Why Am I Always Speaking To Myself?  5 Steps To Bonding With Your Teens.

When it comes to parenting we pass quickly from the moment we are needed by our child every minute to the moment where we call out their name and we hear crickets.  We dreaded the many sleepless nights, or dragging kids to school, severely under the weather, and just short of needing a hospital bed and an IV.  But time passes.  And as it does, we pass from the “do everything” parent, into the “do nothing” parent phase.  Ok, this is not strictly true.  We still do stuff with our teens.  But the engagement we receive lessens.  Some of us turned into helicopter parents who overburden ourselves with so many events we have to take our kids to, they can barely think.  This post does not go into that issue.  Instead, we bring you the challenge of bonding with your teens.

It may feel like I skipped a few steps here, into the bonding aspect of everything.  But let’s go back to look at the moment things changed.  It could have been 9, 10, or 11.  Maybe even a little later.  But our child said we did not need to walk them into the school anymore.  They could be dropped off and be ok on their own.  Or they were going to a birthday party and they didn’t want you to stick around.  They could be there by themselves and be ok.  Even with the puffiest bags imaginable from lack of sleep, something sank inside us that day.  Why?  Because we no longer felt needed.

It’s a strange thing to become addicted to being needed.  But I think some part of us always wants to give ourselves away selflessly to another human being.  I know it feels strange to say.  But we need to be needed in some other person’s life.  Then the child comes along and for a few moments, we regret the desire to be needed, only to feel it all the more the moment the child no longer needs us. 

How do we handle the sudden death of our child’s desire for us to be a regular part of our lives?  What can we do to make sure they still want us in their lives?  And what steps can we take to make sure it all happens.  Ultimately, if we want to ensure the transition from needed parent to outcast doesn’t feel like falling off a cliff, we need to be doing things all along to make sure the transition becomes easier.  On the other hand, I do not want to say you have no hope.  Or else I wouldn’t have written this post. 

As much as I feel like a realist, I am an optimist.  I may look at life somewhat pessimistically.  But I always believe we can change.  And I believe change can make things better, even if it takes longer to make them better because of our missteps early on.  Regardless of where you might stand in the process of engaging with your teens, hope remains.  In addition, expressing how you make mistakes to your teen allows them to feel they can fall and get up again themselves, a key trait to surviving high school.

So let’s get out there and change what we can, making a few mistakes along the way, with the realization things can get better.  And never feel inadequate.  Honestly, we all exhibit brokenness. We are human after all.  This knowledge is key if we are to right the ship with our teens.  So, let’s take a look at the five steps to bond with your teens.

5 Steps To Bonding With Your Teens

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#1 Try To Be Open To Talking On Every Subject Early On

This may be a tough thing to implement once your teens have already become teens.  It definitely would be more challenging as they will have developed certain beliefs and attitudes about it if you were unwilling to speak on subjects before.  Which means you may have to be the one to initiate the conversation.  And they may be very uncomfortable with hearing from you.  So, if you do find yourself in this situation, admit your uncomfortability.  Then express your belief in the importance of the conversation no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

In an ideal world, you began this process when your child entered grade school.  No, you do not want to inundate them with topics before they are ready to discuss them.  At the same time, expressing a willingness to answer questions about any subject early on will make it more likely they will ask you the tough questions you want them to come to you for later.  Which means, unless the questions become repetitive or you suspect your child’s motives for asking such questions, you should attempt to answer them.  It shows respect for them at an early age they will appreciate even more as they age.

#2 Make Space To Have Conversations

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I remember hearing this story so long ago before my daughter was born.  But it stuck with me.  An older gentleman was having a talk about how he would engage with his children as they age.  He especially discussed the difficulty of talking to teens and engaging with them.  His method?  Take them away from all manner of mechanical device and out somewhere they were forced to engage with you.  It may take them a while to “open up”.  But as time goes out, our desire to reach out to one another, as human beings, increases.  And so, your child will reach out to you after a while.

If getting away from the world is not your thing, I would go with an example a friend of mine showed me which works for her.  She has three daughters.  She gave them plenty of freedom and space as they became teens.  But she insisted on two things.  Come home for dinner, even if they brought their friends with them.  And no electronics at the table.  Food tends to loosen people up, and the conversation becomes quite lively.  Just an hour a day will make all the difference.  Either way, whether it’s out in nature with just you and your teen, or at home around the dinner table, getting away from distraction helps to bond with your teens immeasurably.

#3 Remember The Conversation Should Not Go One Way

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Remember the friend of yours who looked like hell had overtaken them when they got to work?  You said hello and asked them how they were doing.  They said fine and asked you how you were doing.  You said fine and the conversation ended?  Me too.  Far too frequently we set up barriers to conversations with one another because of convenience or comfortability. 

Unfortunately, we do the same thing as parents.  We tell ourselves we do not want to burden our teens with our life’s problems.  They might not be ready for them.  And, there might be some truth to this.  On the other hand, as a teen, they can take on far more than you give them credit.  And if they ask you a question and you reply with a stereotypical one-word answer, it cuts off the conversation as surely as “fine” does to your friend at work.  If you want the dialog to change, you need to be prepared to change the dialog.

