6 WAYS TO CONNECT WITH YOUR TEEN
Many of us have made the resolution to do better. To have more meaningful relationships with our teens and to connect with them on a higher level. If you want to make this year the best ever with your teen, here are six things you can do.
By Brooke Martin
Teens have their hearts and minds pulled in different directions from daily pressures and worldly influences. The art of listening is a gift that heals wounds, loves unconditionally, and ignites creativity in the one being heard.
Think about it. What kind of person do we lean into when we are trying to sort out problems in life? Generally, we gravitate to the open-hearted, non-judgmental and unsolicited people in our lives. The ones who listen, truly listen.
Why is the art of listening so powerful? We can help our teens discover who they are by creating a safe space where they can pour out their thoughts and perspectives of life, tell their stories, and unload disappointments.
MONITOR DIGITAL DEVICES
Strap in parents! Teens today are the first generation of “screenagers,” which means we are the first generation to parent screenagers. This is not an easy task! As a mother of three teenagers, the digital device battles flooded our home for a good two years until I finally grew a backbone and buckled down.
As a result, my kids are happier, less stressed, and there is more peace in our home!
Teenagers are turning to devices to cope with normal hard emotions instead of learning healthy coping skills in life. The average teenager in the U.S. spends nine hours a day of screen time. Studies show teens who spend over three hours a day are much more likely to have depression, anxiety, feel fatigued and chronic stress.
The iPod was released in 2007 and Instagram was released in 2010. In the U.S., from 2007-2015 the suicide rate in girls doubled and increased 30 per cent in boys. Suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst all teenagers in the U.S. and is the No. 1 leading cause of death in teenage girls.
How can we make improvements?
- SELF-CHECK. Our kids model our behaviour. Are we on our phones during dinner? Do we set our own time restrictions? Do we turn to social media (or video gaming) to cope with hard emotions instead of healthy coping skills? Be transparent with your teen in your own personal efforts. Practice what you preach.
- BE STRONG. Would you let your two-year-old run into a busy road on his own? Protecting your teen’s mental and emotional health is just as critical. Accept that regulating digital devices is officially part of being a responsible parent now. Who pays for their phones? Most likely you do. The phone they are “borrowing” from you is attached with your rules too.
- EDUCATE. Teens want to know WHY… to everything. Let research and statistics do the teaching and remove ourselves as the “bad guy” in their eyes. Instead we get to be the “good guys” showing that restrictions and boundaries are only being set because we love them.
- SET DAILY TIME RESTRICTIONS on all devices, social media apps and video-gaming. Our brains aren’t fully developed until age 25. Even the most trustworthy-good intentioned teenagers aren’t capable of making rational decisions when their pleasure centres are lit up. Do them a favour!
- Encourage your teen to UNFOLLOW social media accounts that lower self-worth or make them feel anxious or depressed.
- AT HOME. Have one designated charging station in your home. This helps hidden digital activities that lead to dangerous addiction. It’s very helpful for parents to have devices consolidated and accounted for. Setting an evening “cap off” time for devices to be docked at the charging station has been a game-changer for us too.
Every family is different and should find what works best for the structure and expectations of your home. If parents are divorced, consistency in both homes is important for their emotional well-being.
A smartphone should be a tool that you use, not a tool that uses you.
HUGS AND AFFECTION
In 2010, researchers at Duke University Medical school found that children who received affection early on in life grew up to be happier, more resilient, successful and less anxious adults.
Eight hugs a day is what is takes just to maintain baseline chemicals in a person! Hug them first thing in the morning. Hug them before they leave for school. Hug them before dinner. Hug them before bedtime.
Physical contact can reduce the risk of anxiety and depression and improve mental health. Oxytocin is a chemical in the brain that is released when a person feels love and connection. During adolescence, it’s typical for kids to seek less affection from their parents as they are developing more friendships outside the home. This is the most critical time they will need your physical touch.
Be mindful and pro-active in continuing to provide hugs and affection for them.
PLAN A MONTHLY ACTIVITY
Have a reason to unplug and have fun together! Plan a trip or a getaway. Go to a concert. Eat lunch at a local park. Serve in your community or pick weeds for a neighbour. Visit an art or science museum.
Did you know planning a trip has health benefits and is proven to reduce anxiety? Stepping away from our daily grind helps us rediscover our creativity and passions in life!
Let’s take the time to escape the daily rituals and build memories together!
Being present is the greatest gift you can give your teen. They value your time. Get on their level by showing interest in what they’re passionate about. When is their science project due? What did they eat for lunch today? How well do we know their friends?
Social development is a huge part of their lives and making efforts to know their friends lets them know you care to be a part of their world.
Put the phone down. Look them in the eyes when they’re talking to you as you would a colleague or friend. This tells them THEY ARE IMPORTANT.
Work alongside them on the day-to-day responsibilities. This is an opportunity to build an unbreakable bond of love and trust.
It’s a New Year! What a great time to discuss their goals and assist them in writing daily rituals that will lead them to success.
SAY “I LOVE YOU” DAILY
Our teens need to hear it. Often. It’s important to express our love to them in moments that aren’t attached to an ace on an exam or a winning touchdown. Words of affirmation go far during these years as they often wonder if they are enough.
“Parents desperately want happiness for their children and naturally want to steer them toward success in every way they can, but the pressure of the meritocracy can sometimes put this love on a false basis. The meritocracy is based on earned success. It is based on talent and achievement. But parental love is supposed to be oblivious to achievement.
It’s meant to be an unconditional support- a gift that cannot be bought and cannot be earned,” says David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times. Let’s assure our teens they are enough by expressing our love daily.
Trial and error come with the contract of parenting!
Keep navigating. Keep trying. Be patient and kind with your best efforts. They are enough!
Brooke Martin (@brookefmartin ) is a mom based in Arizona. As a working mother of three teenagers and an eight-year-old, she has experienced the direct impact family life, screen time, and social media have had on her children and their mental health. After years of seeking help from professionals and through trial and error in the home, she is authentic in her journey of raising teens and passionate about sharing the power of connection. She is now helping build a supplement company that focuses on mental and emotional balance and health.