I always know when parents are struggling to connect with their teenage sons when they say things like this to me.
- He just can’t stand the sound of my voice
- We never have any fun together
- He doesn’t want to do things with the family
- He is always angry and doesn’t want to talk to me
- I just can’t seem to get through to him
Do any of these sound familiar to you? Now, remember that some of these things can also be developmentally appropriate. He will have unpredictable moods at times, he will prefer his friends over the family and he may not know how to express himself, much less his emotions. However, there are some things you can do to create more connected communication with him despite these realities.
One of my longer term parenting goals is to maintain enough of a positive connection with my kids through the teenage years that they want to spend time with me as adults. I am always in awe and have so much respect for families who are really close with their adult children. I figure they have really done something right when their kids are grown and they don’t avoid them at all costs.
So, what does connection look like & why it is important? I’m glad you asked.
Researcher Dr. Brene Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
You recognize connection when you feel it. There is eye contact, easy laughter, physical closeness and no one is looking for a route of escape from the conversation. These moments may be quick and infrequent and that is why you have to work to create connection and fight for it. It is important to say that we all desire mutual connectedness. However, you may not feel like your son understands you, hears you and values you. Nevertheless, you are seeking to make sure he knows that you see him, hear him and value him. You build the foundation and focus on the relationship, regardless of his responses or lack of motivation.
The truth is that none of the clever or creative parenting strategies work without genuine connection between you and your teen. If he feels safe, loved and understood by you then and only then will he be open to you and your influence. On the flip side, if he feels like you are not on his team, like you are waiting for him to make a mistake or you are overly critical he will hide from you. It can feel at times like the teenage years are full of conflict and frustration and anything but connection. However, if you make connection and relationship repair your priority many other things will fall into place.
We are going to talk about several ways to increase connected communication between you and your son. Including the following in Part I.
- Setting your intention
- The importance of respect
- Using the power of love languages
In Part II of this post we will discuss maximizing playfulness and curiosity as well as apologies & the art of repair.
Setting your intention
Ask yourself this important question, “Is your intention to connect or to correct?” If you can define your parenting purpose or intention you can help meet your teenager’s vital needs, including stability, security, safety and guidance.
It is easy to fall into the trap of constantly correcting every annoying behavior that your son has and let’s be honest there are a lot of things you feel the need to correct. Table manners, social skills, waning motivation for homework, bad language, cleaning his room and the list goes on. Sometimes you may need to hold your tongue and resist the urge. Remember, connect before you correct. He will be much more responsive if you focus on connecting with him first.
I don’t just want you to just think about this right now, but also in the moment when you are responding to your son or when you are getting ready to have a conversation with him. What is your purpose or intention? Do you want to correct and manage your son or do you want to connect with and enjoy him?
Here is something for you to try. For the rest of this week, count the number of times each day that you correct your teen and then count the number of times you seek to connect with him. Which number is greater? What might this information tell you?
The importance of respect
There are some parents that demand respect from their teens and get really bent out of shape when they don’t get it, but they often treat their son disrespectfully. I think this is important because all teenage boys want to feel strong, competent and capable. Not only that, but most teens have a keen sense of right and wrong and they simply won’t give respect to any adult without it being earned. In other words, do what I say and not what I do will never work. How does this apply to communication? Well, the response you get from your son will change if you show him respect with your words, your tone of voice and your non-verbal communication.
The best of us parents fall into the trap of getting on the level of our immature and impulsive teens. You will surely build up the wall between the two of you if you resort to name calling, sarcasm and snarky, hurtful comebacks. It can be difficult to avoid when things get heated, but I urge you to focus on respectful communication with your son, treat him like a young adult and not like a child, even when his is acting like one.
Know and use his love languages
This is one of the best ways to feel closer to your teenager. If you have not heard of this concept, it the basis of several books by Gary Chapman, including “The Five Love Languages of Teenagers” which I would recommend. I will expand on this topic even more when we talk about the power of love languages. Essentially the idea is that we all have certain ways that we best receive love and caring from other people.
The five love languages include physical touch, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service and quality time. Every teenager is different in terms of what they prefer. Your son may respond best to encouraging and positive words, such as I love you, I’m proud of you or I see you working hard. He may not want it in public, but a well-timed hug, pat on the back or even a friendly punch in the arm could help him feel closer to you. Sometimes a thoughtful gift will communicate that you love him and are paying attention, for example you do the research and buy him the long boarding wheels he has been wanting. Or, you do an act of service that gets your message across, such as doing his least favorite chore for him one day. I know what you are thinking, “I am always doing acts of service for him!” That may be true, but if this is his love language he will definitely appreciate your effort. Anything that is a sacrifice of time on your part will be a loving message.
I know that when I was a teenager some of my favorite memories are from spending quality time camping just with my Dad. Those hours driving in his 65′ El Camino, setting up camp and walking around the lake where just awesome for me. I would encourage you to think about how your son would best receive love and care from you and then make it your mission to speak that language. You can’t go wrong by expressing your love for him, both with and without words. Connection creates closeness and that opens the door for real conversation.
Here is one takeaway for you to apply to work towards more connected communication with your son.
For the rest of this week, count the number of times each day that you correct your teen and then count the number of times you seek to connect with him. Which number is greater? What might this information tell you?