For years, my favorite time of the day has been 3:20 p.m. That’s when my son and daughter get out of school each day, and I get to indulge in one of my favorite activities – hearing how their day went.
This ritual started with their very first day in preschool. As we walked home from school, I would ask them all sorts of questions about their day and ask them to name one good thing and one surprising thing they experienced. We’ve continued this daily after-school discussion each year. Even now, as teenagers in high school, from the second they walk in the door at home, they are full of stories, eagerly telling me the latest news from school.
I love hearing the scoop on how their day went, but even more than that, I love that they are willing to share all that information with me when some teens don’t tell their parents anything. I had dreaded the teenage years because I had heard horror stories from other parents about secretive teens who no longer acted like themselves. That doesn’t have to be your family’s destiny.
By putting in the groundwork when your kids are young, you can keep your teens close even as they exercise more independence. In addition to asking them about their day, these five practices have helped me maintain an extremely close relationship with my teenagers.
Make Your Home the Hang-out Spot
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A teen’s friends are a large part of their world, so you should try to get to know them. One of the ways I’ve accomplished this is by having an open-door policy for my kids’ friends. They know they are always welcome to come over to my house. Almost every Friday or Saturday night, four to six of my kids’ friends arrive to hang out in my basement, playing cards or board games, darts, and video games.
Does it get loud? You bet. It can also get expensive since teens love to eat. To me, it’s well worth the noise and extra snacks I buy. I’ve gotten to know all their friends and their inside jokes. They’ve even invited me to hang out with them occasionally for a game or two.
Support Their Interests
In high school, teens really begin to explore their interests and let other activities fade away. They might become fully entrenched in sports or a club, and you should encourage this exploration even if you don’t understand it.
If you were a star football player in high school, but your son wants to sing in school musicals and has no interest in sports, be fully supportive of that. You’ve lived your high school years, and now he needs to be in charge of his. Buy a front-row ticket for his first show, and make sure to let him know how proud you are that he followed his heart. Your unwavering, unconditional support will mean the world to your child.
Relay Stories of Your Teen Years
Teens can have a hard time envisioning their parents were ever anything other than mortgage-holding, slightly boring, middle-aged people. When they have a milestone event coming up, like a school dance, share a story about a memorable dance you attended and who you went with.
My son is headed to college this fall, and as we’ve been touring campuses, I’ve talked with him about my college days. We’ve discussed how different his life will be in a few short months. I’ve let him know that he’ll feel homesick those first few weeks – and that it’s normal to feel that way. We’ve talked for hours, and it’s allowed us to get to know each other on a deeper level – and for him to realize I had a life before he arrived and that I’ve been through the same things he’s gone through.
Give Them Alone Time – But Not Too Much
Your teen probably feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to dedicate to all their responsibilities. Between attending school all day, doing homework, possibly holding a part-time job, dating, helping out at home, dealing with social drama, and figuring out what their future plans will be, teens have a lot going on.
They need their time to decompress by listening to music, pursuing their interests, and hanging out with friends. You should respect their growing need for independence – while gently insisting on family time as well. Declaring an occasional family night is a great idea, but you should consult your teen’s schedule to see what works for them. What you do on your family night isn’t important as long as it allows for plenty of conversation and memory-making moments.
Remind Them Why You Love Them
Everyone should have someone in their life who constantly tells them how awesome they are and how much they are loved. You should continue to be your teen’s biggest cheerleader, even if you aren’t playing as big of a role in their lives as you did when they were little. I tell my teenagers every day that I love them, and they say it right back without any hint of embarrassment – even in front of their friends.
I also remind them constantly how smart and funny they are, how they’re capable of reaching any goals if they work hard enough, and how I admire their kindness to others. But one thing I won’t do is give false praise or overlook when my kids are at fault in a situation.
They’ve come to depend on me as a sounding board. They know they can expect the truth from me, and that kind of trust can be hard to come by. If you want a close relationship with your teens, lift them up when they need it, hold them accountable when they fail, and remind them you’re always in their corner.