How to Stay Connected With Your Tween or Teen

A mother and her teen daughters laughing

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The tween and teen years can be hard on the parent-child relationship. Many parents wonder how to hold on to the close bond they shared with their children when they were younger.

Know that this is a very common concern for parents—and believe it or not, for many tweens and teens, too. Learn how to stay connected to your tween or teen, while also giving them the space they need to grow.

The Parent-Tween/Teen Dynamic

As kids enter their tween and teen years, they often begin to shift their focus from their parents to their friends. Don't worry, this doesn't mean that your kids no longer love their family. They just want to explore the larger world and their relationships with their peers, too.

That said, we all know that many kids in middle and high school suddenly find their parents "embarrassing," "weird," or out of touch.

Conflict and distance may seem to crop up overnight between child-parent duos.

While the need for independence and space from their parents is a normal, developmentally appropriate process, it's often distressing and confusing for parents. Feeling that your tween or teen is "changing" or drifting away may trigger the fear that you won't be able to adequately guide and protect them.

Many parents of adolescents may wonder what they did wrong and worry that they're losing their close bond—and being replaced by their kids' BFFs. But all is not lost.

While it's very common for some distance, stress, and challenging emotions to appear as your kids reach double digits, that doesn't mean that parents are necessarily losing their connection to their child.

You can still remain close—or get closer than ever before—as your adolescent child grows up. In fact, research tells us that the quality of your relationship with your child during this stage of life is as crucial and influential as ever.

Why the Parent-Child Bond Matters

Staying connected to your tween or teen is important not only for parental satisfaction and the well-being of the family dynamic but also for the well-being of your tween or teen.

Evidence suggests that a close parent-tween/teen bond is associated with healthy mental health, coping skills, decision-making, school success, feelings of belonging, and high self-esteem.

In other words, a strong connection can help insulate your child from peer pressure, bullying, risky behaviors, and feeling alone.

Additionally, research indicates that the impact of tween/teen-parent closeness may last well beyond adolescence.

In fact, studies have found that a strong parental connection in a person's teen years predicts higher self-esteem and resilience as an adult and lower rates of many mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mood disorders.

The teen brain is prone to impulsivity, risk-taking, intense emotions (like moodiness and irritability), reactivity, and disorganization. Many middle and high school students experience a lot of stress and pressure, too. So, lean into compassion for your child's emotional dysregulation and other struggles—and offer as much executive function support as you can.

Tips to Stay Connected

So, how exactly do you maintain a close connection with your tween or teen when they seem to be running full speed in the opposite direction?

Well, it's not always easy, but a good starting place is to not take your child's impulse to step away from you personally. Understand that their growing desires for alone-time, privacy, and time with friends are normal and expected—and not a reflection of anything you did or didn't do.

Plus, just because they may not always express it, your kid likely still cares very much about your relationship. Your child may not even seem to be listening to you but deep down they probably want to stay close to you, too.

Still, you may need to be the one to make the effort to keep the lines of communication open as the big feelings, raging hormones, wanting to fit in, and unrefined impulse control (all hallmarks of adolescence) may prevent your tween or teen from reaching out.

Schedule Regular Family Time

A great way to keep closeness alive with your middle or high schoolers is to schedule family bonding time. This can be any activity that you do regularly with your tween or teen (or whole family if you have more kids).

Ideas include having a weekly pizza, spaghetti, or taco night. Other possibilities are cooking, watching movies, playing sports, exercising, hiking, playing board games or video games, shopping, doing beauty treatments, or simply walking the dog together,

It doesn't really matter what you choose to do, although it's ideal to pick something you think your child will enjoy. So, scheduling make-your-own-sundae-Sundays may get more buy-in than sock-sorting Saturdays.

However, the most important element may be consistency and creating a family tradition, which will build gravity over time. All it takes is a few weeks of Friday pre-dinner games of catch or soccer for the activity to become a family ritual.

Studies show that sharing interactive rituals builds social connection. In other words, spending time with your tween or teen on a regular basis, particularly doing fun activities together, will build up your bond.

Listen More, Talk Less

While it can be mighty tempting to talk your tween or teen's ear off when you get their attention, it can be more effective to listen instead. Research shows that adolescents are driven to seek autonomy and by the desire to make their own decisions.

So, letting them talk and work out their issues with you as a springboard may be much more well-received than simply telling your child what you think or telling them what to do without getting their input.

Teens certainly will benefit from hearing your thoughts and guidance, just be sure to encourage your child to share, too.

Don't Shy Away From the Hard Stuff

Use a gentle touch but don't shy away from communicating about complex or challenging topics with your tween or teen. It may feel awkward, difficult, or uncomfortable to talk about some topics, such as sex, death, money, drugs, politics, dating, grades, college plans, friends, or family issues.

Every attempt to broach these topics may not always land. However, your efforts will likely pay off with a closer relationship if you keep trying.

Plus, your child needs to know about these topics—and what better source than you. Remember, it's OK if you fumble over your words, feel embarrassed, or don't know how to answer every question. The key is that you are exploring these topics together and that your child knows they can come to you with their concerns and questions.

