Connect on Their Terms

Mother and daughter working side-by-side in kitchen
Tom Merton/Ojo/Superstock

Kimberly came bounding down the stairs on her way to school. "Mom, I found a cookie recipe I want to try. Can we make it after school?"

I'd love to say that my immediate response was, "Sure, that sounds great!" Instead, I mentally added up all I needed to do. I had a work report due, errands to run and dozens of household chores to complete. How was I now supposed to fit baking into my already-crowded day?

When my kids were little, it was easy to connect, but as acne and biology homework entered our household, it became more difficult to maintain a deeper relationship with them. I wanted to stay connected, so I learned to be intentional, which sometimes meant baking Death by Chocolate Double Fudge cookies with my 16-year-old. As I learned to be intentional, I discovered three ways to successfully connect with my teens.

Be there in person, not just in words

Connecting with teens can happen at any time and any place — from the most obvious to the most mundane — so it's important to show our interest in their lives through our words and our actions. For instance, I honor my daughter by telling her how proud I am that she's sticking with track and field (even though she always comes in last place in discus), but I nourish our relationship by showing up for meets and taking her out for frozen yogurt afterward. But the being there isn't just for big events. I am also available to listen to her thoughts when we're watching commercials.

Crack the crazy schedule

During my son's senior year, we went out for coffee every Thursday before school. Because we both had insane schedules, we created the early morning coffee date. Although it required a bleary-eyed wake-up time, it was worth it to know the young man my son was becoming. (For the record, my son agreed to go only because of the free coffee and because I agreed to talk about the books he loved.)

Spend extended one-on-one time with each teen

After I cracked my teens' schedules, the next step was to make an intentional effort to do something special and individual with each teen. It could be a trip to a sporting event, a mini-vacation or a class. Whatever it was, it was up to me to make it happen.

For my son Justen's 16th birthday, I told him we could go anywhere he wanted as long as we could get there by car. He was excited to choose the destination — the Shakespeare festival in our neighboring state of Oregon. We pulled out maps and looked up must-see destinations on the Web. In retrospect, we spent as much time together planning the trip as we did being together on the road. While there were long periods of silence over those hundreds of miles, there were also deep conversations about friends, God, movies and girls. A total win.

When I look back on those hours I spent doing things I didn't have time to do (baking cookies) and things I really didn't want to do (talking about fantasy movies), I know it was worth it. I invested in my kids — in their hearts, souls and relationships.

And now when my son calls to ask me for editing advice or my girls ask if they can come over so we can make a massive batch of freezer dinners for the week, I know that the time I spent with them built a lasting bond. Through cookie baking and coffee drinking, we did much more than nourish our bellies — we nourished our relationships.

When Your Teen Doesn't Want to Connect

Pray. Even when you feel disconnected, pray that God will be very present in his or her life.

Be available. Remember these powerful parenting words: "When you're ready to talk, I'm here."

Learn your teen's interests. Try to figure out what will help your kid look forward to spending time with you.

Don't take it personally. Teens are figuring things out, too.

Wait. Connection doesn't happen overnight. Maturity is a gradual process that can take years.

This article first appeared in the October/November 2014 issue of Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
Copyright © 2014 by Kathi Lipp. Used by permission.

Next in this Series: Do the Inconvenient

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