As parents, we deal with the tension between providing freedom and boundaries for our teens. Focus on finding routines and habits that can help you better connect with your teens. Look out for things they enjoy or opportunities to develop a skill or interest. Finally, continue to take an interest in your teen’s interests. Ask questions and show interest in their passions.
How to Connect With 16-18 Year Olds
It can be hard to figure out how to connect with 16-18 year olds. You can start with engaging and connecting. Take this next scenario, for example.
“You have 10 minutes, $5, and absolute freedom to buy whatever you’d like to eat or drink.” That’s what I told a high school small group when I took them to the grocery store.
You can imagine the things they pulled out of grocery bags afterward. Chips. Soda. Candy. With time, resources and freedom, they chose junk food. That launched us into a discussion about how God gives us the same three things in life. Time. Resources. And the freedom to choose how to spend them.
As parents of 16 to 18 year-olds, we deal with this constant tension — how to spend our time, especially our time to influence our teens, which is limited. They have the smarts, but often lack the wisdom to make great decisions. Therefore, they need us more than ever — whether they realize it or not. But first, we have to engage them. Here are tips for connecting with older teenagers.
- Food connection. We can take our kids out for a breakfast, dinner or a snack — just Mom or Dad. This is our time to listen to their hopes, dreams, excitement and fears. Often boys fear deep down that they don’t have what it takes to be a man. Over a meal, I had a rite-of-passage night for each of my sons, welcoming them into manhood. Just talking about what it means to be a man and how God helps them was a great way to connect with them. Daughters need this this same rite-of-passage acknowledgment, too.
This one-on-one time can also be used to better understand their forming opinions. We can say, “I’m wrestling with a couple choices I have. What are your thoughts?” Our kids are almost adults at this stage, and they long to be treated that way. When we take the time to solicit their opinion, we show how much we value their input. And that is a nonthreatening way to connect, because they see that we are showing them respect and valuing them.
How to Connect With 16-18 Year Olds: The Car is a Great Tool
- Errands. Often I’ll take one of the kids with me when I’m running errands. At this age, they’re doing their own thing and don’t necessarily want to go with Mom or Dad, so getting our teens to come with us isn’t always easy. But if we single out one of the kids — and don’t give the person an easy out — we’ll likely have more success. “I’m going to the store. Grab your jacket and keep me company — and you can drive.” By tossing my child the keys, he’s likely in.
If we end up in a grocery store together — and he wants to add something to the cart — I let him do it. Then sometimes I make an impromptu snack stop on the way home. This helps to make it even more likely that he’ll join me in the future.
Often we find out how to connect with our 16-18 year olds at times like these. Maybe we see something that makes us both laugh. We talk about some little thing going on in his life. And he more readily lets down his guard to let me in.
Share the Ride!
- Ride sharing. One of the most common questions at this stage is: “Can I borrow the car?” Teens have plenty of places they want to go. Sometimes it’s hard to loan them the car because we have places to go too. But sharing the car — as in having them drop us off at our destination and pick us up later after they’ve done their thing — is a great way to get good windshield time and connect. We may not get into a long-involved conversation, but every small conversation is also an opportunity for connecting with older teenagers.
End the Day with Conversation
- Late night. Here’s another great tip for how to connect with 16-18 year olds. Be prepared for and initiate late-night talks. This is when teens really open up. They’re more likely to talk about the things that are on their hearts when we go to their bedrooms to catch up with them before they go to sleep. The later at night and the darker the room often sets the stage for deeper and more honest talk. Yes, we’re tired, and it isn’t likely we’ll do this every night, but we need to deliberately make sure it happens some nights.
For my wife and me, when did we hear about the girl one of our sons was thinking of asking out? Late night. When did we hear the detailed version of how the date went? At the end of the day. When did we hear confessions about how one of our kids had messed up? Just before they nodded off to sleep.
There are times when our kids hide things from us. But a part of them wants to stop the deception. That pull on their hearts never seems stronger than late at night when the house is quiet, the screens are off and our kids can’t sleep. Sometimes I think that’s the Holy Spirit’s favorite time to do His most powerful work, and we need to be ready to do our part to listen, encourage and guide.