30 Ways to Connect to Your Teen

One of the most common questions we get about Trust-Based Parenting is: "How do you apply these principles to teens?"

I hear ya! It's hard enough to connect to a typically developing teen, so how do you build trust with a teen who has had the early risk factors that come with adoption and foster care?

Several things come to mind. One is that we have to keep in mind that our expectations may be too high. Just because a teen has normal or even high intelligence does not mean they have the emotional development of their same age peers. Research shows kids from hard places are developmentally about half their chronological age, so when we say our teen is acting immature, the reality may be that she needs more repeated experiences to develop the under developed areas of her higher cortex or thinking part of her brain.

Another thing we must remember is that a child with early risk factors has great difficulty with trust. As parents we must remember that connection comes with our teens just like it would have come with a newborn through parental responsiveness like safe nurturing eye contact, playful interactions, warm and affectionate tone of voice, healthy touch, and matching his body language.

And if you've ever been tempted to say, "It's like my kid has lost his ever-lovin' mind!" Well, you're actually not too far from the truth as far as brain science. The adolescent brain is going through a tremendous pruning process during this phase of development. There are also significant changes in dopamine levels that Dr. Dan Siegel explains in his book Brainstorm. Here's a brief clip in which Dr. Siegel teaches the purpose of the teenage brain and identifies some of the changes going on during those tumultuous years.

For me, it's reassuring to know there is a reason - even a purpose - for our kids becoming creatures we hardly recognize. And if we can understand that what seems unreasonable or risky to us is driven by changes going on in our teens' brains, perhaps we can not be so reactive as parents and take things so personally. I certainly wish I'd had this knowledge a few years ago and maybe I could have avoided some of my over zealous parenting mistakes!

Our teens from hard places still need connection, felt safety, and playful engagement from us. We have to be creative and we have to be willing to do what they like to do.

Here's a list I made to jumpstart ways to connect to your teen. I'm sure you can add many more. The important thing is to still say yes when you can and still be emotionally present - even when it seems they are pushing you away. Remember, it's just their brain getting them ready to be an adult.

30 Ways to Connect to Your Teen                                                                                                                   by Debra Delulio Jones, M Ed

  • Take an afternoon or evening walk together
  • Give each other a Mary Kay Satin Hands treatment (or similar salt/sugar scrub products)
  • Have a weekly mother/teen or father/teen ice cream or snow cone date
  • Cook a special brunch for the family together
  • Plant flowers in the yard together
  • Play a game of cards
  • Ping pong game
  • Go bowling together
  • Family night of Arcades
  • Shooting basketball hoops together
  • Bike riding together
  • Playing tennis together
  • Swimming together
  • Have a mother/teen get-away at a nice hotel with indoor pool/hot tub
  • Get pedicures/manicures together
  • Volunteer in an animal shelter
  • Train the family dog to do tricks together
  • Make holiday baskets for a local nursing home
  • Jewelry making together
  • Art projects together
  • Decorate the house together for each upcoming holiday
  • A day at Six Flags to meet that teen “need for speed”
  • A day at Hurricane Harbor or similar water park
  • Evening high/low talk – each of you tell the high point and the low point of your day
  • DIY projects for his/her room
  • Bake cookies or special cakes for family events or just for fun
  • Dance Moves or other games on the Wii
  • Mexican Train Domino game
  • Left, Center, Right game with the family
  • Have your teen create a Teen Bucket List: 20 Things to do Before You are 20, then start helping him/her complete the list

How do you say YES to your teen?

P.S. Don't forget your self-care during this important time of parenting!