3 ways to develop a positive relationship with teenagers

When raising a family, there’s one thing that’s usually very important to parents – building healthy relationships with their children. This is backed up by the recent Real Concerns Index, which found one of the top concerns for under-55s was “finding enough quality time where the family can really connect”.

As kids start to become more independent and emotional, it can be challenging to develop a positive relationship with teenage children. So how can you navigate the range of emotions every teenager experiences while still playing a strong role in your child’s life? Start by exploring these three tactics.

1. Listen to your children more than you speak to them

Raising a child often puts parents into the mindset that they always need to be leading the conversation. You constantly communicate with your little one to teach them about the world around them, and they look to you for that knowledge and support. But as children become teenagers, they start to explore their individuality and may not appreciate being spoken to as if they don’t understand certain concepts.

Anne Hollonds, director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, explained to ABC Life the power of parents simply listening to their kids. She says being “in tune and curious” can help teenagers be more comfortable having conversations with parents, and even initiating discussions on their own terms.

The most important role a parent should play in communication is being a neutral listener. “Listen carefully all the way through [and don’t] make assumptions,” Hollonds said. After they have shared with you, use the opportunity to support your child rather than telling them what to do. Turn a wrong decision into a lesson, support their problem-solving capabilities, and always try to be forgiving and understanding.

2. Be a positive influence rather than trying to control them

Despite the inevitable arguments and potentially emotional outbursts, your teenage child still needs you – and at times more than ever during this complex and sometimes challenging growth phase. It’s important to realise that teens are on a journey to find themselves, and they want to be as independent as possible. That means pushing back and being contrary is a natural response to a parent’s authority.

Try to see this as a part of their growth. Encourage their healthy exploration of topics, support their interest in looking at things from a different perspective. The worst thing you can do is take a negative stance whenever they communicate or do something you disagree with. This can not only lead to arguments, but ultimately it may cause them to close up emotionally and no longer feel comfortable speaking to you.

Instead, try to turn negatives into positives. As the Better Health Channel puts it: “Negotiate how you communicate with each other. Work out strategies to improve your communication. Brainstorm solutions together.”

And always pick your battles. Not everything has to be an argument. Yes, it’s important that you step in when discussing issues like getting into a car with a friend who’s been drinking, but it may be better in the long term to ignore a potentially fiery argument over a messy room.

3. Spend time together on their interests

Just because you are the adult, that doesn’t mean you can’t spend time doing fun things with your teenager. In fact, it’s a great way to break down the parent–child barrier and provides an organic opportunity to have free-flowing conversations in a comfortable setting.

Keep up with your teenager’s interests and try to show your support for it wherever possible. If they are keen musicians, for example, they may not be comfortable with you sitting down for a jam session, but that doesn’t mean you can’t encourage their interests and show that you support their passions through healthy communication and actions.

For children that may be on the spectrum, communication should be approached in different ways. Non-verbal cues are crucial, and parents should learn how to recognise positive and negative non-verbal signs. Similarly, experts suggest allowing the child to communicate independently, rather than taking the lead and requiring that they become dependent on you to make decisions.

Developing a positive relationship with your teenage children isn’t impossible. Through healthy communication strategies, a keen interest in their passions and acting as a positive influence rather than a controlling parent, you can find that quality time all Australians desire.