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  • Dr. Amber Ufford

Maintaining Connection with Your Pre-Teen or Teen

Updated: 2 days ago

Being an adolescent isn't easy. Due to the rapid physical and cognitive development during this phase, they are dealing with drastic changes to their bodies and brains, which can be confusing on even the best days. They also face in increase in academic demands, social pressure to "fit in," and are often caught between wanting to exert their independence and also still needing to rely on their parents for many things. Teens are also more likely to struggle with depression, substance use, and anxiety disorders compared to when they were younger.


A sad female teenager sits on a couch with her legs drawn up, facing toward a window

Interestingly, one of the most significant factors that can buffer against the rising likelihood of mental health challenges is the quality of the parent-child relationship. In fact, this developmental stage is a crucial time for parents to nurture their bond and maintain a strong, healthy relationship with their teen, which can add a layer of protection during these formative years.


Here are some effective strategies to help you connect with your adolescent or pre-teen:


1. Establish Open Communication

Open communication is the cornerstone of any strong relationship. Encourage honest and open discussions by creating a safe environment where your child feels comfortable sharing their feelings without fear of judgment. Show genuine interest in their daily lives, ask open-ended questions, and listen actively (phone down and TV off!). Remember, communication is not just about talking but also about listening.

2. Respect Their Need for Independence

As children enter adolescence, their desire for independence increases. It’s important for parents to respect this natural progression. Provide opportunities for your teen to make choices and take on responsibilities. Identify household tasks and errands that they can begin doing on their own, with little or no help from you. This not only boosts their confidence but also helps them develop critical decision-making skills.


A group of happy teenagers are gathering in a park

3. Spend Quality Time Together

Despite their growing independence, adolescents still need quality time with their parents. Find activities that both of you enjoy and set aside time to engage in these together. It could be as simple as a weekly game night, cooking a meal together, or engaging in a shared hobby. Make sure to keep this time free from criticism or questions about school or friends, and instead focus on what you enjoy about your teen. This time spent together strengthens your bond and shows your pre-teen or adolescent that they are a valued part of the family.


4. Support Their Interests and Endeavors

Showing interest in and supporting your child’s passions communicates that you care about their happiness and well-being. Attend their events, whether it’s a sports game, a school play, or an art exhibition. Celebrate their efforts and achievements, and be a comforting presence during setbacks.



Parents and other supporters slap hand with teen athletes as they run by the side of a soccer field

5. Educate Yourself About Their World

The world adolescents live in today is vastly different from what most parents experienced at the same age. Make an effort to understand the social and technological landscapes your child navigates. This includes understanding social media, online trends, and the pressures they face, which will help you provide relevant guidance and support.

6. Set Clear Boundaries and Expectations

Consistent boundaries make adolescents feel secure and cared for. Discuss the rules of the house and ensure they understand the reasons behind them. Involve your adolescent in setting these boundaries, which can help them feel respected and more inclined to follow the rules. Build trust by following through with contingencies: stay firm with consequences, and also provide earned privileges or rewards.

7. Practice Empathy and Validation

Try to see situations from your adolescent's perspective. Adolescence is a time of intense emotional and physical change, and what might seem trivial to an adult can be significant for them. Practice validation by acknowledging that what they are feeling makes sense (even if you might disagree with how they are reacting). Empathizing with their experiences can help you respond more effectively to their needs.


A mother and teen girl embrace while sitting on a grey couch

8. Give a Little Grace

Everyone has a bad day here and there, and teens are no exception. Don't expect perfection from your teen. Show your teen that you love and accept them, even when they mess up.


9. Help Cultivate Meaning and Purpose

According to recent studies, teens who report having no "purpose in life" or like they "don't matter" are more likely to experience anxiety and depression. To combat this, try getting your teen involved in activities that focus on other people are are attached to principles or values that are larger than themselves. Volunteering at an organization, getting involved in your local house of worship, helping a neighbor, or getting a part time job are all great options. The important thing is that your teen feels that their contributions are meaningful -- and doing an activity together that promotes both connection and mattering is a win-win.


A group of teens and adults dressed in matching green shirts are picking up litter in a park

10. Seek Professional Guidance if Necessary

There may be times when you need outside help, and that’s perfectly okay. If you’re struggling to connect with your adolescent, or if they are experiencing issues that require professional intervention, consider seeking advice from a school counselor, psychologist, or family therapist.

Conclusion

Maintaining a strong and healthy relationship with your adolescent or pre-teen is vital for their development and well-being. By applying these strategies, you can build a resilient and supportive relationship that endures the challenges of adolescence. Remember, each phase of your child's life offers unique opportunities to deepen your connection and understanding. Embrace this time with patience, love, and empathy, and watch your relationship flourish.


A family of four embrace as they smile for the camera while on the beach



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