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How to Connect With Your Teens

Yesterday your child was a cheerful 12-year-old, helping out with chores and hanging out with the family on Friday night. Today, she's fighting you over everything from what to have for breakfast to when to go to bed, and she certainly doesn't want to spend her Friday nights at home. Your charming preteen has flown, and in her place has landed a moody, irrational and often defiant lazy lump. Welcome to the teen years!

What's Going On?

The teenage years can be described as a constant struggle toward independence and self-discovery. Clinical social worker Joani Geltman is the author of the parenting help book "I Get It: Three Magic Words for Parents of Teens," and she explains the change in the parent-teen relationship during this period best when she says, "Up until the point that your child becomes a teen, you have been the conductor of your child's life, exposing them to and engaging them in activities that YOU want them to experience. As teens, they are now at the "buffet of life," trying out and on different personas, interests, friends..." While the connection you once felt with your child seems more unstable during this period, there are ways to connect during the teen years and help her develop into a mature and responsible adult.

RELATED: Myths About Teens

Inside Voices

Practice your relaxation breathing the next time your teen brings you to the boiling point and try not to fly off the handle. When you yell at him, he's going to automatically react to your decibel level and your words will seem to go in one ear and out the other when things get heated. According to Geltman, his brain isn't wired quite the same way as yours. "The amygdala, or the emotional center of the brain, is in much higher activation than the thinking center or frontal cortex." He's not responding to what you're saying, he's responding to the sound of your voice. So, after all those years of reminding him to practice his inside voice, it's time to bring that advice home to connect with your teen. "The adage "It's not what you say, but how you say it" should be your guide."

Pay Attention!

The rumors circulating around school may not be your idea of gossip-worthy chatter, but they're probably very important to your teen. When you roll your eyes or listen half-heartedly when she's talking to you about her best friend's new crush or the new cute boy at school, you're telling your teen that you don't really care. If she were telling you how to claim the million dollars you've just won, you'd be listening intently, so make yourself available when she needs to talk and listen to what she has to say. You'll be rewarded with a lasting connection between you and your teen. So the next time she wants to tell you about the rumors at school, pay attention; she's trying to tell you about what's important in her life.

RELATED: Teen Problem Behavior


"You just don't understand me!" -- the dreaded phrase that grates on every parent's nerves. But feeling misunderstood is a common complaint among teens. If you want to connect with your teen, look at life from your teen's perspective and try to see the world through his eyes. While work, bills and responsibility may be at the top of your priority list, his friends and other aspects of his social life are probably topping his charts right now. Instead of nagging him to put down the cell phone and get the homework done, Use the "I get it" approach that shows you understand what's important in your teen's life -- that you understand him. As Geltman demonstrates, "I get how important it is for you to stay in touch with your friends; let's figure out a way that you can do that and get your homework done." Now that you've shown him that you see and appreciate his priorities, he'll be more likely to work with you toward a solution, thus eliminating the friction caused by the nagging-resisting circular behavior.

Dive In!

You're accustomed to arranging her activities and guiding her interests, but now it's time to let her discover herself as an increasingly independent person. Geltman says, "If you keep trying to make your teen want to do the things you want them to do, you will push them away." Show her you pay attention and you "get her" by taking an active interest in her own developing passions. If the rest of your family members are sports enthusiasts and your teen loves to bake, make her the designated baker of the family to keep her connected while respecting her interests. On the flip side, if your idea of a wild night involves pizza and a movie and your teen is exploring her daredevil side, acknowledge her interest and do what you can to get involved. You don't have to sign up for sky-diving lessons together, but how about a weekend ski trip instead. Now you're not only acknowledging her interests, but diving in and staying connected to her life.

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