How’s your relationship with your teen? Do feel there is a distance between you and your child, and the space is only increasing everyday? Has your once happy relationship with your kid turned into open animosity with your teen? Maybe it feels like your sweet baby went upstairs one day, and came down a totally different person – someone who seems like a total stranger to you?
You’re not alone. I get calls every day from parents just like you who say, “My relationship with my teen is disintegrating before my eyes. What can I do?” If that sounds like a call you could make right now, let me share some ways you can start mending your relationship before it is destroyed altogether. Consider implementing some of these relationship repairs:
Take Stock of the Relationship
Like going into your closet and getting rid of all the clothes that don’t fit us anymore or have simply gone out of style (are you ever going to wear anything with shoulder pads again?), we need to go into our parenting closet and take inventory. This requires an honest evaluation of the actions, beliefs, styles, and habits in our home and a willingness to toss out everything that doesn’t belong or doesn’t work. What are some areas that you can change and adapt as a parent? How can you accommodate the growing needs of your teenager? How can you grow alongside them as they learn to navigate the world? Like reaching back into the closet and taking out those corduroy bell-bottoms you haven’t worn since high school, take regular time to examine the ways you are connecting to your teen. See what is out of style, what needs to change and what keeps you stuck in the past. I realize that these are tough words to handle. It’s not easy to hear that maybe something we are doing as parents is hurting our kids. But we can all readily admit that we don’t have the parenting gig down pat. There’s always room for growth as moms and dads. As our children grow, so should we. Rebuilding relationships with our teenagers takes a willingness to pray what the Psalmist prayed; “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23)
Start Asking Questions
Want to get your relationship with your teen back on track? Start asking the right kind of questions. What do you mean by that? Ask the kind of questions that make them think about things, not just “yes” or “no” questions. Find out what they think, how they would do something, where they would go, and why. When a discussion leads to surprising expressions of wisdom from your teen, take advantage of the moment to reinforce their insights. Talk about controversial subjects as you would with a friend or co-worker for whom you have great respect. Never belittle their opinions about things. After all, did you know everything when you were a teen?
Then, ask some more personal questions. “What could I do to improve our relationship?” or “What things would you like to see change in our family?” Let me warn you–if you ask these types of questions, you may not like what you hear. But don’t run from the answers. Hearing honest feedback from your child may open your eyes to areas that need to change. You’ll also be communicating to your child that you desire to do everything you can to restore and maintain a loving relationship.
Take Ownership for Mistakes
The statement “I was wrong” (when said by a parent) can do wonders for a broken relationship. If you handled a situation poorly, admit where you made a mistake. Never will your child respect you more than when you admit your faults and ask for forgiveness. Humble parents who admit their mistakes and apologize are building healthy, happy families. Rebuilding your relationship with your child is always a higher calling than saving face. Learn phrases that specifically communicate your offense and build a bridge:
- “I was wrong in the way I approached you. Will you forgive me for that and allow us to talk about it further?”
- “I made some comments that were out of line. I was wrong, and I’d like to start our discussion over. Can we do that?”
- “I think what I said came out wrong. I never meant to hurt you. Would you give me a second chance to tell you what I was thinking?”
Create the Proper Environment
Don’t let your family get emotionally stuck in the mistakes and tension of the past. Create an environment that welcomes and invites change. If you feel like it’s time to make some positive shifts in your family, sit everyone down and tell them, “We need to make some changes around here–me included. It’s not going to be the same-old, same-old. Let’s work together as a family to move forward.” I’ve spoken on this topic at seminars a few times. And afterwards, I always have parents and teens come up to me and say, “Thank You! We decided as a family that we needed to change, and it was one of the best decisions we made. Our kids are happier, and we feel happier as parents!”
Act On It
Once you decide to make some changes towards restoring broken relationships, it’s time to act! Maybe you’ve realized that as a mom or dad you have been too overprotective in certain areas. Apologize to your kids and show them that you are working on changing and releasing some control. Perhaps you’ve seen that much of your conversation with your children comes off as judgmental. Express to your family your desire to change, and work towards infusing your conversations with grace. Or maybe you’ve realized that you just haven’t spent the time you need with your teen. Drop that weekend golf game, or forgo that daily run, in order to spend time with your teen. Those visible actions convey your willingness to work towards a better relationship.
Stay With the Plan
We don’t wake up one day with the perfect marriage, perfect kids, or perfect home. Those relationships take time and effort. So if your connection with your teen is in trouble, and you are working towards making positive changes, don’t give up! Stay with the plan. In difficult transitions, your teen may push back. They may dig in their heels as you try to rebuild the relationship. But keep the mindset and attitude that says, “We’re not going backward, only forward.” Even if you get nothing but grief from your teen at first, keep up your weekly time together, week after week. Eventually they’ll come around. Remember, relationships thrive when unconditional love is delivered across a bridge of friendship that never stops — even if your teen doesn’t respond. He or she may secretly be testing your commitment!
I want to challenge you today to commit to rebuilding a relationship with your child, and that starts with good communications. No matter how strained or difficult your relationship might be, there is always hope. It may take time and persistence, but keep at it. You can have a happy, healthy and fulfilling relationship with your teen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.
His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.