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Connecting with a teen who wants nothing to do with you

Connecting with a teen in withdrawal mode is not easy. Relationships thrive on communication, goodwill, and spending time together – all of which can be in short supply between teens and their parents. Frankly, some teens are prepared to put a lot of effort into avoiding being close to their parents.

If you want to connect with your teenager, you’ll need to be pragmatic, flexible and opportunistic. Because, when it comes to teens, connection tends to be fleeting and it often happens at times we can’t predict or control. Being with you is just not your teen’s priority (however hurtful that might feel). Your teen is busy trying to separate from you and become independent.

Connecting with a teen who wants nothing to do with you is all about compromise, patience and catching their best moments:

Be flexible

If you want to spend time with a teen, be as accommodating and as flexible as possible. Accept that for every ten bids for connection you make, you will get knocked back at least nine times. Don’t be disheartened or give up. Set out to create as many bridges as possible towards a positive relationship.

The chances of you getting to spend any time with your teenager will be much greater if you are flexible and work around their needs and interests (see How to plan family time with a teenager). That might mean tolerating some inconvenience and ignoring some infuriating behaviour. Your job is to maintain equanimity, focus on the positives and keep the wheels of this relationship turning – holding open a welcome your teen can find their way back to when they are ready.

Make the most of small moments

Relationships are built from good moments, not perfect days. Small moments of connection with a teen are precious. Often, these interactions are not planned. They happen when your teenager pads into the kitchen to raid the fridge, or when you pop your head around their bedroom door to tell them about dinner, or you pass them on the stairs. These are the microbridges across teenage disconnect. They might not sound like much, but when it comes to connecting with a teen who is avoiding your company, cultivating these tiny, shared moments really matters.

It might be a moment in the car when, if the mood is right, you get to chat. The moment you pop your head around their door to say good night and they smile at you. The text you send to say well done. Or the favourite treat you buy them from the supermarket to tempt them out of their room. These small kind gestures can sometimes sneak through and connect at a time when accepting our presence (or the full force of our love) is just too problematic.

Book cover of How to Get Your Teenager Out of Their Bedroom by parenting expert Anita Cleare

Connecting with a teen is all about timing

Timing is everything with teens. Just because your teenager knocks back your suggestion, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea or that it isn’t worth trying again. Some days a banal idea will get a teenager out of their room and happily connecting while, on other days, the best idea on earth won’t work. It depends what mood they’re in – so keep trying!

The ‘F’ factors: food, films, fun and friends

Food is great bait for tempting a teen who wants nothing to do with you into your company. Some teens can be enticed by a trip out to eat, or just into the kitchen to feed themselves (where you can strategically wander through and perhaps snatch a few words of conversation!). Or, if they are in full scale withdrawal mode, maybe make a hot chocolate and pop into their room? You don’t even have to say anything, just hand it over and let the whipped cream and marshmallows build a tiny connecting bridge for you.

Watching films and TV together with your teen provides a joint focal point which allows teens to engage with you on their own terms. If in doubt, opt for something funny. Just laughing together without talking is still a big connection win.

However, the truth is your teen’s idea of fun may not involve you very much at all. But that’s OK. Right now, it’s all about their friends. They might be heading off for the evening to have fun elsewhere but be supportive, and maybe give them a lift if you can. Sometimes, connecting with a teen who wants nothing to do with you doesn’t look or feel like much, just a (rather one-sided) chat about nothing in the car on the way to their friend’s house. But it means a lot – to them and to you.

Photo of book cover of How to Get Your Teenager Out of Their Bedroom by parenting expert Anita Cleare



Want more ideas? My new book How to Get Your Teenager Out of Their Bedroom is available to pre-order now.

photo of a hand held up as if to ward off approach to illustrate article on connecting with a teen who wants nothing to do with you

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By Anita Cleare

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