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Bigger Kids

20 ways to connect with your teen

Hint: It's the little moments, not the big occasions, that really count

By Susan Spicer
20 ways to connect with your teen

I confess — it’s way harder than I thought it was going to be to find things my teenagers and I can do together. Part of it is that Sam, 16, and Annie, 13, are busier than they used to be. The other reason is that they’d rather be with their friends.

“It’s not easy because kids this age are pushing you away. They want to be independent,” says Toronto psychological associate Janet Morrison.

But while this predilection to hang out with their peers is normal, I also know that strong family relationships are still important and much needed. So we turned to the other experts — parents with teenaged kids — for 20 ways to stay connected.

Mother and teenage daughter talking at home MoMo Productions/ Getty Images

Eat together

Making time to eat together as a family is one of the best things you can do to start connecting with your teen. When you share meals, it helps keep those family relationships strong and makes everyone feel cared for and secure.

“Family dinner hour is sacred in our house,” says Peterborough, Ontario, mother of four Catherine Shedden. “If the kids are home, they must eat with us.” Suppertime at the Shedden household is fun — even boisterous. Conversation covers the gamut from the latest events at school and the antics of friends and neighbours, to politics and world events.

family sitting and eating together iStock

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Cook together

Got a hungry teen rumbling around the kitchen? Suggest the two of you throw together a plate of nachos or a pizza. It's a fun way to get creative, try new things, and make some unforgettable memories with each other.

“Even my son will do it if I say, ‘Hey, check the cookbook and pick out some cookies to make!’” says Ruth Swyers of Ottawa.

Baking is also another great way to cook together, as it fosters a sense of connection and teamwork. Plus, it's a great opportunity to teach your kids some valuable cooking skills in the process.

family cooking together in the kitchen iStock

Work together

Sometimes it’s easier to have a conversation with a teenager if you’re not sitting and forced to make eye contact, observes Kanata, Ont., mom Cathie Kryczka, whose youngest, Claire, headed off to university this fall. “If you’re raking leaves, shovelling snow, doing dishes together, your hands are busy, but your brain is available for connecting.”

Another fun idea is to team up for activities like solving puzzles, going on photo adventures, or planning a trip together. This way, you get to work on different projects as a team and also create more chances to spend quality time with each other.

family raking leaves together iStock

Share a family interest

Lisa Miller-Pond says that while her young teens do more things with their friends, they still enjoy family activities. The trick, she says, is to make room in their busy schedules.

Ingrid often goes horseback riding, most often by herself, since there is only one horse. But it is a passion I share with her, so even if our time together is just in the car ride back, we talk about the ride,” says the Peterborough, Ont., mom. “If it isn’t horses, we try ice skating together; my husband, Bruce, builds a rink in the backyard.”

Something as simple as dining out and trying different cuisines can help develop a family interest. This provides an opportunity for quality time and open communication and creates a shared enthusiasm for food among family members.

family ice skating together iStock

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Go shopping

If you leave your own tastes at home and be clear about how much money you’re willing to spend, you can really learn a lot about your teenager at the mall. Ask about her favourite bands while browsing the aisles of the music store or get her to help you choose new towels for the bathroom.

Need a money-saving idea? Try giving them a strict budget for anything they want on Walmart.com or a similar budget-friendly retailer. The catch? You have to sit together and pick out what they're buying as a team.

family shopping together iStock

Follow their lead

Even if your kids are into things that seem totally different from your hobbies, supporting and getting involved in what they love is awesome. You might even discover a new passion for yourself while showing them how much you care.

“My son wanted to learn golf, so I took it up with him,” explains Swyers. “Although he’s way better than me already, it’s something we can do together,” Swyers says she searches out opportunities to pursue new interests with her kids. “I’ve followed them through everything from tap dancing to whitewater rafting.”

family golfing together iStock

Do some good

Both the Pond kids occasionally volunteer with their parents at a community lunch program that’s organized by their church.

However, there are lots of ways to help out that might inspire a teen. Whether it’s shovelling an elderly neighbour’s driveway or doing a marathon for cancer research — let your child pick one and then do it together. You could also explore activities together like volunteering at a pet shelter or cleaning up and maintaining parks to keep public spaces tidy.

Small gestures can make a big impact too. Donating old clothes, toys, or food is a great way to give back to the community.

family volunteering together iStock

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Tell their stories

When you share your memories of the funny, sweet and infuriating things they did when they were young, teens gain a sense of being connected to your unique family history — of knowing they belong and that they matter to you.

But if they find these stories a tad too embarrassing, why not dish out some of your own embarrassing moments too? It's a great way to show your kids that you've been through it too and that it's OK to be open and real sometimes.

mother and daughter sitting on the couch talking iStock

Say good night

Even though it might make them roll their eyes, saying goodnight to your teenager is key. It creates a cozy space for them to share and get the emotional backup they crave during this crucial time in their life.

Knocking is required before I enter my 13-year-old’s room, but she still likes it when I tuck her in and kiss her good night. If I linger a bit, that’s often when I hear about the plans she’s making with her friends on Friday night, or a test she’s worried about.

dad kissing daughter goodnight iStock

Read out loud

Lisa Miller-Pond loves to read to her kids. She’s spent many winter nights and long car rides reading them all of the Harry Potter books. “It’s a good way to stay in touch because you have something concrete in common.”

