When it comes to parent and teen mental health, it’s all about connection. Communication is vital to any relationship and this is especially true for caregivers who are seeking to model the best modes of behavior and communication for kids. Connecting with teens can be tricky at times. Adolescence is a time of shifts and these can include mood fluctuations, detachment from adults, and greater steps toward independence. When it comes to relationships and healthy attachments with the teenagers in our lives, modeling goes a long way. One of the areas where we can model skillfully is in creating and holding healthy boundaries.
Boundaries Show We Care
It may seem ironic to talk about boundaries when discussing the topic of connection but it is a crucial part of positive relationship building. What we often forget when parenting teens, is that the unspoken behavior and patterns influence just as much as those that are articulated. Boundaries, in particular, are conveyed through these multifaceted ways. We set rules, we may attempt to get adolescents to comply, but that’s not the same as holding healthy boundaries. So what are they?
There tend to be two specific styles when it comes to dysfunctional boundaries. There are those that are highly open, sensitive, or vulnerable versus those that are rigid, detached, and inflexible. The more we allow other people’s moods, judgments, and behaviors to affect and define us, the less independent and empowered we are. Conversely, the more shut off or detached our personality is, the less present we can be for others, the more challenging it might be to feel emotions and empathize. Either extreme can negatively impact relationships and we all have gradations of these character traits. The idea is to strive for balance.
When we set and hold boundaries for ourselves, we model healthy behavior for adolescents. A few behavior traits are relayed when we do this, including self-care, awareness of interdependence, and self-respect, to name a few. We all know the push pull dance of being a primary caregiver to teens. On the one hand, they need us and want us, but on the other they may act disconnected, non-caring, or even embarrassed by us. That’s OK. The key is forging our own ways to connect without basing our behavior on theirs or anyone else.
How to Create Connection with Teenagers
Here are some tips to spark positive interaction with our teens and young adults.
Model. We’ve talked about this and we encourage caregivers to hold this awareness as much as possible. Whatever we seek we must emulate and uphold. This comes to behaivor, too.
Listen carefully. When we listen to others without waiting for our turn to speak we hold respect and show them their feelings matter. This doesn’t mean we grill them with a million questions to find out what’s going on. It’s about being observant and simply listening to what’s going on around you, what kids are up to, they may even loop you into a conversation about something simply because you are not harassing them. Listening is an artform.
“When your kids reach out to talk about their day, listen. When they talk about something stressful in their life, listen. When your kids reach out to talk with you—whatever it may be about—listen instead of trying to fix.”–SoCal Adolescent Wellness Lead Therapist, Briana Eckels, MSW, ACSW
Validate feelings. We all want to feel heard in relationships. It impacts our sense of security directly when we don’t feel heard and this is especially true for teenagers. Reflect what you’re hearing when it comes to emotions. In addition, show empathy. This goes a long way toward connection. What’s more, it’s another opportunity to model by holding positive healthy boundaries again. This is key to stay positive. If a teen has been hurt or is frustrated by a situation, we simply say “I’m sorry that sounds like it hurts.”
Spent time together. This may be one of the most important parts of parenting and connecting to our children. Go for a walk or head to the beach together. We can ask kids what they’d like to do with you and follow-through on it. Cook together. Maybe you create a special spot outside or a new area to spend time, lounge, play with the dog. Eat together. Communion brings union.
However you find it, always know that connection is within arm’s length. It can feel incredibly daunting to care for teens, especially in this day and age. There are many distractions and dangers. But we learn to lift, to support, to trust, through simple acts of courageous connection every day.
At SoCal Adolescent Wellness, we provide the professional expertise to teach families the skills of emotional awareness, self-regulation, behavioral modification practices, and fundamental mental health support tools. We connect the symptoms and experiences with evidenced-based therapeutic interventions as we develop unique treatment plans for teens and families. We guide clients to help them adjust and adapt to anything that life brings. We are here to help.