Bridging the Gap with Your Teen or Young Adult
Learning to create connections for a positive relationship
Posted Jul 04, 2017
I can still hear them laughing, sitting by the creek in the middle of nowhere. Israel has lots of places like that, where wilderness meets the sky and where, without even meaning to, your experiences become something spiritual.
I was 17. From a mental perspective I was nearing 30, from a social perspective I was 9, bluffing my way through interactions, pretending I knew what it felt like to get laid, laughing at the over the top ecstasy stories and in general having a grand old time.
Being myself and someone else wasn't all that hard. Noone around here knew me, and if I may say so myself, I was a handsome and talented fellow with charm to match. "Cute" was what the girls called it. I'll take it.
There's something very easy about leaving your past behind. For one thing, and for many this is everything. You are no longer living in the shadow of who you were, who you were expected to be, and who your family is. Shedding the dead weight like old skin and shaking out the shoulders is a mighty fine feeling.
As a therapist, and treatment provider, I recall those moments whenever I get the inevitable bouts of self inspection (absorption?) from parents. "We didn't raise him like this!" "Where did she learn that from?" "She's so much better then that!" "That's not who he really is."
It's very hard to fathom the true freedom that comes with an identity, even if that identity is in flux, that is self dictated.
I know, I know, the parents in the room are all pointing vigorously, nodding their heads in disagreement and saying "Uh-Uh.. but it's NOT self dictated .. Their friends and environment is shaping it for them!" (and "oh by the way, see we are right after all, and how dare you insinuate that we pressured our kids into our own molds..how DARE you!").
To that I answer: it sure doesn't feel like that to them.
In the end, all experience is relative, and in order to effectively establish a true relationship you must be able to close your eyes, hear the laughter, and dig your toes into the riverbank in some place far away from convention and watchful eyes.
Some things to consider:
It is not easy to take perspective. They say, "Walk a mile in someone else shoes," but in reality, if the shoe doesn't fit, that can be a painful process. I would rather say, "Try and picture what it might feel like in those shoes, AS the other person." What are they feeling? Why are the feeling this? Would I respond any differently to myself if I were them?
Gaining insight into the mind of the other gives you a fighting chance at finding the "what" and the "why" and adjusting your approach to be more.. approachable. By doing this you decrease fear and opposition and develop a relationship of mutual acceptance and understanding. This doesn't require compromising on your core beliefs, rather learning to accommodate others. The alternative isn't very promising.
Learning to build a bridge between you and your teen/young adult is no easy subject matter, and there is no real right way to go about it. The main thing to focus on is going about it in the first place. You miss 100% of the opportunities you don't take to try and connect, so don't be shy. Pick a variety of subjects interesting to your kid, and some interesting to you, heck, even some that you both have no idea about, and start conversations.
From sports, to music, movies, culture, philosophy, gaming, politics (maybe) to nearly anything, put out your intentions to communicate and you will be surprised at the result. Sure there will be some eye-rolling and a good amount of groaning, but at the end of the day, if love is what is driving your actions, this is how it will be perceived.
Creating meaningful shared experiences:
Memories are beautiful in that they give you something to hold onto long after the actual moment, and they provide fodder for the development of future moments. Taking the time and setting the stage for meaningful shared experiences can be the catalyst for many to come.
As with conversation starters, this process is not an easy one. You may find yourself on a steady diet of Advil after a heavy metal concert, or your teen/young adult might have one too many mosquito bites after a night of camping (or even just a walk in the park) but it will be worth it. It is important that whatever you do is balanced (such that two can participate), interactive (such that you are not both focused on a third point and engaged with each other), and positive/healthy (compromising on this would create a meaningful experience around negative behaviors).
Unless you are sure that this experience is a "slam dunk" and your kid is incredibly into it, be prepared with an exit strategy should this particular experience not be "the one." By doing this, you can be sure that at least you won't cause more damage than good, get in a fight, spend the night in your car, or have to drive 1,000 miles back in silence from wherever it was that you planned to go to.