This is a guest post from Jessica Rydalch. Jessica originally shared these tips as part of a challenge given by Rachel Nielson, host of the 3 in 30 podcast. Rachel encouraged her listeners to share their own three takeaways for moms and Jessica knew she just had to share three things she had learned about connecting with her teens. Part of our mission at Better Screen Time is to help parents connect with their kids. We know we need to ‘disconnect to connect,’ but sometimes we need a reminder on how to make that connection happen. Thanks Jessica for sharing your wisdom with us!

The phases of motherhood are constantly changing. From babies to toddlers to preschoolers and then in the blink of an eye we’ve moved all the way up to teenagers! As our family has transitioned through each phase, it seems there has been a bit of a learning curve for me. With plenty of trial and error, I have discovered three ways to connect with my teenagers. 

#1 Trust Your Teenagers

I learned this the hard way. As we have navigated through cell phones, social media, dating, and driving, I was afraid. Afraid of everything that could go wrong.

Because I was afraid of all the “what if’s,” I showed up to my kids in a way that looked like I didn’t trust them. When they’d come home or open up to talk, I’d treat them like they were criminals in an interrogation room. Instead of being truly interested in what they had to say, I talked to them like they had committed a crime.

My good husband fortunately could see the error of my ways. He told me if I treat my kids like they are hiding something, then they will!  I started to notice that my older boys would avoid me when they came home to avoid all the questions and judgement. I wanted them to feel like I was a safe place for them to open up.

We have stood by the motto,

“I trust you until you give me a reason not to.”

We have tried very hard to teach and model the values to our children we feel are important. With some practice, I have learned to trust their judgement, let them make mistakes, and help them navigate through them with complete and open honesty.

If trust is lost, it will take time and work to earn it back.

#2 Communicate How They Communicate 

Each family is different on their preference and choices on phones and social media. Whatever platform you choose as a family, communicate with them in that platform.

I remember when we first started texting, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. My husband said, “This is how our kids are going to communicate so we’d better get used to it.” It has been through trial and error, mistakes, and honest communication that we have come to an agreement on the platforms we choose.

We use texting, Snap Chat, and Instagram. We feel that we wanted to let them experience these social media platforms while under the roof of our home. Our hope is that when they are out of our home they will have learned how to navigate social media on their own and set their own boundaries.

Just this year, my 15 year old was in a chat group with some friends and their chats started to get a little off colored. He chose to leave the group, and shortly thereafter the other members of the group found themselves in some trouble. We talked about that experience in detail. We talked about the dangers and consequences of social media and have since moved forward with caution. If our kids want to find trouble, they can find it anywhere.

The key for us has been to communicate about the pros and cons, warn of the dangers, talk through scenarios, set boundaries, and then trust

I have a 12 year old now who keeps hounding me about when she gets to have Instagram and Snap Chat.

Based on the experiences we’ve had, my 12 year old will have to wait until I feel like we’re both ready. It requires a little bit of time and work to try to keep up with all the apps, but it helps keep lines of communication open with my teenagers.

I follow them and their friends, they follow me, and we use social media to chat and sometimes just have a good laugh.  

#3 Meet Them at Their Crossroads

With activities, work, school, and friends the door is always revolving at our house. Sometimes there are only a few minutes in between each activity.

When possible, I try to meet up with my kids at their crossroads to check in and chat.

My little kids get on the bus earlier than my big kids so I try to protect that time in the mornings for a little one on one.

Our oldest son is a senior this year, and it has been one of my favorite things to eat breakfast together and talk. Sometimes he is a fountain of information and sometimes he doesn’t say much, but that’s ok! The point is, we’re together.

One thing that has been really hard for me is the late nights! I am an early morning riser so waiting up for my teenagers on the weekends when they go out is killer! I would beat myself up every time I heard other moms say they waited up for their kids.

So with some thought and consideration,  I came up with a solution. Rather than stay up until they get home, I’ll go to bed then set an alarm 15 minutes before curfew so I am awake. Or, I just go sleep in their beds. Then they have to wake me!

I think my teens get slightly annoyed that I do this, but we get a chuckle out of it. I get to sleep, I know when they get home, we have a quick check in, and then we’re all tucked in for the night! I’d consider it a win-win for everyone.

Parenting this day and age is tricky. Everything changes so rapidly it is hard to know what is best and who is right. 

However, there is one constant: the relationships we have with our families. I have tried to make great efforts to keep that in mind first and foremost in my parenting.

These three ways to connect with teenagers have been instrumental in developing relationships of love and trust that will carry us through the next phase—young adults.

Whatever phase you are in, there is always a way to connect.

With some thought, experimenting, and patience, I am confident we can all find ways to strengthen the relationships with our families.