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What can parents do to keep connection with their teens?

Kim Allen, M.A., M.F.T., former associate state specialist, former director, Center on Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy and Parenting (CASPP), Human Development & Family Studies, University of Missouri Extension

Teenagers want to be connected with their parents, especially in times of need

Adolescence is a time filled with many changes for a family. A typical teen deals with issues of identity formation by spending much of his or her time moving away from mom and dad, emotionally and physically. It is also during adolescence that teenagers begin to make important life choices.


Research shows that the best choices are made when parents are able to create an environment that allows freedom for decision making while keeping a close connection with the adolescent. When parents are unavailable or the family has little sense of cohesion, it is often friends or the media that help teens make their choices. Although it is developmentally appropriate for teens to spend more time with their friends, they still need their parents’ guidance when making major decisions.

The good news is that teenagers want to be connected with their parents, especially in times of need. There are several steps a parent can take to stay connected with their teen.

Spend fun time together. Even though adolescence is a busy time, it is important that the family finds time to just hang out. Spending a Saturday afternoon watching movies or doing an organized activity are examples of activities that help keep the bond between kids and parents strong.

Listen. Teenagers want the adults in their life to hear what they are saying. Engage in a topic of interest to the teen, and ask specific questions to let them know you are listening.

Include friends. Teens really love spending time with their friends, and the more a parent knows about the friends the better. It is also good to know the friends’ parents.

Talk about expectations. Although they would never let the parent know it, teens regularly report that they want to please their parents. Kids whose parents talk about their values and expectations make much better life choices.

Help them find their goal. Research also shows that teens with a goal for the future, such as going to college or having a career, make safer choices. Talking with teenagers about their goals and helping them form a plan for success is a great way for parents to keep connected and to help guide their teen down the right path.

Eat dinner together regularly. Research shows that kids make better choices when they have a regular family meal. Find as many times as possible to eat together as a family.

Encourage their individuality. It is difficult for some parents to let go of control with their teens. However, adolescents with the freedom to find their own individuality transition into adulthood more smoothly.

Offer open communication. Teens will continue to talk with their parents about a variety of issues when they can discuss feelings openly.


Matheis, S. & Adams, G. (2004). Family climate and identity style during late adolescence. International Journal of Theory and Research, 4, 77-95.



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Last Updated 11/26/2012