How to Reconnect with an Aloof Teen
The more you try to connect, the more they pull away. The teen years are about expressing independence, but it’s hurtful when your teen wants assert their independence from you. You probably know them better than anyone, yet it feels like they’re turning their back on you. But don’t worry; I want to help parents find strategies to reconnect with their teens because I know strong relationships at home are crucial for healthy teenage development. Here are some of my favorite ways to reengage with aloof, reluctant teenagers.
Take Advantage of Downtime
My first tip is to search for those daily moments of shared downtime and use them to your advantage. It’s likely that you and your teen might share some of the same routines. Driving in the car, folding laundry, and enjoying a meal together are all excellent opportunities for you. Your teen is more likely to have their guard down during moments like these, especially since the two of you are collaborating on the same activity. It’s a relaxing, natural space, and your teen will be more likely to communicate.
At these times, I recommend keeping the conversation light, funny, or inspirational. Or, you might begin inquiring about your teen’s interests, so reconnecting feels easy and organic. But beware: if you try to use these moments to talk about something serious, your teen might feel trapped in your downtime session, and they won’t be likely to open up.
I think coming up with family rituals is a great way to have fun and bond with your teen. Every family has their own rituals, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Whether it’s getting brunch on Sunday mornings, watching a movie every Friday night, or going on a weekly nature hike together, creating routine bonding time is something your whole family can look forward to. I suggest for you to get your teen’s input on what activities they enjoy in order to create a ritual that makes them happy and willing to participate with the whole family.
Take Interest in Their Interests
The next strategy I want to share is to get involved in your teen’s interests. Maybe you’re having trouble connecting because you don’t know the first thing about their favorite video game; maybe you’re totally unfamiliar with that musician they really like; or perhaps you’re clueless when it comes to that athlete they idolize. The more you can engage with your teen’s interests, the more talking points you will have to reconnect with them over something they love. Dig into their passions, read reviews online, prepare thoughtful questions, and truly invest time and effort into leveling with your teen. They might be surprised you’re suddenly “hip” with their favorite TV show, but I’m certain they’ll be willing to share their opinions with you. You could also try reading the same book together so you have something fun to discuss!
Remember to Say, “I Love You”
It might sound cliché, but reminding your teen that you love them can be a seriously powerful bonding tool. I get it — a lot of teens are revolted by the idea of affection from their parents, but well-timed loving messages can leave an impact on even the most aloof teenager. It doesn’t have to be a serious moment, or a constant barrage of love, but saying “I love you” before bed or before hanging up the phone will likely make your teen feel appreciated. And, if your teen feels appreciated, they’ll be more eager to connect and share with you.
But don’t worry. If you and your teen aren’t there yet (which is totally okay), there are plenty of meaningful substitutes for the “L-word.” Here are a few of my favorites.
“I Love You” Substitutes
An alternative to saying, “I love you,” might be as simple as wishing your teen a good morning every day, or saying “good night” before they go to bed. The easy act of checking in before they go to sleep and when they wake up will make them feel a sense of comfort, belonging, and acceptance. This will be especially effective on the bad days, or after the two of you have a fight. Checking in is a great way to let your teen know you actively care about them without seeming overbearing.
Another great option is to perform acts of service for your teen. I know, most of what you do as a parent is technically an “act of service,” but going out of your way to do something extra helpful once every week or so will go a long way. This doesn’t have to be something as big as cleaning your teen’s room (in fact, this will probably hurt rather than help; privacy is crucial for teenagers), but it could mean picking up their favorite snack for them after practice one day, or maybe even completing a much-dreaded chore for them. When done in moderation, things like this will likely help your teen appreciate you even more.
Say, “I’m Sorry”
My final piece of advice is to apologize to your teen when you make mistakes. This might be the most challenging tip I have, considering a lot of parents think saying “sorry” shows weakness. You might even fear apologies reinforce your teen’s belief that you have no idea how to parent them. However, the opposite is usually true. Owning up to your mistakes and apologizing shows you’re only human… just like your teen. By admitting you aren’t perfect, you’ll become more relatable and less intimidating.
You might even consider asking your teen for advice. You could say something like:
“Hey, I don’t really know what it’s like to be 15. You’re the expert on that. I’m trying my best, but sometimes I can’t figure out what might work when it comes to __________. What can I do better?”
If you open up to your teen and treat them like an adult, they might be more inclined to open up, make their own apology, and share difficult moments.
Have Fun Reconnecting!
Your teenager still loves you, even though they act distant during their teen years. These tips are great because they don’t call for you to be too intrusive in your teen’s life, meaning you can still allow room for autonomy. Yet, these tips create simple moments you can use to reconnect with your teen. I hope one or more of these strategies becomes a major hit in your family, so everyone can feel closer.
Eric M. Earle is the founder of Tutor Portland. He used to struggle with mathematics himself, but studied math intensely in his early 20’s and became the premier math tutor in Portland, Oregon. He focuses on improving students’ math grades to better their college acceptance rates.