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How to Connect With Your Rebellious Teenager

Brandon has extensive research experience in education technology and implementation. Specifically, in K-12 and university environments.

It is important to develop new ways of connecting to your child as they transition to young adulthood.

It is important to develop new ways of connecting to your child as they transition to young adulthood.

As our kids turn into teens, it can feel as if the childhood connections we formed with them all but disappeared overnight. And, understandably, many parents grieve that loss. But adolescence isn’t the end of an old relationship—it’s the beginning of a new one.

It takes effort to connect with rebellious teens. Communication is one key to success, but it can be littered with landmines. While topics like drugs and sex are mandatory, other subjects should be avoided at all costs. Rebellion may be a normal part of being a teenager, but for parents, dealing with it is far from an intuitive process. Here are some parenting strategies to help you connect with your rebellious teenager.

Make Time with New Activities

Emotional connections take time. We spend a large part of family time in mundane, everyday tasks, but opportunities for connection pop up all the time. There's the impromptu board game, the trip to the store turned into an adventure, or the simple chat that becomes a heart-to-heart talk. Authentic bonding moments are often spontaneous, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create opportunities for them to surface.

Make time for bonding by trying new activities. Choose something unfamiliar to both of you. For example, learning how to surf with your teenager can help you bond over a fun and challenging activity. As newbies, you both experience the learning process together. This adds an extra layer of connection — one that's absent from activities where you teach your teen something you already know. By putting yourself on the same level, your teen will feel less threatened and more willing to take part.

Use Traditions To Connect

Family traditions create a sense of stability—something rebellious teens need. Unlike unfamiliar activities, family pastimes connect group members through a shared history. But traditions don’t have to be big events like holiday get-togethers. In fact, small rituals can be more effective because of their intimacy.

Family meals are often a good place to start. You don't need to re-create the iconic Norman Rockwell family dinner every night. Any meal can serve as a time for connecting, from after-school snacks to late-night ice cream runs. Even small rituals like saying “goodnight” can stoke familial connections. Or try creating traditions through movie nights, date nights, exercise, or sharing hobbies.

Regardless of the tradition, it needs to create a sense of consistency. Traditions are safe harbors within the storm of hormonal angst. If you are consistent with these traditions, your teen will gravitate towards them.

Use Effective Communication

The number one way to break through the wall of teen indifference is to use smart communication strategies. First, listen twice as much as you talk. Rebellion is how teens begin to take control of their lives. When you consistently offer advice rather than listen, you’re disrupting this problem-solving process. Be their sounding board. Help them work through problems by expressing empathy.

If they have friend problems, don’t respond with, “Well, it sounds like they weren’t very good friends, anyway.” The logic of that statement misses the mark. Your teen needs someone to witness their hurt, and they’re turning to you. Instead, confirm their feelings with “That sounds like it was really hurtful. I’m sorry. I understand why you’re upset.”

And don't forget what you "say" with your body language. If you're distracted with something or on your phone, you're not communicating that you're attuned. Drop everything and turn your attention to your teen. And that may not mean looking them in the eye—it means you're engaged. In fact, you may want to avoid eye contact at times. For example, when communicating with your teenage son, he may feel uncomfortable or intimidated making eye contact and prefer looking down while talking. If this is the case, try going for a walk, taking a drive, or another activity that doesn’t require direct eye contact.

Adopt the Right Attitude

Adopting the right attitude toward your teen’s rebellion can help you get through the worst of times. It’s critical you don't take things personally. They’re rebelling against you as an authority figure, not you as a person, despite personal attacks. See the melodrama and overreactions for what they really are—side effects of a mental, emotional, and physical transition into adulthood.

Yes, rebellious adolescents often say hurtful, personal things. But responding with anger or shutting down makes a bad situation worse. In a way, their personal attacks are tests of your love. They want to see whether their transgressions will change how you feel about them. But like in The Exorcist, don’t give in to the demon. Instead, use anger management tips like counting to ten or use humor to de-escalate. When you’re both calm, come back to address the issues.

Approach your teen as a fully-formed adult: confident, assured, and in control. They need to know that your happiness doesn’t turn on their actions. That is, they don’t need to behave because it will make you feel better; they need to behave because it’s the right thing to do. Avoid comments like, “If you stopped doing this, it wouldn’t upset me,” because they will resent the guilt trip. But, worse, the comment highlights your vulnerabilities, letting them know they have a direct line to your emotional state. You've put up a neon sign pointing to one of your buttons. And they will press it.

Social Media Challenges

Today, connecting with your teen may mean “connecting” on social media. Children who’ve grown up with Instagram and Snapchat have a different way of making friends and connecting. This can be a challenge for parents who find social media alienating or dangerous.

Too much screen time and cellphone addiction are additional hurdles for parents who want to connect. These listed strategies can help because they're “offline” interactions. It’s fine to be Facebook friends with your teen for chatting or keeping tabs on them, but don’t rely on social media to be the primary interface of your relationship. Some connections are best made through good old-fashioned face-to-face talks.


dashingscorpio from Chicago on April 04, 2019:

Even when teenagers are not "rebelling" they are often holding onto issues they are having rather than sharing them with their parents.

One of the biggest mistakes a lot of parents make is completely forgetting what it was like to be a teenager themselves.

The reason this happens is we all think we're "better parents" than our parents were to us and therefore we believe (our children) would come to us if something was bothering them. Not true!

In most households teenagers and parents live in parallel universes which only intersect when major trouble arises.

A large part of this is due to the fact that teenagers want to believe they are "adults" and therefore believe they should be able to handle any problems that come their way without consulting with mommy and daddy. Some teens have committed suicide due to bullying at school and their parents had (no idea) the child was being bullied!

Young teenage girls may have physically abusive boyfriends or they have been touched/assaulted or date raped but never told their parents about it.

Sometimes the reason teens do not share their problems with their parents is because (they were disobeying them) when the incident occurred. In other words they were not supposed to be there, with that person/group, or engaged in that activity to begin with.

In their mind revealing the incident to their parents is like asking for punishment in addition to what they have already suffered.

Even when it's unlikely they would get punished they may hate the idea of disappointing their parents by having disobeyed them.

A "good parent" is rarely seen as being a "friend" because they command respect and have the power to punish or withhold things. Their teenagers are aware they are not "equals" to them.

Like it or not most teens are not going to tell their parents when they are considering having sex or tell them when the lost their virginity.

There are exceptions whereby some parents abdicate their parental authority in favor of being their child's "best friend" in hopes of being the "cool parents". They may have allow their teens to have sex in their home, drink alcohol, smoke, curse, and call them by their first names. Nevertheless their teenagers still shut them out too.

They tell their friends: "My parents (don't care) what I do."

They disrespect their parents for not setting boundaries and see them only as human ATM machines to be used and manipulated.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 02, 2019:

I wish I had read this article a few years ago, when my children were in their teens.