Dear Sarah: Connecting with Teenage Children

Dear Sarah,

My daughter is a tenth grader this year and is yearning for more independence. I can’t figure out how to stay connected with her and communicate about things like personal safety, drugs, and dating without making her withdrawn and closed off. I want her to have opportunities to be more independent, while making sure she has the tools and knowledge to be safe. What can we, as her parents, do to keep her safe while letting her experience new things?

—Connected Mom

Dear Connected,

It makes sense that you want to stay connected to your daughter as she gets older and needs to experience new things on her own. This is a very important time in her life when she is starting to figure out how to have more independence while also continuing to rely on you, as her parent, for security, comfort, and safety. The most important thing you can do right now is be patient and open while she learns how to navigate her new independence. Remind her that you are always available if – and when – she has questions regarding drugs, alcohol, dating, or personal safety. Explain to her that, no matter what happens, you will not judge her decisions; reassure her that you will always love and support her and that she can always come to you when she needs you. Instead of talking with her directly about things that make her pull away, find new things that she wants to talk about – friends, school, hobbies, etc. By opening up new lines of communication, you will develop a stronger and more intimate connection with her. This deeper connection will allow her to feel more safe and comfortable opening up to you about other things like sex, drugs, and dating.



Dear Sarah,

I’ve always had a great relationship with my daughter, who is now 13, but I’m finding her teenage self very hard to deal with. It’s not that she’s a bad kid, she’s just much less pleasant to be around and is increasingly withdrawn. I’m having trouble connecting with her. There are still moments where we enjoy each other’s company, but more and more often, our interactions are tense, cut short, or full of conflict. I need some advice on how to keep our relationship strong.

—Teen Troubles

Dear Teen Troubles,

You are not alone. You are describing what many parents experience with their teenagers. Adolescence involves hormonal, physical and emotional changes that can be challenging for both teens and their families. One approach is to put time aside alone with her, allowing her to choose how that time is spent. During that time, share with her the changes you have noticed. For example, you could say, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been keeping to yourself lately. It feels different when we talk. I like when we get along and I miss that, so I want to check in and see how you’ve been doing. I’m here if you want to talk.” This will remind her that you care, want to understand her, and welcome her to be open with you.



Dear Sarah is JFS’ advice column. Submit your questions, and receive answers and advice from one of our licensed therapists. Names and details will be altered in published letters to protect your privacy. All letters will be answered and can be viewed on our website.