This means when bonding with your teens, you must be honest with them, and with yourself.  Examine how you feel.  Be willing to express some of the struggles you go through, even if they feel complex as an adult.  They will be an adult soon enough and seeing you wrestle with some issues does help them to realize struggle happens to everyone.  At the same time, you must walk a fine line.  You need to make sure when you express yourself not to make them feel like your struggles will cause their lives to come crashing down.  Them feeling chaos will not help.  But them seeing you tackle a problem straight on will. 

By express yourself openly with them, it will encourage a bit of openness with you.  They will be more likely to tell you what’s going on in their life.  But do it with balance and discretion, being sure not to overload them with more information than they can handle.

#4 Do Not Make Your Conversations An Interrogation

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I find this the hardest one of all.  Especially when my teen doesn’t seem to be opening up about what’s going on.  I desperately want information.  And so, I ask her a ton of questions about all the things I know about.  What do I get back?  One-word answers.  The conversation killer.

All I can do at this point is to tell you to relax.  And rely on the fact time and togetherness will cause the conversation to come about.  Of course, you must remove distractions, which we seem to increase in our lives at an exponential rate.  (#$@%$ you Steve Jobs and your #$@# iPhone) Trying to press something which isn’t there will not help.  It only shows desperation.

And if you haven’t heard the cliché desperation is an ugly perfume/cologne which will turn off any human being.  It will do the same thing for your child.  They will feel your desperation and close off more.  In turn, you will become more desperate, causing your child to close off even more.  Eventually, they shut down.  It becomes a vicious cycle. 

They only way to stop?  Stop asking questions.  Start bringing up topics.  Even topics that interest you.  At least on that front, if they show any interest at all you will have a better shot of getting your child to open up.  Real information comes in-between the lines of dialog.  For the most part, it never comes directly.  So, realize when bonding with your teens, even innocuous conversation starters can be the best chance you will get information.  Not a bunch of questions with the possibility of one-word answers.

#5 Be Present

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Ever met a blogger?  I mean a serious blogger.  One who goes out to events and takes pictures and writes stories on a regular basis?  We are the most distracted lot imaginable.  It can get too easy to focus on the photo op and not our kids.  Or fixate on the story and not whatever catches our child’s imagination.  So, I come at this last tip grabbing the biggest piece of humble pie imaginable.  You must be present with your kids.

Leaving aside bloggers who feel like we need to be on our smartphones 27 hours a day without sleep, hoping we can get in one last photo or one more marketing opportunity.  Everyone exists in the world at this point with a smartphone.  If they can’t afford a phone, they have an Obama phone.  (I always thought the term humorous until I heard someone who had once said she didn’t care if hers was stolen because she had an Obama phone.)  These smartphones bring the world to our fingertips.  Young.  Old.  Rich.  Poor. 

This means we have information at our beck and call all the time.  But our kids need us.  And our teens, whether they want to admit it or not, need us as well.  They need us to be available to them when they call.  And it’s not like when they were two and if they didn’t get a hold of you the first time they would ask you again in two minutes.  Or even two seconds.  This time if you don’t respond the first time, they might not come back to you at all.  They might go to someone in their peer group instead.  While you hope your teen has a good group of peers to seek advice from, wouldn’t you rather they came to you instead?

Ultimately, bonding with your teens means we need to be present when our kids need us.  Somehow, we have to be ready and available.  And sometimes this means being ready and available when it’s least convenient for us to be.  So be prepared to answer a question, even in the most difficult time for you.  If you want to reach into the life of your teen, you need to be ready at any moment.  And once they realize you are ready and available for them to talk to, they will be more likely to come back to you in future times of trouble and stress.

Wrapping Up 5 Steps To Bonding With Your Teens

I admit, sometimes I wish I could back to my former self and ring him by the collar, telling him to do this one thing differently.  Or answer a question posed by my child differently.  Or make note of some accomplishment by her in a more significant way. 

Of course, I had to fight through the emotional turmoil of a toxic relationship.  And oftentimes my ex would set me up for failure as a father.  As sad a state as it might be, my child doesn’t know the difference.  And all I can affect are the choices I have to before me now.  Blaming the other parent for things that already happened does not help.  Only focusing on the things before you and trying to develop a better relationship with the other parent so things don’t go wrong in the future will.

I think the best way to look at life and teens is with a wider angle.  When you look at every little thing up close, you lose the big picture.  Hence, if you focus on the small things, you lose the larger battles which need to be fought.  Unfortunately, you cannot live your life for your teen.  And even if you could, you would stunt their growth.  They need to face some of these challenges on their own.  Trust you have given them the tools to do so.  But be prepared to be there when they fall.  And they will fall every once in a while.

Finally, when it comes to bonding with your teens realize, you are not perfect.  Nor is anyone else.  Do what you can when you can.  And love on them.  They will appreciate it more than anything else you can give. 

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What things worry you most about your teen?  If you had any bits of advice to give about handling a teen, what would it be?  What things do you do to talk to your teens?

If you liked this Bonding With Your Teens post, please be sure to click the like button, and leave us a note in the comment section.  Then, share it with a friend.  Especially one who has teenagers.  Finally, follow us at the guide to get the latest parenting, Southern California, comedy, food, fitness, and lifestyle posts.  We really do appreciate you and would love to learn a little more about you.

Until next time, this is me signing off.

David Elliott, The Single Dad’s Guide to Life

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