Powerful strategies you probably aren’t using to connect with your teen.
Many universities had Parents’ Weekend this month. I recently met with two of my college clients who had each experienced one extreme of disconnect during their weekend reunion. The common factor was disappointment.
My first client tried desperately to have her parents go out with her for a quiet dinner. She craved a meaningful conversation alone with them, as she rarely gets them to herself. Her parents, on the other hand, wanted to tailgate with the other parents and then go out to the local college bar; activities which my client had no interest in doing. Our work together has been about her creating a healthier lifestyle and developing more authentic relationships. She was disappointed that she couldn’t share this with her parents.
My other client has a very active and expansive social life she really enjoys, and was looking forward to sharing her parents with her friends and their parents during Parents’ Weekend. She related to me at our recent session that she felt both judged and disconnected from her parents throughout the weekend as they made it known, both overtly and covertly, that they did not approve of her lifestyle choices. Comments from her parents continued even after they went home. This judgement also led her to believe that they had no interest in getting to know their emerging adult daughter, or her friends and their parents.
After my clients’ sessions, I couldn’t help but feel sad for both the girls and their parents. They all experienced a disconnection, as Parents’ Weekend should be an opportunity to step into your college student’s world and become reacquainted with your “new” teen. You get a glimpse of the teen that you have known in ways that may or may not still fit with who they are at this stage of their lives. He or she has had some time on their own, and has become quite independent and capable of (somewhat) taking care of themselves. It may feel strange to see your child build a life that you’re seemingly not a part of, but this visit is just a chance to reconnect with your emerging adult. “Showing up” for your teen will keep your connection strong, despite the distance you’re experiencing.
What does it mean to “show up” for your teen? Being there with them, emotionally and/or physically, lets them know you see them and love them for who they are, and who they are becoming. How can we show up in ways that matter to them? Or in the ways that foster support and resilience? Try these four tips:
Look inward. Find whose needs are being served first. Plan ahead. Take some time to explore what your expectations are before you connect or have a visit with your college student. Remind yourself that this stage of life is all about figuring out who they are and who they are not, which is their job not ours.
Begin with empathy. Feeling seen and heard are healing actions at every age. Instead of saying or doing something when you become aware of being triggered, take a mindful pause: three calming breaths. Get curious about where your feelings are coming from, and why you are feeling whatever uncomfortable feeling is arising in you. Validate their emotions and experience by saying, “What would you like to do?” “I see you,” “I get it,” or “Tell me more.”
Don’t just do something; sit there. Turning toward another conveys more than words alone. Sometimes words aren’t necessary. Sitting with another’s emotions without feeling like we have to “fix” them is often the best that we can do. Resist the urge to jump in and fix a problem. Learning tolerance and the ability to accept your teen’s inner world creates a foundation of trust and resilience. You’re supporting them and showing them that they can do hard things.
Let go. Holding on to the connection you have with your teen requires you to let go. Let go of who you think that they are, who they were when they were younger, and most important, who you want them to be. None of these things will help you show up for them in the ways that matter most to them, and to your new relationship.