Erin Leyba LCSW, Ph.D.

Joyful Parenting

4 Simple Texts That Can Boost Your Bond With Your Teen

Science suggests that positive texting can help you stay connected to your teen.

Posted Mar 31, 2019

Research suggests that the quality of parent-child relationships results in positive outcomes for teens. However, the proportion of teens reporting positive relationships and interactions dips in the volatile early teen years (a factor which holds true across most industrialized countries). 

One way to keep your relationship with your teenager strong and engage in positive parenting is by making intentional deposits into their "emotional bank account." The Gottman Institute's research about relationships suggests that your child's emotional bank account grows when you make "deposits" — either by doing something positive toward/with them or by "turning toward" them by responding when they attempt to connect with you. (On the flip side, "withdrawals" are made when an interaction damages or stresses your relationship.)  

Gottman suggests that parents should aim for a positive-to-negative ratio of 20 to 1, or at the very least 5 to 1. 

Maintaining a positive relationship with your teen is not just important for your bond; research suggests that it actually grows your child's brain. Longitudinal research involving MRIs suggests that positive parenting predicts the development of an adolescent's amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and the development of a healthy brain. 

Because 72 percent of teens text, and one-third of teens send more than 100 text messages per day, texting is one simple way to make positive deposits into your child's emotional bank account and strengthen your relationship after something tough has occurred.

Love from parents and positive communication patterns are considered 2 of the 40 distinct protective factors that research has found to help teens grow up to be healthy, caring, and responsible. 

Some examples: 

1. Choice text  Providing your child a choice via text emphasizes that you are giving them power and control and involving them in decisions about their life.

The research: As the cerebral cortex continues to develop during adolescence and early adulthood, (enabling improved reasoning, judgment, impulse control, and long-term planning), kids have a natural need for more independence and control over their lives. 

  • Signing you up for the summer program we talked about. Want to do mornings or afternoons?
  • Was thinking about Sunday. Want to do the batting cages or a movie?
  • Want to practice your driving today or on the weekend?

2. Looking forward to XYZ with you text

The research: Research suggests that anticipating a pleasurable future situation can sometimes help us get through a difficult present situation, and that a healthy amount of anticipation has the potential to improve our lives

  • Can't wait to take you to the baseball game on Sunday!
  • Excited to watch your soccer game this weekend!
  • Only four days til we are on vacation!

3. Thank-you text

The research: Research suggests that expressing gratitude toward someone can lead to stronger perceptions of closeness in a relationship. 

  • Thanks for taking out the garbage this morning. I know you were tired.
  • Thanks for calling to check in this afternoon so I knew where you were.
  • Thanks for coming home before curfew last night.
  • Thanks for taking your sister to gymnastics practice yesterday!

4. I see/notice you text 

The research: Everyone likes to be noticed. Research suggests that noticing and calling attention to something positive your child makes it more likely that they'll repeat the desired behavior. Positive reinforcement works best when it is specific and acknowledges a process (e.g., studying for a test) rather than an outcome (e.g., doing well on a test).

  • I saw you walked the dog this morning when she had to go out early.
  • I noticed you were up late studying last night. Hope you're doing okay today!
  • I saw you had your lunch packed by 6 today so you could go in early for math.
  • I loved watching your baseball practice today!

Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, the author of Joy Fixes for Weary Parents, is a counselor in Chicago's western suburbs. Visit www.erinleyba.com and follow Joy Fixes on Facebook.

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