As your child enters the difficult adolescent years, it seems that distance and explosive interactions are often the only way your teen knows how to communicate. There is a huge disconnect—the more you push your teen, the more reactive or defensive your teen becomes—worsening your relationship. How should you connect with your teen even when it seems like both of you belong to different worlds? Mrs Anita Wang shares this example of how she found a way to reconnect with her daughter Bibi during a particularly turbulent time.

A Wake Up Call

When Mrs Anita Wang, 51, received a call informing her that her teenage daughter was caught shoplifting, she was shocked. Her 17-year-old, Bibi, had always been a model student and daughter.

As she made her way to the department store to claim her daughter, she prepared a lecture in her head, followed by a big punishment. When Anita got to the store, she found Bibi sobbing. The employee who discovered the theft was sympathetic and pulled Anita aside for a chat.

“She said Bibi had expressed a lot of remorse and seemed terrified. She also told me that her teenage son had acted out a few years ago and she would lash out at him. It was only later that she realised he was only doing it for the attention,” Anita said.

Attention Seeking

Anita works in events planning, a sector notorious for its long hours. In between work and chauffeuring her mother-in-law to medical appointments, she hardly spends any time with her only child. It was a particularly difficult time at the Wang household. Her husband works overseas, and his elderly mother had fallen sick the last few months.

Instead of punishing Bibi with a slap as planned, Anita tried a different approach. “Of course, I was still very angry with Bibi for doing such a shameful thing but the lady also gave me something to think about,” she explained.

That evening, Anita brought her out for dinner and asked if there was anything on her mind she wanted to share. “She didn’t bite, so I didn’t push her. I guess teenagers find it difficult to express themselves. I also had to put in effort to gain her trust again after neglecting her for many months,” Anita said.

Trying Something New

With an unhappy daughter at home, a busy work schedule and her responsibility to care for her mother-in-law, Anita decided to try connecting with her daughter online. “We hear so many stories of teenagers who can’t stop typing away on their mobile phones, and I thought, ‘since we couldn’t spend a lot of time together, why not use phone messaging functions to catch up with her?’” Anita said.

With the help of her younger colleagues, Anita downloaded several applications on her phone, like WhatsApp, for mobile messaging, and Instagram, a photo-sharing platform. Her foray into technology paid off. She was able to keep up with her daughter’s activities through her photographs and would text Bibi instead of embarrassing her with public comments.

Being There for Your Teen

Anita also realized that in addition to reaching out to Bibi in the virtual world, there was also a need for her to be physically present for her daughter. Despite her schedule, Anita now has dinner with her daughter at least once a week and spends a few hours during the weekends to watch a movie or bake together. “I have to stay up later to finish my work, but the tradeoff is worthwhile,” she said of her new lifestyle.

Trust and Respect

Previously, Anita faced a common problem with her teenage daughter—getting her to open up about her life and friends. “I didn’t know any of her friends and when I asked her about them she would give monosyllabic answers. I didn’t think I could trust them at all.”

However, after adjusting her lifestyle to include more time with Bibi, it seems that she has improved the relationship. “Now, Bibi is more open about the kids she’s hanging out with in school. We had an agreement where if she brings her friends home for me to get to know better, she can spend weekends studying or going out with them, instead of being stuck in back-to-back tuition lessons. Giving your child a bit of freedom is always helpful to get to know them better,” she said.

Now, Anita knows that Bibi’s friends are studious and hard-working, which reduces her anxiety. “It’s important to have your own life and also let your child have her own life. Don’t expect either party to live under the thumb of the other. Show your teenager that you care about, trust and support him or her, and I believe in time he or she will see it and make an effort to work on the relationship too.”

3 Ways To Connect With Your Teen

Try connecting with your teen in these ways:

  1. Engage them on platforms they are familiar with, like social media or mobile messaging.
  2. Set aside a few hours to hang out with them every week.
  3. Don’t pressure them for information, allow them to relax and they will open up about their daily life.