Teens sniff out adults who pander to them and suffer through dutiful conversation before turning to other adults in a room. Picture: Flickr.com

Washington - There have been times when I've been frustrated and, I'll admit it, a bit hurt over my inability to connect with my teens. 

I'm guessing my frustrations are shared by other parents who are trying so hard but going about this relationship in all the wrong ways. I've worked hard to figure out when and where I was getting offtrack in relating to my teens. Along the way, I confronted several pitfalls worth passing along.

Do you speak to your teens as if they are still little kids?

Parenting must change if you wish to keep your relationships strong. This includes not only the content but also the tone of conversation. "You need to treat them more like adults than children. Truly listen and heed their point of view, even if you disagree vehemently," says John Duffy, clinical psychologist and author of the The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. "We all want our point of view respected, and your teen is no different."

Are you treating conversation with them as if it's a chore or obligation?

If you are, your teens know it, and it hurts. Teens sniff out adults who pander to them and suffer through dutiful conversation before turning to other adults in a room.

Conversations also shouldn't center on lecturing. "The occasional conversation may be a chore, a bit of a lecture, or a focus on behavior we as parents do not favor. But the lion's share of the discussion has got to be connecting, talking, laughing and sharing," Duffy says.

Do you multitask while listening to them?

When you're multitasking while your teens are talking to you, it's communicating that they don't warrant your full attention. Van Achterberg, founder of Capitol Hill Child Psychiatry, urges parents to drop everything if their teens want to talk. "Put down your cellphone, computer, laundry or whatever pressing matters you have, because nothing is more important than hearing out your teenager when he wants to talk."

Do you interrupt them?

Do you finish their sentences, laugh before they are finished or react in any way before they are done talking? In parents' desperation to relate to their teens, to be cool or to demonstrate energetic engagement, remarks and reactions may easily come out forced and unnatural. Relax. View your teens as good friends, van Achterberg says. 

She acknowledges that although a relationship between adult friends won't have the boundaries and consequences present in a parent-teen relationship, "showing respect and kindness toward [your teen] is as essential as it would be toward a friend."

Do you press them into activities of your own choosing? Or do you give them permission to pursue their passions?

Coyle, a licensed school counselor and adolescent behavioral researcher, gets to the heart of it: "This is the time when adolescents question: 'What do I want to do? What do I want to be?' Offering space and support for this exploration allows for a healthy identity to grow. When that space is not offered, an adolescent's identity may not have the room to fully develop."

Do you force the conversation too much?

Sometimes, parents try too hard. They want to get kids talking but don't really know how. One idea: Try sharing something from your own day, van Achterberg says. 

" 'The weirdest thing happened at work today, and I couldn't figure out what to do about it' can lead to a conversation in which your teen may be empowered to share advice with you, a wonderful state of affairs for their confidence and your connection. A little vulnerability on your part ('Mom just admitted that she didn't know what to do?') can go a long way."

Look for moments, such as when your younger kids are in bed, to invite your teens to join you in more complex conversations or TV shows that can lead to deep discussions, van Achterberg suggests.

Do they leave the house with you calling out behind them: "Remember, drive slowly! Be safe! Text me!"

I tend to worry about my teens, and I know I'm not alone. But when messages of safety are the last thing teens hear every time they leave home, it begins to sound as if you don't trust them.

Offer basic human respect to your teens in these moments, van Achterberg says, though this doesn't mean allowing your teens to drive if they've demonstrated irresponsibility or to hang out with friends you don't trust.

The Washington Post