For parents, staying connected with their children as they approach their preteen and teen years isn’t always easy. Kids ages 12-18 are often busy with schoolwork, sports, extracurriculars and spending time with friends. As kids get older, it can be harder to schedule family time, or kids might want to go hang out with their peers instead of spending time with their parents.
While it’s normal for preteens and teens to want to establish more independence, parents can still serve as an anchor during this time in their young lives. Parents can provide love, guidance and support — while still letting their teenager grow, make mistakes and create their own identity. During the teen years, kids still need their parents to provide a sense of security and help them cope with life’s ups and downs.
How the parent-child relationship changes during the teen years
As kids go through puberty, they might act like their parents’ advice isn’t needed or might seem embarrassed by their parents at times. During the preteen years, children often start to confide more in their peers and want more space and privacy.
While it’s hard for parents to see their kid pull away from them, don’t take these changes personally. The need for space and privacy is just an indication that your preteen is becoming more independent.
Even during the preteen and teenage years, parents can be a powerful influence. Your son or daughter might be more receptive to the example you set, rather than the advice or instructions you give them. Being a role model for your teen is crucial. The more that parents practice respectful communication, kindness, eating healthy, honoring their commitments and staying true to their word — the more that preteens and teens will pick up on this and follow suit.
Ways to bond with your teenage son or daughter
As your son or daughter enters the teenage years, there’s actually a lot parents can do to maintain strong bonds with their children. Here are just some of the ways to stay connected as a family as your children get older:
- Make family meals a regular activity — Eating dinner together provides valuable time for your family to talk about their day and connect with one another. Make cooking a fun activity and get everyone involved. Let kids plan the meals or try a new recipe. Even if you can’t eat a sit-down dinner every night, parents can make family meals a regular part of their schedule.
- Establish a bedtime routine — Preteens and teens don’t need to be tucked in at night and probably don’t want you to read them a bedtime story, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t establish a bedtime routine or ritual. Make a rule to turn off all electronic devices (including phones, TV, laptop and iPad) one hour before bed, which helps everyone (including parents) get a better night’s sleep. Check-in with your teen before bed, talk to them about their day, and wind down together instead of retreating to separate bedrooms.
- Share ordinary time and celebrate special occasions — Often in life, it’s the little things that make all the difference. Hanging out with your teenage son or daughter could be as simple as walking the dog, baking cookies together, watching a favorite TV show or going to the movies. Also don’t forget to celebrate milestones and accomplishments beyond birthdays or holidays. Marking smaller occasions, like getting an A on a test, winning a soccer game or completing an art project helps reinforce strong family bonds.
- Don’t be afraid to show affection — Some preteens and teens might feel self-conscious about public displays of affection from their parents. However, you can still give them a hug or a kiss on the cheek at home or in private, which lets them know how much you love them. In public, a smile or a wave also shows that you care.
- Stay involved and interested in your teen’s life — There are ways to stay involved in your kid’s life without becoming a coach or a homeroom parent. Go to games and practices, attend parent-teacher conferences and check in on a regular basis. A preteen or teen might not tell you everything that happened at school that day right when they get home, but you can still inquire about how things are going periodically. Also, stay interested and curious about your teen’s ideas, feeling and experiences. Be a proactive listener and offer guidance and support when needed.