by Mark Gregston
Recently at Heartlight, we received a letter from a frustrated mom that read: My family sits down to dinner and no one talks—instead, they spend dinner time checking their phones or sitting in silence. Help! What can I do?
Does this mom’s dilemma sound all too familiar in your household, too?
Well, it’s a known fact that families ebb and flow through seasons and stages of life, but if your family is spending time together without engaging one another, then you can cue Tom Hanks: Houston, we have a problem.
The problem is something called, disconnection.
And families that are disconnected to each other need to understand why the connection has been lost, and how to reconnect, and that’s what we’re going to address in this article.
Disconnections and What Can Be Done About Them
We are at our healthiest and our happiness when we’re engaged in strong connections with people, and so, it should come as no surprise that we struggle the most when we are in relationships that are broken or damaged. But, relationships are tough. They create conflict and struggles, and while there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with conflict, where we veer off course is when we allow our relationships to remain in conflict and we begin to simply co-exist with one another.
Disconnection in families typically occurs between the ages of 11-15 because this is the season of life where your kids are starting to explore the world around them, and we, as parents, are starting to help them walk the path that’s been set before them. As they grow and begin to mature, our relationship and our connection with them, then, should be about fostering more opportunities for growth and change. But when the relationship is weakened, or filled with dishonesty, disrespect, or anger, then it’s important to reconnect by spending some quality time talking to your kids about it. You can do that by listening, being together, and engaging your teen by talking about the things that really matter to them.
Tension or negativity is another way that disconnection seeps into a family’s life. When there’s an atmosphere of negativity or tension at home, everyone can feel it. Your kids can’t get away from the stress and negativity out there in the world, but they should be able to escape the perilous world behind the doors of your home. If they can’t, then you’re likely to end up with a teenager who shuts down the moment they walk in the door. Just remember, there may be plenty to complain about, but when you complain and carry on—like everyone else, your teen is going to find it difficult to be around you. To combat this, check your negativity and tension at the door. Create a home of rest and relaxation and look for ways to lighten the mood and to laugh! After all, a merry heart, the Bible says, is good medicine.
Another way disconnection takes over is by overbooking activities and not prioritizing your schedule to include family time. When your family is swamped with activities, or when you’re busy focusing on your own hobbies and interests, it can cause tension and trust issues with your teen. As Lindsay, one of our Heartlight residents said, “Change is hard, but as I learned the hard way, when parents don’t connect with their kids, we’ll connect will someone—anyone who will listen and make us feel heard.”
I like to say it like this, moms instill values and dads validate those values. So, parents, what are you communicating to your teens? Are you listening to your teen? What sort of vibe are you setting for your family?
Summing Things Up
We’ve covered a number of reasons for disconnection, and here are some quick sure-fire methods for reconnecting when it feels like your family is slipping away.
First, start by doing something different. If you and your family are caught in a tango gone awry, change the song. Find a new place to eat dinner. Go outside and eat on the patio or deck, go to a new restaurant, have a family cook night. Have a dinner and movie night.
Take a class with your teen. Learn a new skill or hobby together.
Schedule a bowling or skating night together. Maybe make it a beach day.
The time you spend doesn’t have to be over the top. Listen, it’s the little things that matter the most. So, it doesn’t matter what your family decides to do, just plan something with your kids that will jazz things up a bit. The point is to connect with them and to communicate that they are important and worth the investment.
Manage your emotions. Learn how to empathize so you can build a connection with your teen. Maybe only correct your kids on Mondays and Thursdays, and the rest of the days, you praise your kids for all the great things they’re accomplishing. It’s easy to criticize, everyone can do it, so go against the grain. Be a place of refuge for your teen.
And finally, remember that it’s okay to set boundaries—even for yourself. Adults need some guidelines, too, when it comes to phones and other devices because technology has invaded our lives.
Mom, Dad … the relationship that you have with your teen now will determine the type of relationship that you have with your kids and your grandkids ten years from now. Unresolved issues only arise at a later time in life when the consequences are greater and the rippling impact affects more people. So, do what it takes to make sure that all issues are talked about and work hard to make maintain a relationship with your teen—even in the most uncomfortable of situations. Your relationship with your teen is the most important relationship in your world. And my prayer for you is that you’ll pursue resolution and that your teen will be open to restoration. They want it and they may not know what to do, but they will follow your lead.