Despite yearning for independence, teens are still kids at heart who need and want you. / Jupiterimages/Getty Images
You text with your children more than you actually talk. Your daughter spends hours in her room perfectly content to be away from you. And when you wave to your son on the field, he oh-so-smoothly pretends he didn’t see it.
Congratulations — you’re the parent of a teenager.
But this milestone hardly has to mean the end of your close connection with your children. Because, for all their tough talk and yearning for independence, they are still kids at heart who need and want you, says Michele Borba, a doctor of education and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. “Your job,” she says, “is to stay as involved as ever, but in more creative and crafty ways.”
Try some of Borba’s favorite tricks for keeping families with teens engaged, happy and close.
Get into their world. “It’s crucial to find some point of commonality, even if you have to fake it,” says Borba.
If your daughter is a die-hard science nut, make a date to watch her favorite medical mystery show with her and find out what she finds so darn fascinating about bacteria and blood. Got a track star? Ask him how he would like to help you train for your first 5K. Feign playlist helplessness and have your kids update your iPod with some of their favorite music. “After you listen,” Borba says, “ask questions about how the music makes them feel or what the lyrics make them think about.”
Have dessert. Despite all the good things that having dinner together regularly brings, some families can’t all be home at 6 p.m. during the week. Solution: Have a nightly meet-up later and catch up over dessert or a pre-bedtime snack.
Audit their English classes. There isn’t a middle- or high-schooler who doesn’t have a required reading list. Pick up an extra copy of the current book and read along with them.
“You’re not doing their work for them. Instead, you’re opening the door for common discussions,” says Borba. “It may literally be a five-minute chat (Hey, I just got to the part where Anne Frank ...) but you’re still staying connected.”
Encourage their outrage. “Social injustice is so big for kids this age — they get so ticked off!” says Borba.
If there’s a cause that has your child riled up, look for ways that you can make a difference as a family. She’ll feel supported, you’ll get to spend time together, and you all will help those in need. Doesn’t get much better than that.