It seems to happen with a blink of an eye. The daughter who used to beg you to play Barbies with her now wants nothing to do with you. Or, the son who used to come greet you at the door now stays stationed in front of his video game when you get home from work. Car rides used to contain non-stop chatter, now it’s difficult to carry on a meaningful conversation. You may ask yourself, “What caused our relationship to change?”.
It’s not uncommon for parent/teen relationships to begin to shift during adolescent and teen years. As kids are given more independence, begin hanging out more with their friends and develop their own interests, there becomes fewer and different types of interactions with parents. During this phase, it’s common for teens to feel less understood and parents to feel less respected. Many parents try to find ways to reconnect with their teen but have no luck in doing so.
The framework that I use in my therapy practice and have detailed in The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying book is one that I recommend to parents who would like to form a stronger connection with their teen. I call it The Three E’s (Empathy, Empowerment and Engagement). While this framework helps teens who are struggling with bullying and other issues, it’s also very effective in helping parents and teens reconnect.
Empathy – The foundation of the Three E’s is always empathy, which is understanding your teen’s perspective from her viewpoint. This may seem difficult to do if your teen appears to like completely different things than you or does not seem to be the same type of teen that you were. If you don’t understand your teen’s viewpoint, it’s important to ask open-ended questions. For example, you might ask, “I noticed that you haven’t mentioned Joyce recently. Did something happen that you’d like to talk about?” Asking questions (not assuming) is an important element of empathy.
Empowerment – Once you understand your teen’s perspective from his viewpoint, you can empower your child to share his thoughts and opinions, as well as develop game plans to resolve issues such as bullying, friendship troubles and low self-esteem. If there is an issue that your teen is facing, it can be helpful to have your teen practice proposed steps for resolution by role-playing with you.
Engagement – I’ve had parents tell me, “I try to engage with my teen, but she doesn’t want to talk to me.” Or, “All I get from my teen is an attitude and one word responses.” What often happens after these scenarios is that parents begin to give up. They go from trying to engage to no engagement at all – causing more tension and less communication.
Some teenagers appear too busy or preoccupied to sit down for a conversation. I suggest that you participate in an activity with your teen that he enjoys, or at least drive your teen to and from activities with minimal distractions. The best way to engage with your teen is to meet him where he’s at. Then, while you are engaged in the activity, it may feel less threatening to check in and ask an open-ended question such as, “What do you like best about school this year?”
Engagement is listed last in the Three E’s because it’s most effective when it’s used along with Empathy and Empowerment. You’ll engage differently if you empathize with your child. And, your teen will respond in a more positive manner if you’ve empowered her to share her thoughts and opinions.
Putting the Three E’s Together
Consistency and practice are the keys when using empathy, empowerment and engagement. When school is in session, schedules often become busier and more hurried. It can be easy to start using the Three E’s with the intention to continue, but then get busy, fall back into regular routines and return to old ways. It can help if you reserve a time each day, or even a day each week to practice using the Three E’s.
If it has been a while since you and your teen have comfortably connected, it may take some time before you start seeing the results of using the Three E’s. But, don’t give up. Often, positive impacts are being made, even if they’re not immediately noticed.
With time, the Three E’s will help your teen learn how to communicate better with you and others. It also leaves your teen feeling less lonely and less isolated. And, you’ll gain a better understanding of what is going on with your teen, and not feel as left out of her life.
It’s okay to make mistakes.
Your teen will make mistakes and so will you. It’s part of being human. Teens do not care about the number of mistakes you make; they care about the correction of the experience. When parents make mistakes, they may get angry at themselves or their children. They may yell at their child or overreact to a situation and then discipline more harshly.
If this kind of situation happens, it would be important to go back to your teen and say something such as, “I am really sorry that I grounded you for the entire week, and once I learned that you were telling me the truth, I should have come back and apologized sooner. I made a mistake and I hope that you can forgive me.”
Empathy, empowerment and engagement can help you connect and grow closer to your teen. The Empowered Child book provides more information and examples of how you can use The Three E’s to help your child address bullying and other issues. If your child experiences anxiety or depression that does not go away, it’s important to seek professional help. I am always available for assistance and you can click here if you’d like to schedule a complimentary 30-minute phone consultation.
About the Author:
Danielle Matthew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who treats bully victims and their families and educates schools, medical professionals and the community about the bullying epidemic. With over 20 years of experience, Danielle authored Amazon Parenting Best-Seller, The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying, and is the Director of The Empowerment Space Bullying Therapy Program in Los Angeles. Featured in Huffington Post and TODAY.com, Danielle has appeared on FOX, ABC and CBS Morning Shows and Mom Talk Radio.