Be the Calm in Their Storm

Teenagers can be moody, rude, or exasperating, so it's very understandable that parents sometimes lose their cool, too. It's common for teens to get caught up in a swirl of intense emotions.

Teens are prone to make mistakes and experiment, sometimes with risky behaviors. They may push parents away due to embarrassment or because they fear their parent getting mad or being disappointed.

Do your best to keep calm, even in the face of challenging tween or teen behavior. Avoid yelling. In essence, try not to mimic their reactive behaviors (such as slammed doors, stalking away, engaging in the silent treatment, or saying things like "you're so mean" or "I hate you").

Instead, try to be the calm to their storm as studies show that the more parental time they get translates to better outcomes for teens.

Give yourself grace when you lose your temper or otherwise react in a way that you don't feel great about. No parent is perfect, and tweens and teens have a special way of pushing parental buttons (along with a slew of worries and fears). When that happens, simply give yourself time and space to recalibrate. Then, apologize and start again.

When your child is upset or having a hard day, aim to lead with even-keeled empathy, curiosity, patience, and compassion to let your teen and tween know that no matter what happens you're always in their corner.

Be Kind But Firm

While it can be tempting to let go of your rules in order to gain your tween or teen's appreciation, it's important to maintain boundaries and discipline for your child. That doesn't mean you can't be flexible from time to time.

Perhaps this means letting your teen stay out an hour after curfew or allowing your tween to ride the bus by themself younger than you'd planned if they show you they can be responsible enough to earn this privilege early. So, say "yes," when you can, but enforce the rules you keep with kindness.

Certainly, tweens and teens need greater freedom and autonomy. So, do reevaluate any rules that may be excessive—and listen to your kid's point of view.

However, abandoning rules can be a slippery slope, and kids without these limits may be more likely to look for new, more dangerous boundaries to cross. Also, while kids may rail against rules, they rely on the structure (and help with executive functioning) that they provide.

Be Patient

This is another hard one but aim to be patient, understanding, and forgiving of your child. Yes, they will be challenging at times and their behavior may disappoint you, but for many, volatility, mistakes, and moodiness are hallmarks of the tween and teen years.

Your child is going through a period of massive physical and mental change and growth. They are also trying to fit in in the larger world while also figuring out exactly who they are outside of being your child.

Offering your child a little extra empathy and patience, especially when they're at their worst, will do wonders for keeping your connection alive. As noted above, this doesn't mean abandoning rules or consequences.

Instead, simply aim to approach them with love, an open mind, and as much patience as you can muster. Forgive them when they mess up and focus on solutions and trying again rather than blame as you help them find their path.

Show Up

Continue to show up for your tween and teen. Even if they sometimes give you the cold shoulder and crave time alone, they likely want you around more than they will admit.

If they play sports or perform in a play, aim to be there if you can. If their class needs a chaperone for a field trip or a volunteer to help with an art project, consider signing up.

Go to school and community events with your family. Try for a balance of being present and available while also giving your tween or teen the space they may want.

Let them do their own thing, as desired and appropriate, but know that you just being there, on the periphery, is often far more impactful to your child than they let on.

Being there for your child reinforces how much you care—and that even if they’re a bit surly or distant at times that you’ll always show up for them.

Host Their Friends

Have their friends over; drive them around town. Above all, aim to be welcoming to their friends. Make your house the place they like to hang out by offering to host get-togethers.

Provide snacks and give them some privacy. Provide enough supervision so that you know what they’re up to but enough space that you’re not hovering. Take the opportunity to get to know their friends, which, in turn, will keep you more in the loop about your tween or teen.

Knowing (and accepting) their friends well is also a natural way to build a stronger connection with your child. This can get tricky if you aren’t crazy about some of their pals, but ultimately it’s usually better to get to know them and have your child socializing at home than it is to push them away—and have them hanging out farther away from view.

Join in Their Fun

Whatever your tween or teen is into, from video games or sci-fi novels to crocheting, skateboarding, or baking, aim to show your interest. If possible, join in in some way.

Do they want to volunteer at an animal shelter, direct a movie, or learn to make bread? Figure out ways you can support their hobbies or passions, whether that means finding classes, resources, or like-minded mentors, participating in the activity with them, or simply asking them about it and being their cheerleader.

Certainly, also invite them to participate in your favorite pastimes, too. But when you show genuine interest in their passions, you let them know you see them as their own person—and value their interests and the unique person they're becoming.

When to Get Help

If your relationship with your tween or teen feels particularly strained, don't be afraid to get help. Talk to your child's pediatrician and/or contact a family therapist to help you reopen the lines of communication and shore up your parent-child bond.

A Word From Verywell

It can be downright heartbreaking (or scary) if your kid seems to pull away after hitting double digits. Do your best not to take it personally. Just keep trying and letting your tween or teen know you love them and are there for them.

Working on building your connection pays off, even if there will be ups and downs. Trust that your bond is still there—and that your child still needs you, as much as ever.

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