Connecting with a teen is much different than bonding with a child. It requires having a strategy to get through the outer emotional layer created by a condition many teens suffer from known as PARENT ALLERGIES. It also requires having patience and being persistent with their knack for deflecting a parent’s attempts to connect.
Case in point, I was away for several days recently, conducting lectures in another state. When I arrived home my teenage step daughter Olivia was sitting at the breakfast bar in the kitchen doing her nails. I stood on the opposite side of the bar and greeted her whole heartedly. In her typical teenager tone of voice she responded with the word “Hi” as if she was asking a question. I asked her a few basic questions such as “how was school,” and “what’s new.” She answered with single words like “fine,” or “OK,” still in the disgusted question sort of tone. After a few moments of silence while maintaining my gaze and stance, she asked me what was wrong with me and why was I still here. I told her that I missed her and love watching what she was doing. She rolled her eyes without making eye contact and kept doing her nails.
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So far I was using my patience to just be there with her. Then came the need for persistence to wait out the awkward silence and to ignore the motions of her shaking head and widening eyes. She was looking at me (almost) with contempt that indicated she may have been asking, “What are you still doing here in my space,” but without words. Then it finally happened; she began to communicate and share freely! It started with offering information about a weird kid at school and her opinion on what they should do about him. Following that comment were more observations of hers about school, her friends, what I was wearing, and questions about what we were having for dinner. I responded calmly to each of her remarks with interest, exclamations and open ended questions. It was the experience in that moment that I wanted to preserve and enjoy for as long as I could. It lasted for about ten minutes and ended when it seemed as if she suddenly became aware that the two of us were connecting and talking. Her talkativeness faded and the attitude returned to her tone as she packed up her nail polish supplies and disappeared into her room.
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I miss the days of getting hugs from her, giving her piggyback rides to bed, and responding to her requests like, “Will you tickle my back?” But it’s a phase many teens must go through to on their journey to adulthood. Some parents report that they rarely, if ever, see this allergic type of behavior from their teen. To them I say, “Just wait awhile,” or “You’re a lucky one.” But the majority of teens have an automatic reaction to reject the closeness (physical and emotional) of the parent and this is normal. When you are presented with an opportunity to connect with your teen, take it quick. Enjoy it, savor it, and hold on to it for as long as you can. Here’s a video that will offer some more insight into the unusual (yet normal) behavior of a teen. Share your stories about your teen in a comment below. I'd love to hear them.