Bonding with your teenager can often feel more difficult and less natural than it did when he was a child, but research indicates that teens still need and crave active attention and support from their parents. While teens tend to spend more time outside of the home with their friends cultivating their sense of independence and autonomy, the teenage years still present a great opportunity to engage in commonly enjoyed activities, strengthen and deepen emotional bonds, and provide support for all of the changes your child is going through.
Connecting or reconnecting with your teen can be a slow process that requires trust, patience and persistence. In order to deepen your bond with your child you may have to be willing to try new things, be open-minded, and accept rejection in the beginning. It’s also important to continue to work through the balance of being a supportive and guiding figure as well as a parent who provides needed structure and discipline. To begin working on strengthening your relationship with your teenager, it can help to learn about the power of positive parenting as well as some ways to bond and engage in activities with your teen.
The power of positive parenting
A growing body of research supports the idea that your parenting style and how you interact with your children has a significant impact on adolescents’ long-term success. A 2016 Japanese study found that children who received positive attention and care from their parents as children had higher incomes, higher happiness levels, higher academic success, and a stronger sense of morality as adults. This study, carried out by a massive online survey, measured parent/child interaction around factors such as interest, trust, independence, and time spent together. The results indicated that those parents who were categorized as supportive parents, meaning they had high levels of independence, trust, interest, and time spent together, had happier, more successful adult children. But what does being a supportive and positive parent look like in the teen years?
The first way to engage in positive parenting is to build a strong emotional bond with your teen. Strong bonds allow teens to learn how to manage their own feelings and behavior, as well as develop self-confidence. This type of bond between teens and their caregivers is often referred to as “secure attachment”, and those teens who have established secure attachments are more likely to be able to handle and work through the difficult challenges that adolescence presents. Strong emotional bonds are built through consistent communication, openness, and quality time spent together.
In order to build these strong bonds, it’s important to make yourself available emotionally and physically to your teen. In our hurried lives, we often have many competing priorities such as work, family time, social lives, and technology, and if teens feel like their parents are consistently unavailable, they can feel distressed, hurt, or rejected. Instead, communicate to your teens that they are valuable and important, and worthy of your time. When spending time together, be present with your teen, paying close attention to what they share while still respecting their growing need for privacy.
When spending time with your teen, it’s crucial to be an active listener and find out what they really need from you in that moment. This involves creating a setting and time where your complete attention is available. Maybe they need help with conflict resolution or managing their emotions, or how to respond in a social situation. During this time, focus on what you perceive your child’s feelings to be about the situation to avoid misunderstandings and to help your child identify and manage his own emotions. Let your kid take the lead rather than solving their every problem to help them boost confidence and develop problem-solving skills. Positive parenting also involves a significant amount of genuine praise, so be sure to compliment your teen often when they do something well so they know you are proud of them.
Sometimes positive parenting, especially with teens, will involve discipline and it’s crucial to strike the balance between overly strict and overly permissive, as your teen navigates the waters of independence. When your teen misbehaves, they are testing out the limits and seeing how you will react. Positive parenting involves not overreacting to situations and instead making the rules and expectations clear, while still allowing your teen to provide explanations for why they broke the rules. When punishment is necessary, be sure that the consequence fits the severity of the crime and follow-through, always making sure that your child knows you disapprove of their action, not of them as a person. Once you have structures in place for creating strong bonds with your teen, it can be helpful to find family activities you can do together to help strengthen these bonds.
Ways to bond as a family and activities you can do together
Looking for ways to bond and spend quality time with your teenager can feel overwhelming, particularly if your teens interests and hobbies have recently changed. However, there are many fun activities you can try with your teen to help boost your interactions, develop and maintain trust, and increase your connection with your son. Try some of these suggestions to get in the quality time you’ve been missing:
1. Have family dinner – Having weekly or monthly family dinners is an easy way to spend some non-negotiable time with your teen. Having this routine will help you have scheduled check-ins with your child and research has shown a positive link between emotional well-being and family meals.
2. Schedule a weekly movie date – Scheduled movie time can be an easy and fun way to spend time with your teen without the added pressure of a constant conversation. Movies can also help you to bond over shared interests.
3. Prepare meals together – Meal prepping with your teen can not only help the week run smoother, it also helps them gain important cooking and life skills that they will need as they transition to independence. This can also be a fun way to try out new and creative recipes in the kitchen.
4. Start a family book club – Take turns choosing books that the family will read and discuss together. There is a mountain of evidence about all the benefits of reading to and with your children can have, and choosing books can get your teens invested in intellectually-stimulated activities.
5. Hit the gym together – Doing physical activities with your teen can help get everyone’s endorphins flowing as well as provide essential movement needed for healthy development. If you teen isn’t big on going to the gym, playing basketball in the driveway or going for parks in the park can have the same effect.
6. Volunteer for a community project – Bond with your child by helping the local community out with a project. Volunteering can increase self-esteem and mood, and it also shows young people that everyone can make a positive difference.
7. Tackle chores as a group – While doing chores isn’t typically anyone’s favorite activity, doing them as a family can be a good way to get in some bonding time with your teens and finish the housework quicker. Doing chores also teaches teens life skills they will need for the future.
8. Redecorate their room – As teens go through this massive transition period, it’s likely that their room needs to be transformed to reflect their maturing persona. Allow them to take the lead creating a plan, and budget, and schedule for renovation.
9. Start a weekly board game night – Game nights can be a fun way to engage the whole family for hours. Break out apples to apples for some laughs or risk for a strategic friendly competition among family members.
10. Plan a vacation together – Being a teenager can be stressful, so plan some much needed rest and relaxation time with your teen. Let them be a part of the planning process by choosing the destination or helping to plan out the itinerary.
If you and your teen need help creating stronger bonds and finding ways to reconnect as a family, Discover Seven Stars can help.
Discover Seven Stars can help
Seven Stars is one of the nation’s premier residential treatment centers for teens with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Whether diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder to date or not, Seven Stars’ students are those who struggle socially, emotionally, and academically. Our treatment model is a revolutionary hybrid. We combine the assessment aspects of a multidisciplinary assessment center, the experiential learning of an adventure program, and the therapy and classroom academics of residential treatment.
One of our primary focuses at Seven Stars is to build and restore family relationships. We recognize that the struggles of our students are often the struggles for our parents and their siblings as well so we provide a ‘time out’ for the entire family. While your child joins us for a journey of self-discovery and newfound skills, parents and other family members back home have a chance for rebuilding family relationships and reflecting on how to make changes going forward.
Throughout your child’s time at our program, you will be involved every step of the way. We recognize that every family situation is different, and your child’s therapist will consult with the entire family to determine the right communication style and activity level for rebuilding family relationships. For more information, please call (844) 601-1167.