already know the answer we’ll give. So it gets easy to wave off all their explanations and get to the point. But to them, it seems like we didn’t listen or give them the chance to make their case. If we want them to truly believe we’re listening, we have to take the extra time to ask questions so they know we get what they’re saying.

Help them process adverse decisions. We need to help our young teens understand the reasons behind our decisions — especially if they aren’t the choices they were hoping to hear. Likely our kids will respect us more if they see how we thought through our decisions and considered the impact on our kids.

How To Connect With Young Teens: Take Them to Their Events

My wife and I made a point to get our kids to their youth group activities — even though church was a 30- to 45-minute drive with traffic. We often picked up our kids’ friends, too. Drive time can be great talk time. And listening to the kids relate to friends can give us tons of insight into their lives. This stage of driving our kids around ends quickly once they learn to drive. I chose to make the most of the drive time with them while we had it.

How to Connect With Young Teens: Have Fun With Your Kids

The kids have homework, youth group and other activities. We still need to make time to have fun with them. Sometimes I’d plan a fun event that I knew my kids would like in advance so they could merge it into their schedules. Other times, spontaneous activities helped us connect, such as a trip for ice cream on a hot day. And when my kids brought a friend along, they often had fun doing whatever I planned.

No one can teach your child like you can. No nanny, Bible school teacher, aunt, or uncle has your authority. What a phenomenal privilege is yours. Max Lucado

Teach Them to Drive

One of the best, but most underestimated, ways to connect with our 15-year-olds is to teach them to drive. Many parents dread it — and for good reason. I live in Illinois, and once a student driver gets his learner’s permit, the state requires him to log drive time with a parent or adult driver before he can take his test for his intermediate driver’s license. In our family, we required 100 hours, double the state’s requirement, just to make sure our boys developed the best possible safety habits. Once they got their learner’s permit, our boys were chafing to get on the road. They were asking, begging, to spend alone time with my wife or me. Imagine the possibilities:

  • One hundred hours to listen, share and dream together.
  • One hundred hours to talk about life, faith and the hard questions that surface.
  • One hundred hours to touch on topics that have eternal impact.

Often kids this age find it easier to talk when they don’t have to look a parent in the eyes. Driving is perfect for that.

Our kids will make mistakes driving and show poor judgment. They may have a close call or two and get embarrassed. Sometimes they may even feel angry with themselves or be scared. But if parents want to connect, we’ll need to do all we can to make this driving time a positive experience. Here are ways we can do that:

Watch our tone, especially when correcting our kids. Say things in a kind way.

Stay encouraging. “Good job on that turn.” “Good job checking that lane before switching.”

Demonstrate patience, lots and lots of it. They’ll love to hear stories of how we messed up when we were learning to drive.

Be excited. We don’t want them to think taking them out driving is a chore for us.

Keep Engaging!

Connecting with 13- to 15-year-olds takes time and patience. But if we’re willing to put in that time, we have front row seats to a life that won’t be caught on an oval track. Figuring out how to connect with young teens is worth the effort.


Copyright © 2019 by Tim Shoemaker. Used by permission.


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