Do you ever wonder about the world that young people live in?It's not the one we grew up in, for sure.

No asking for time on the household phone to call a best friend.

No rushing home to catch a favorite TV show on its network time slot.

Your teens live in a world of endless electronic connection, from smartphones and networked games to Netflix and Zoom classes on laptops.

Sometimes, it’s easy to feel like they are living in an entirely different world.

But they’re not. You just need to find a way to connect with them — which might mean showing interest in the technology-heavy space they live in.

In fact, young people might not be able to say so, but it means a lot to them when you visit their digital domain.

The price of admission is to not judge and criticize, but to be a respectful visitor to their universe, whether it’s Planet Fortnite, their Animal Crossing island or just the endless stream of TikTok video snippets.

I know, because I face exactly this same situation in my household.

I have three kids, ages 23, 20 and 16, and while they will occasionally join me in Parentland, more often than not they are consumed by their own interests. That’s okay.

Meet Them Where They Live

The idea of connecting when you feel like an “outsider” involves something that’s really pretty simple: Spending time with your kids in their world, rather than forcing them to switch to yours.

My oldest, for example, loves the Nintendo Switch game “Animal Crossing”, and it consumes many hours of her typical week. Yes, she’s in college and doing well, but she always makes time for this world-building game.

Instead of judging it as “a waste of time”, I have instead learned to ask her for tours of her virtual island and to congratulate her on accomplishments in the game. She’ll even hook up her Switch to our big TV and show off her latest improvements, very proud of what she’s created.

This is one way that I nurture our relationship. It’s not about the game. It’s a relationship that is also there for her real-life situations and challenges. It’s about the time spent together while she shows me what she’s doing.

Same with my son, who loves a computer game called “Rocket League”. Honestly, the game seems a bit silly to me, but he enjoys it and that’s enough. He’s always happy to show off his cars and latest moves in a digital “scrimmage” match.

As for my 16-year-old daughter, who just wrapped up high school online, she loves “Fortnite”. She loves this first-person game. So I do my best to ask questions and show interest in her hobby, nurturing our relationship in the process.

Redefine Quality Time

So often you hear about the importance of having “quality time” with your children, such as when you all head out and have a meal together, do a project or even volunteer.

However, what if your kids are uninterested in these things?

I think that’s okay.

I don’t think quality time has to become a power struggle, where parents force kids to do what they think is healthy for the relationship.

I think you can approach it differently.

You can find and seize opportunities to recognize that our growing kids are independent people. You can learn to appreciate their obsessions and passions. You can ask questions to learn their digital language. You can spend quality time on their terms.

The price of admission is ultimately worth it.

Your willingness to meet your teens where they are is an investment into the health and growth of your relationship with them.

Who knows — you might just learn something new about some of their marvelous games and hilarious social media channels along the way.

Get Into Their World Through a Game

Want more practice entering the world of teens?

Play “From 10 to 25,” a storytelling game about adolescence. As you play, you will take on the role of a young person, explore new parts of life, encounter challenges, and get the support you need.

Dave Taylor

Dave Taylor writes about his experiences as a single dad with three great kids, 23, 20, and 16, and his occasionally tenuous grip on sanity. He's pretty sure they're related. Based in Boulder, Colorado he is also on the faculty at the University of Denver, a YouTuber, a consumer electronics expert, and a film critic. You can find him online at GoFatherhood.com or on just about every social network. Except for TikTok. He doesn't do TikTok, to his children's great relief!

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