Connecting with teens can be rewarding, but also challenging. As your teen feels more and more independent, they may deny your attempts to show care.

If you’ve felt rejected by your teen in these moments, you’re not alone — and it’s a natural tension between teens and adults. The important thing is to keep trying to connect because even when they don’t act like it, teens want and need to know you are still there for them. They’ll be more likely to come to you when they really do need help.

So, if you are wondering: “How can I reach my teen to let them know I care?”

We went right to the source to answer that question.

These teens, who contribute to the Forward Together campaign, share their answers: 

Click on the buttons below to jump to specific activities you can do today to show up for your teen:

Small Gestures

It’s the little things."

” I know my mom really cares when she packs my lunch every day. Or when my dad scrapes my car off after it snows. I’m 16, and I can do those things, but I know they do it because they care about me.” – Elliot H., 16, Loveland

Follow up on something that’s important to me."

“When someone important in your life prioritizes something that’s important to you, that means a lot. Say Valentine’s Day is your favorite holiday, and your family always makes sure it’s special and goes big on that day. That’s huge.” – Jakye N., 16, Aurora

They send me DMs."

“My mom always sends silly memes or gifs over Instagram — which I really appreciate. Sometimes it’s random stuff about parenting that’s really heartfelt. Other times it’s just silly. I appreciate both kinds.” – Elliot H., 16, Loveland

"Make comfort food."

“I text my parents if I don’t feel good, and they make soup for me. My family is from Mexico, and we have a soup called ‘sopa de fideo’, and it’s something you always make when you’re sick. It’s supposed to boost your immune system. Home remedies and little traditions are comforting.” – Gianny V.

My dad will text me he misses me."

“Since I’m really busy, and I’m not at the house too often, he’ll text me. That makes me feel like I’m cared for and he really loves me.”  – Elliot H., 16, Loveland

Making Memories

Find small traditions to do together."

“I love it when we go out to dinner on a Friday after a long week, or order in, hang at home and watch movies. I don’t take that for granted.” – Elliot H.

Get away from your regular routine."

“That is a way I feel cared for. It’s special when you spend time away from the norm and try new things together, like taking a trip or trying a new kind of food.” – Jakye N.

Bond over your traditions, whatever those are."

“Maybe you always go to the mountains in the winter or you have inside jokes. Keep up with those things you do together. Don’t force the traditions, but invite your teens to do them.” – Gianny V.

Share your expertise."

I went to Boys and Girls Club and my mentor Miss Simone was like my second mom. My parents didn’t go to college, but she did. So she was the one who showed me how to apply, look for scholarships, and figure things out. It is huge to have a mentor that can be your friend, but also has shared experiences. I wouldn’t be where I am without her.” – Gianny V.

Enter Their World

Be interested in things your student is interested in." 

“Keep up with them. If you don’t understand it, ask more questions. It means a lot when you show interest in what they’re doing.”  – Sienna A., 19, Colorado Springs

They get my passions." 

“I’m a theater kid, and my family members are theater people too. That life comes with exposure to people and many walks of life. It is a melting pot of people across religion, sexuality, gender, and background. This has made my parents super supportive of me and what I want to do.” – Elliot H.

Mentors advocate for me."

“Recently, I applied for a scholarship, and I asked two of my mentors to write a letter of recommendation for me. After reading them, I was really reassured that they care about me and really did put their heart and passion into the 1200 word letter. They want to see me succeed and pursue my dreams. Those letters meant a lot to me.” – Elliot H.

Moments of Tension

Apologize."

“In relationships, conflict happens. But what matters most is when an adult says, ‘I’m sorry I did that,’ or ‘I’m sorry I hurt you.’ That is something that guardians and adults have done that made me feel respected.” – Jakye N.

Don’t compare your experience to mine."

“Parents sometimes try to relate by sharing something they went through, but when they compare their experience, it can invalidate our experience. If you say, ‘it’s not that hard,’ or ‘it was harder for me,’ it makes me feel selfish for struggling and adds to the stigma that I shouldn’t be feeling this way. What is more helpful is saying: ‘I’ve never been through that, but that sounds really hard.’ It makes me feel not crazy that something is bothering me.” – Sienna A. 

It’s important for teens to be given a choice in things.

“I think youth and teens like to feel like they’re in control, and it can be stressful when things are out of control. When we have a choice, it makes us feel heard.” – Gianny V

Processing Hard Things

Ask your teen what they need." 

“If they’re having a hard time, ask: ‘Do you want my advice, or do you just want to vent?’ Sometimes, we just want to be heard. Let us know that you’re listening, and respect what we say.” – Sienna A.

It’s a good idea to know what stresses your teen out."

Then when they have a hard time, it’s easier to understand where they’re coming from.” – Gianny V

Use the phrase: ‘Tell me about it.'"

“Be willing to be quiet and listen. When I say. ‘Mom, I had a really hard day at school,’ it helps for her to respond with, ‘tell me about it,’ rather than a lecture.” – Sienna A.

Know how they like to receive care,"

And know what they don’t like. When they’re struggling, do they need a distraction, some space, or time to process? If you wait and ask for what they need in the moment, its harder. So ask them at a time when they’re not in crisis.” – Sienna A. 

Want to learn more about how to support your teen — and how it can impact their life for the better? As these young people shared, it’s about the little things — consistency over perfection. Here are more ideas you can implement today to support teens.  

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