There’s a much bigger issue that every parent needs to recognize and often gets swept under the rug. It’s the real issue of disconnect between parents and teenagers. We need to talk seriously about it before kids hit college campuses.
What I’m visually seeing amongst pre-teens and teens (as young as 11 and in middle school), and how they’re creating connection and purpose is very scary. The very first place your kids should develop a social connection is at HOME. If they don’t have this connection at home first, I can promise, they will look for it elsewhere.
Stop blaming technology, gaming and social media apps that your kids are using. That’s not the real disconnect- that’s only a fraction of the problem. There will always be temptations, trends, social pressures, addictions, so taking the phones away from them is only putting a bandaid on the real issue. The disconnect of family is the bigger issue here.
There’s also another side to this. Parents who seem incapable of emotionally connecting with their kids or who are so preoccupied with resolving their own unmet childhood emotional needs, are unaware of the lack of distressing emotions, anxiety or disconnect that their kids are experiencing. By the time they realize their kids are out of the house, they’ve already missed the chance to build those healthy parent-child relationships.
The hard truth is asking yourself important questions as the parent. It’s a matter of self-awareness, managing your own emotions before addressing those of your teens. I talk about emotional intelligence with parents and the key to good mental health (for children and adults) is being cognizant of having empathy and building connection. Put aside the focus on grades, high GPA’s, test scores, the number of AP classes, over scheduling extra-curricular activities, which will only get them so far in life, and you’ll discover the most significant opportunity you have in creating deep, emotional family connections with your tweens and teens.
Here are just a few of the many questions that we’ll be discussing in our parents of teen groups:
1- How do you interact with your kids to make them feel a sense of belonging? It’s about acceptance, and as you know, if kids don’t feel heard and accepted at home, they will search outside the home for what they’re lacking.
2- Besides asking them how their day was at school, how do you talk with them about feeling judged by others and when something doesn’t feel right to them, how do they communicate that with you?
3- How do you help your kids contribute to your family and the outside world (besides gaining service learning hours that’s required to graduate)?
4- What conversations do you have to ensure that your kids are feeling valued and appreciated, and not ignored?
This is the most crucial time to connect or re-connect with your tweens and teens, as you can imagine their sense of wanting to feel accepted by others while navigating their own adolescence. If you’re emotionally tuned in and create a relationship built on trust and connection, you’ll begin experiencing your kids opening up to you more knowing they have that safe space to be themselves.