But if your teen feels they're too old for reading together, why not listen to an audiobook of a book you've both picked out? Afterwards, you can discuss your thoughts and feelings about it.

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Keep the TV in the den

“We know people whose kids have a TV, computer and phone in their rooms. It’s like they have separate apartments,” says Swyers. If her kids are watching the hockey game or Canadian Idol, Swyers says she’ll often sit down and watch with them. “It gives us more to talk about.”

If, however, you want to spend time with your kids without screens, why not give puzzles, board games, or cooking up some new recipes together a shot? It's an easy way to get some face-to-face time in and gives you the chance to collaborate as a team.

family sitting on a couch in the living room iStock

Watch a movie

When Torontonian Martha Camp-bell’s son, Alex, was a young teen, they both loved to go to the movies. He picked the movie one time, she the next. “I learned to appreciate Arnold Schwarzenegger and he discovered Jane Austen.”

Don't feel like heading out? Try a free Amazon Prime movies and TV subscription. There's no cost for 30 days—plenty of time to catch up on great movies and TV series. And once you've had your fill, you can easily cancel your subscription at any time. Some classic movies you might want to check out are 'The Breakfast Club', 'She's All That', and 'Pitch Perfect'."

parents and son sitting on the couch laughing iStock

Talk about your day

It's really important to be an active part of your child's life, and one great way to do that is by talking about your daily experiences with them

Often, the smallest detail from your busy day will spark a conversation. Did you run into an old friend? Discover a new bakery around the corner? Finish a project at work? Sharing an anecdote opens the door to hearing about theirs. Plus, it shows them that it's okay to be open and vulnerable, too.

mother and daughter sitting on a couch talking to each other iStock

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Go one-on-one

Teens feel that their problems, concerns or delights are the most important — that everyone else’s troubles are secondary, says Shedden, who finds that her kids want her undivided attention once in a while. “I found that a trip out to Tim Hortons was a great way to focus on just one child.”

It's also essential for parents to spend one-on-one time with their children, especially if they have more than one, as it allows them to nurture each child's unique traits and avoid treating them the same.

father and son sitting outside on a front step iStock

Share a skill

When parents and teens discover a shared hobby or skill they both enjoy, it's not just about bonding; it also offers the opportunity to work together as a team.

“I’ve always tried to find some common ground with my kids,” says St. John’s native Christina Cox. She and her daughter Sabrina, 17, share a love of computer technology. Together, the pair designed PowerPoint presentations for Sabrina’s school projects.

Sharing a skill with your child also helps foster trust, as you learn to collaborate and support each other. This shared activity can be a valuable way to strengthen the parent-child relationship.

mother and daughter in the kitchen cooking together iStock

Create rituals

Establishing regular activities and customs can enhance your bond with your teen, such as sharing a coffee or enjoying pedicures together. These practices may also become cherished family traditions they might one day share with their children.

“Twice a month, my 13-year-old daughter and I give ourselves a pedicure while we watch TV,” says Maple, Ontario, mom Patty Castellano. Little rituals, whether painting nails or trimming hair, are important to kids because they provide “no-pressure” time to connect with a parent.

mother and daughter sitting at the kitchen table talking iStock

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Say I love you

Not as a reward, but just because you’re glad your child is in the world. Ignore the messy bedroom, and leave a small vase of flowers and a little note by her bed, or a guitar magazine on your son’s pillow.It's these little gestures that really strengthen your connection and help build their confidence over time.

By saying 'I love you,' you're also letting them know you've got their back. Being a teenager can be tough, and sometimes it's tricky to open up to your parents. Just saying those three words shows you're tuned into their world and might just encourage them to share more with you.

mother and daughter hugging iStock

Seize the moment

Don’t rely on big events, such as a family vacation or an expensive night out, to nourish your connection to your teen. Making the most of everyday moments often matters the most. Just doing regular, everyday things together can help you bond, create lasting memories, and even start some fun family traditions.

“I’ve learned to look for opportunities to interact with my teenaged kids rather than trying to create them,” says mother of four Catherine Shedden. “If I am in the kitchen cooking, it’s often a magnet, especially for my always hungry boys. It’s a great time for conversation — sometimes they even pitch in and help.”

mother and daughter cooking together iStock

Keep it real

Since teenagers really value their independence, they tend to resist anything that seems too forced from their parents. So, when you're spending time together, Janet Morrison, a psychological associate, suggests keeping things laid-back. Activities like walks, cooking, even a movie night are always good choices, and allow for open communication between parents and teenagers.

“When you’re doing activities with your teen, keep your expectations realistic,” says Morrison, “which means low. This way, both parents and teens can relax and have a more natural and enjoyable time together without feeling pressured.”

mother and daughter at a coffee shop together iStock

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Welcome their friends

Creating a friendly environment at home for your teenager's friends shows you care about their social life and friendships. This openness can help your teenager feel more comfortable sharing their life with you, strengthening your bond.

According to Morrison, this openness can encourage your teenager to share more with you, ultimately leading to them spending more time at home. Not only that, she says: “I’ve talked about all kinds of stuff — things that would have been a lot harder to talk about with my kids one-on-one — over breakfast with my kids’ friends. When your kids are forced to see you through their friend’s eyes, they realize that you’re not that unapproachable.

group of teen friends sitting together outside iStock

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This article was originally published on Sep 06, 2007

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