How do I build a strong relationship with my teenager? This is a question parents have been asking as long as teenagers have been around (and this is a VERY long time!) The truth is, as our kids grow and begin to mature away from us as their parents, it can be harder and harder to connect with them. They feel attacked when we are concerned, they feel violated when we want to hear about their life. So how do we build trust and acceptance so that we can build a loving relationship with our teens? In my 30 years of homeschooling, (and raising 8 teenagers!) I came up with this list of 10 ways you can build a strong relationship with your teenager.
10 Ways to Build A Strong Relationship With Your Teenager
1. Treat your teens with respect
Not listening when they talk and criticizing your teens ideas is disrespectful and unloving. Parents should do the opposite: listen and identify with the homeschooled high schooler’s emotions. When you hear your child when they speak, listen to their heart behind their words, they will feel heard and respected.
2. Don’t fear your teens questions
Part of being a teenager is asking tough questions. Be ready for them, they are coming! When they ask about faith, family values, or politics, just listen and wait. Ask more questions back to them and gently share your position without invalidating their concerns. Welcome these conversations as seeds planted, even if they don’t see your point of view in the moment. Don’t be angry when your teen doesn’t see things the way you do. They are in a big world and have many voices fighting for their attention. Have gentle conversations and be as honest as possible with little frustration. Chances are they will think about what you said, and possibly change their own views as they grow and develop into adults.
Allow them to make mistakes, if they can learn from them
Giving teens the freedom to make mistakes can be tough, but they need it in order to learn and grow. You should trust them, ask questions and encourage them. This will help them have a more productive future. This develops our faith in God, our trust in God.
3. Don’t criticize them to their siblings
What makes a teenager unhappy? There’s nothing more hurtful than overhearing a parent complaining about them to their sibling (or anyone else). If you have complaints, present them to God and the person in question. Developing self-control in your children is important.
4. Let your child know you accept them
How do you emotionally connect with a teenager? As our kids change and grow, they naturally disconnect from us. In this phase of parenting, you might forget to stay connected with them. Teens, like all children, thrive on acceptance. They are in years of growth and change, so often feel insecure about themselves. They crave knowing their parents’ unconditional love and acceptance. So try not to slip into constant criticism.
You can show acceptance in actions and in words. (Think about love languages.)
5. Don’t act as if helping them is an inconvenience
Sometimes we as parents are tired. If we sigh and act inconvenienced every time our teens need a ride to a friend’s house or activity, they will feel devalued and hurt. There is a balance of course, so this should be discussed with the family and some compromise made to fit everyone’s needs (while maintaining each individual’s lifestyle). Someday, they will all be grown and maybe we can catch up on some rest!
6. Don’t treat people outside the home with more kindness than the people in your own home
We’ve all been there…the hurried drive to get to church on time, kids crying, brows furrowed, then you walk in the door with perfect smiles and everything in order. We put on a show for everyone else, but behind the scenes tend to give our worst to those we love the most. Make an effort to give your teen your best, and let them know they are every bit as important to you as the people you want to impress outside of the home.
This can be hard for us moms. Motherhood is such a character-developing experience!
So how do I make my teenager feel loved? Just start by treating them with the same kindness you offer to their friends when they come into your home.
7. You MUST have a relationship with them before you give advice away
Relationships take time and attention when building trust with your teen. Being a busy mom or teen does not exempt someone from the need to invest in those important relationships. But as we do the hard work to build the relationship, we earn the right to give advice when appropriate.
Some of the ways I invested in my homeschool high schoolers included:
Make yourself available and undistracted (that means, stopping what we are doing when they have something on their minds). It’s great when our teens want to talk to us! Stop, make eye contact and listen as often as possible.
In the words of Seuss, “Put on a happy face.” (Teens don’t want to hang around a grumpy mom…and it’s hard to see God in a grumpy mom.).
8. Don’t treat one of your kids “better” than the others
This one is tricky because we know as Moms, we love all of our children. Not that we love one “more” but we love each one differently. Some of our children are easier to relate to, which, to the other child can often feel like they aren’t getting the attention and affection from you that they deserve. So you might have to be a little creative with the child who is harder to relate to. Find special ways to let them know they are loved just as much!
9. Don’t hold a grudge when your child messes up
Teenagers are going to make good decisions, but they will also make poor decisions. As a parent, we need to model and live out Godly forgiveness and grace with our teens. This means we can’t constantly bring up old infractions even if they are relevant to a current situation. There need to be consequences, of course. But your child shouldn’t feel like you are keeping a running tally of every time they mess up. Keeping a rap sheet of their offenses is a sure way to NOT build a strong relationship with your teen!
10. Don’t forget that your teen still needs you to be their parent
While teenagers feel independent and mature, oftentimes they are dealing with things that they don’t talk about. It’s in these moments as their Mothers, that we need to be just that. Mom. While your son may stand 6 inches taller than you, or your daughter may be wearing your clothes, there will be times when they just want to be with you. Watch a show together, take a drive. Plan a weekly date. Whatever you can do to intentionally just “be”. No agenda, no lectures, just time letting them know that you are still their Mom, no matter how big they get. This is a huge investment into a strong and lasting relationship with your teen that will carry them well into adulthood (spoiler..they will still need their Mama then, too!).
10 Ways to Build A Strong Relationship With Your Teenager
I know how hard it can be to follow these suggestions in the day-to-day grind of raising teens. But if you are intentional and try to catch yourself as you encounter these situations, each step is a step in the right direction!
Give yourself grace, just as you hope to offer to your kids. Pray often and ask God to guide your steps and tongue as you talk to your teens. And most of all, just love those kids…even when it feels like they aren’t noticing…I promise you from experience, they are.