The relationship with your child will inevitably change during her adolescence but drifting apart isn’t the only option.
Quietly observe your teen and her friends.
“If we observe our kids, we can intervene when they need us and learn who they are,” Dr. Mayer says. The only way to truly do that is through participation in his life. Aside from attending his sports games, performances, award ceremonies, and the like, and staying in close contact with their teachers and guidance counselors, resolve to make your home the hang-out place. “Try inviting their friends over for dinner, and on weekends,” Dr. Rustomji suggests. “This is a way for you to keep your eyes and ears open to their inner world, without seeming nosey.”
Leveraging car rides accomplishes the same thing. Offer to pick up and drop off friends when you’re driving your own kid to a party, the mall, or a school event. You might be surprised how much you learn about your teen’s life by silently listening on a 15-minute ride. A car ride with only the two of you is still an opportunity to build your bond. “Face-to-face conversations can be uncomfortable and intimidating for a teen,” Carino says. “In the car, you are sitting side by side. Having the music on low and not looking at each other may create an environment in which a teen feels more comfortable opening up.”
Work on yourself.
Who says your teen will grow out of idolizing you? True, eventually we all realize our parents are flawed, just like everyone else. Nevertheless, your lease on being a role model never has to expire. “Be someone they want to admire,” Dr. Mayer insists. “Be healthy. Keep yourself fit. Be socially engaged. Be dynamic. Don’t let yourself go. Too many parents of teens I work with have given up on themselves.” If you have a cheerful, positive attitude and are continually trying to improve yourself in whatever ways resonate with you, others will want to be around you. And that includes your kid and her friends. “If you do all that, their friends will say, ‘You have a cool mom or dad’ or ‘I wish my mom or dad was like yours’.” And once that happens, it may not be a stretch to say you’re golden.
Never give up on having a good relationship with your teen. Ever.
The senior year of high school can be a difficult time to try to forge a better relationship because of the focus on college and the future. Plus, “seniors tend to zone in even more on their friendships because they know many changes will be happening socially once they graduate,” Carino notes. If your son is in his later teens, and you’ve had a rough ride of a relationship, you may think it’s too late to close the gap between you. Don’t. “It’s never too late,” Carino insists. “It’s usually after high school that young adults connect with their parents in ways they didn’t before. Especially if they’re away at college, relationships often improve because of the space and distance.” Try to remember that you’re aiming for the long haul. “The teenage years are developmental. Teens are not a finished product,” Dr. Mayer agrees. “Think about it. We have many more years of a close, meaningful relationship with our children in adulthood than the short span of adolescence.”
Whether we like it or not, our relationship will our children will change. “This is inevitable. Being prepared for this change will help you overcome the loss and grief of going from the always-needed parent to one who is supportive from a distance,” Dr. Rustomji says. Your child—even when she hasn’t technically been a child in a long time—will always benefit from your comfort and guidance. “I like the analogy of a tethered rope, with more slack in the bond between you and your child,” Dr. Rustomji says.
Parenting a teen is rarely easy. Getting and staying close to your daughter or son won’t happen in a weekend. Consider it a work in progress. “It’s a slow, day-by-day process,” Kenny says, “but in the end, I feel it will bring years of closeness.”