With a plethora of mobile devices, apps and social media, we are constantly pulled to plug into whatever is interesting, available and convenient. This ease of shifting our attention and responding to the demands of our society is double edged. We can seemingly connect with others more easily and frequently via face time, twitter, messaging … but yet, the quality of the connection may be diminished by constant distractions. It becomes harder to focus our attention on one thing at a time. Quality of our attention can be easily lost and can impact on our relationships.
Remaining present and “plugged-in” is even more crucial with teens as they navigate through this developmental period of rapid change and growth. They are pushing and pulling from their relationships like a tug-of-war, desperate to connect, but wanting to have more autonomy and independence. Moving from seeing you once as their manager and now suddenly you’re more like their consultant.
So how do we engage, “plug-in” when common parenting experiences are that… “my teen won’t talk to me,” “they’re too busy to spend time with me,” “they hate me,” “they’re unpredictable and confusing!”
I remember sitting at a class in University, and the teacher wanted to give us a lesson about the power of silence and awareness. It was the first time we had met him and for most of us had never even met each other. Our teacher sat there in silence, speechless for most of the 50 minute class. Silence was deafening, but we were curious and engaged. We honed in on his dress sense, each eye brow movement and shift in his chair position. A class that could have otherwise been loaded with boring theories, became filled with anecdotes and role plays as a platform for learning. We also strengthened our skill in sitting with our own feelings of being uncomfortable when clients appear disengaged, becoming attuned to emotions conveyed through body language and finding creative ways to connect.
That teen may have their hat drawn to their face, their hoodie over their heads in what appears to be a mad protest not to connect, but this doesn’t mean they’re not hearing or seeing you.
Plugging in, is not about having a deep conversation about your teen’s life story. Plugging in is, just showing up, showing them that you are available and tuning into the chaos of their emotions… just because they’ve had a shitty day.
Some ways to plug-in to your teen:
1. Find opportunities to plug-in. Moments when you’re in the car after picking up your teen from sports or school. It can be when they’re having a snack or even when they’ve walked into the door as they come home.
2. Use creative ways to plug -in. Everyday, practical situations that your teen can relate to can help with engagement. Ask your teen about their music playlist and listen to it. Watch a game together that they enjoy. You can also teach them about life concepts such as taking responsibility by using examples of how it applies to their interests.
3. Show your teen that you’re completely plugged in. It can be as short as 5-10 minutes each day but give your teen your full attention. This can mean just sitting next to your teen and resisting the temptation to check your phone. It can mean switching off your device as a signal that you’re available. This is your bid for connection, without expecting that your teen needs to reciprocate with words or action. When it seems like you’re doing nothing but “sitting with”, you are contributing to complex brain wiring of building attachment security, which is fundamental for development.
4. Strengthen your own skill of plugging-in to your emotions. You may be tired, overwhelmed, stressed, anxious about work, your partner or your peers. When we’re not attuned to our emotions, we can be easily triggered into being reactive to those around us. We may mistakenly project our own feelings of chaos on others and can contribute to fights and ruptures in relationships.
5. Re-charge your battery and try to plug-in to your teen in an hour, in a few hours, or even tomorrow. Accepting that there are times when you’ve tried to plug-in and you’re not getting much reception. It’s tiring and you need a break. Relationship security is not developed without fights. It’s about being consistent and showing up as their secure and safe base when they return.