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How to Build a Strong Relationship with Teens

When my oldest son was in eighth grade, I began to worry about homeschooling high school. Could we do it? How could we be successful? What did success even look like?

One of my friends (and now 7Sister Marilyn) gave me some of the wisest advice I ever received.

“Pray about it, then write out your goals: What kind of person would you like your teens to be when they graduate?”

I took Marilyn’s advice and after much prayer, these were the general goals that I wrote for my homeschool high schoolers. All five of them have graduated now and I’ve had the blessing of watching those goals come to life in them.

How to Build a Strong Relationship with Teens

mom and teen with strong relationship

The most important goals (to me, anyway) I had for my homeschool high schoolers were:

  • To have a build a strong relationship with my teens, while they were still teens.
  • To have the kind of relationship that would make it possible for my kids to want to bring the grandkids for a visit when they grew up, got married, and had kids of their own.

The academic goals and other personal goals varied from teen to teen but I considered creating a meaningful relationship with each a top priority.

After prayer, I found that these would be the ways I worked on building a strong relationship with my teens:

Relationship over rules

My friend, Melanie Wilson of Homeschool Sanity Podcast, always says, “Relationship over rules.”

When I was a young mom I studied my older mom-friends (those with teens). I observed that those who were strictest had very obedient teens. Unfortunately, some of those teens quietly resented their parents and were glad to home leave as soon as possible. Some became sneakily rebellious (whether their parents ever found out about it or not). Some developed anxiety disorders. Some were okay, also, because that kind of parenting fit their personality.

I decided that the short-term gains of a strictly-controlled home while my kids were teens, were not worth the risk of hurting their hearts by valuing the “safety” of rules over our relationships. I love my kids more than I love a home that has an outward appearance of obedience.

Meaningful Relationship Building

Rules can take the place of communication and growth. It is so much easier to not wrestle through a teen request or irritation. If we simply set a rule, no further thinking or discussion is required on our part. However, if we can keep the communication flowing we have a better chance at building a meaningful relationship with our teens.

Once when I was a young mom, I saw a poster for sale in a homeschool curriculum catalog. It was, “The 100 Rules of our Household”. Needless to say, I didn’t invest in that one. Instead, I invested in:

Building Strong Relationships By Listening

Most teens need to talk. Only they rarely want to talk on our schedules. Have you noticed that? They want to talk when they are irritated at their literature study guide or chapter in their science text. They want to talk after bedtime or when you’re knee-deep in a project.

When I was busy, I found that I had to remind myself of the relationship goals and make myself available when my adolescents wanted to chat (or debate their irritating study guide or textbook). That meant stopping, turning myself toward them, and making eye contact (with a pleasant, non-irritated smile). Then I would simply listen.

Most of the time, not preaching or solving the problem for them

I said, “That’s really hard,” to my teens so many times that it turned into a joke for them. It was my way of letting them know that I heard them and sympathized. I eventually had to come up with other ways to let them know I cared, such as:

“Hmmm…” or

“What’s that like for you?”

“That sounds stressful…”

Or I’d practice some active listening like: “What I hear you saying is…”

Usually what happened at times like these is that my teen needed to blow off a little steam then could process through finding a healthy way to handle whatever was up. I could guide the discussion along with occasional questions but trust God to help them come up with a conclusion that would get them to a better place.

Admittedly, there were times that I felt like their decisions were not best practices so I would ask things like:

“How’s that working for you?” (but spoken with grace, not judgment)

Then there are the strong, silent types. One of my sons is a quiet, deep thinker. He doesn’t say much but when he does, he’s put a lot of thought into it. I found with him, if we are doing something together, he will talk. For us, that usually meant taking car drives together. We did lots of drives when he was in high school!

Having shared experiences

I work as a mental health counselor. In one of the continuing education courses I attended, the instructor said that when you do new things with your loved ones, your bodies release oxytocin (which is a bonding hormone). Even if it is a boring or irritating experience, once you get home the oxytocin is there.

Another cool thing about doing new things together is that it gives you something to talk about. So we tried at least quarterly to do something new. We counted:

  • Co-op field trips
  • Doing a new volunteer activity together
  • Hiking at a new state park
  • Attending free dress rehearsals at the local opera house
  • Making a new “historical” craft

Homeschooling high school gave us so many opportunities for new things!

My homeschool grads are all college grads now. We still have a good relationship (and I get to visit the grandbabies!) God bless you on your journey as you build meaningful relationships with your teens.

Hey, if you’d like some good discussion material, download 7SistersHomeschool.com’s FREE Apologetics curriculum. It’s interesting and thought-provoking. 

***

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30 DAYS OF THE BEST ENCOURAGEMENT FOR HOMESCHOOLING MOMS SERIES CONTRIBUTOR:

Vicki Tillman’s mission is to advance God’s kingdom by investing in people. She has lived this call as homeschool mom, advisor to the upperclassmen in her local homeschool community for 18 years and as a homeschool coach.

As a speaker, curriculum developer, counselor and life/career coach, Vicki shares her expertise in homeschooling, prayer, healthy life and career topics, and mental health topics through her coaching at Vicki Tillman Coaching. posts at 7 Sisters, Pike Creek Psychological Center,  Vicki Tillman Coaching and  Vicki Talks Prayer. 

A homeschooling mom for 20-plus years, all five of Vicki’s children graduated from homeschool high school and have completed various degrees at college and graduate levels.

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