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Building Great Connections: How to Be the Go-To Parent for Teens

When our teenagers are in trouble, online or off, we want them to turn to us. But are you a go-to parent? In part, that depends on your parenting style, says Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.

“As parents, we want to be the best first responders when our teenagers get in trouble,” says Steiner-Adair. “But when I asked teenagers, ‘What are the things your parents do that make you inclined to turn to them,’ many of them would flip the question and say, ‘Oh, I’d never go to my parents.'”

Why not? Well, many of those teenagers feel their parents aren’t helpful first responders when approached with a problem, explains Steiner-Adair, so instead they go elsewhere (texting a friend, for example).

“Three words kept cropping up when I talked with these teenagers: scary, crazy and clueless,” notes Steiner-Adair.

Are you hoping to be the parent your teen turns to for help? There are things you can say and not say that will draw your teen to the foot of your bed for a late night conversation.

How can you become the go-to parent? Here’s what Steiner-Adair recommends:

How to Be the Parent Your Teen Needs

Don’t be scary.

If you react in a judgmental, rigid, or harsh way, you will turn your teenager off and they probably won’t keep asking you for help. Instead, when your teenager approaches you, start with a measured, calm reaction. For example: “Oh, honey, ouch, good people make mistakes,” suggests Steiner-Adair.

Don’t be crazy.

“The crazy parent amplifies the drama,” explains Steiner-Adair. Consider this exchange: “Mom, there was a party at Emily’s and I wasn’t invited.” “What? I am calling her mother right now.” “This parent is joining in the drama and stirring it up,” says Steiner-Adair. “Not helpful. Teens want their parents to be calm.”

Don’t be clueless.

“Teenagers told me their parents were clueless in two different ways,” says Steiner-Adair. “One was that they were working so hard, they didn’t have time to check in on their kids, especially what they were doing online. Those teens understood that their parents knew nothing, so they decided, ‘Why go to them for help?’ The other kind of clueless were the parents who think they know everything. For example, they may have the password for a teen’s Facebook account, but meanwhile the teen has three other accounts the parent doesn’t know about.”

So, take the time to know about your teenager’s life, online and off. But most of all, says Steiner-Adair, “hang out as a family in a way that creates the kind of connection in a day-to-day way, so that your kids trust you and feel like when they are in trouble, they can come to you.”

Learn more about Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair and The Big Disconnect at her website.

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