In my novel, “Don’t Try to Find Me” (due out July 8), 14-year-old Marley runs away, leaving her mother Rachel wondering how she missed all the clues. Did she really know Marley at all? And has Rachel’s oblivion put Marley in harm’s way?
For those answers, you’ll have the read the book! But if you have a teenager of your own, here are some ideas of how to assess where you are in your relationship.
1) Are you having regular conversations?
These don’t have to be deep. Even surface conversations help build the bond. They’re an opportunity to show interest in your child’s world.
2) If you’re not talking much, why is that?
If it’s that there doesn’t seem to be enough time, think about what message that sends to your child. What we devote time to shows what we value, and how we prioritize. Figuring out a way to talk to your teenager while still managing the household tasks (maybe having them hang out with you as they help you with those tasks) again shows interest. And we all want to feel interesting, your kids included.
If it’s that your teenager doesn’t want to talk to you, why is that? Sometimes I hear parents assume it’s a normal developmental phase, that no teenager talks to their parents. This is a fallacy. In fact, many teenagers enjoy talking to their parents. If that’s not the case in your household, again, it’s important to analyze why that is. Is your child withdrawn or depressed? Are they responding poorly to your approach? Do conversations start well and then go off the rails?
3) Can you name your teenagers’ friends? Their favorite activities/bands/movies? What they value most? What they dream about? What they fear? How they relate to their friends?
There was a progression there, from surface to depth. If you don’t know the surface, if you haven’t expressed curiosity about it, then you’ll probably never go deep. Yes, it can feel tedious to hear all the inner workings of your child’s social world. You might not want to watch their TV shows. But all of these offer valuable windows into your teenager’s mind, and if they want you to let you inside, then feel grateful.
4) Are you easy to talk to?
Think about whether you tend to dispense advice or lectures at every opportunity. Think how this would feel to you as a teenager.
Recognize if your conversational style with your child differs dramatically from how you talk to other adults. If it does, consider why that is, and if it means that you’re not showing proper respect for your teenager’s views and experiences.
5) Share who you are with your teenager.
They can handle it. In fact, they’ll find you a more credible source if you do seem genuine, rather than like you’re trying to hide your faults behind some veneer of parental perfection. Let them know you, so they can like you. That’s the best way to know them.
Girl in doorway image available from Shutterstock.