Connected, supportive relationships with parents, friends, extended family members and trusted adults, like coaches and teachers, can help kids get a great start in life.

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS), the state’s only comprehensive survey on the health of middle- and high-school-aged youth, found in 2019 that when young people have trusted adults in their lives who can help with challenges, they are less likely to experience poor mental health and engage in unhealthy behaviors like substance abuse and violence.

We’re sharing some basic ideas on how to build connected relationships with the young person in your life. A lot of it just backs up the good instincts you already have as a parent and caregiver. But it’s also stuff that experts say really works.

When you’re looking to connect, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Exactly what you say or how you say it isn’t as important as just trying. Show your teen you care by just being with them. Ask open-ended questions, like “What happened today?”, and listen for the answer, whatever it is. Watch a show together or have them play you a song from their phone. Sit down for a meal together. It’s okay even if there’s not a lot of talking. They may not act like it, but kids want to know that you’re around for them.

Provide a safe base of support, but set clear rules and boundaries. Being a teen can be scary and hard, and they need to know you’re looking out for them. So be consistent, encouraging and fair — but set clear boundaries and limits. Let them know that you’re someone they can come to when they’re in trouble. Teenagers may say they don’t want rules, but most do want them — and all teens need them!

Sometimes making tighter connections with teens means loosening your grip. Sharing views and decisions with your teen can be powerful and energizing — for both of you. So listen and think about what they are saying. Try to avoid giving them an immediate “No” or putting down their ideas. Empower them to lead, whether it’s deciding what classes to take, a hike to go on or a family meal. You might just find that you get as much out of it as they do.

Help show them that the world is full of possibilities. We all want something to look forward to, so help your youth see what their future can look like and expand their worldview. Help them meet interesting people outside the family. Ask them where they’d like to travel someday or if there’s a job or career they’ve ever imagined doing. Model what it looks like to learn and grow by taking a class — virtually or in person — or by reading a book yourself and then telling them about it. Showing that you’re still trying to learn too will be a powerful motivator for them to keep growing themselves.

Show them that growth is more important than perfection. It’s important for teens to know that trying is just as important as succeeding. If they have a failure, let them know that it’s not forever and they shouldn’t give up. Tell them you’ll check in on their progress and that you expect them to keep trying. Talk about your own mistakes in life and how you got better at something by sticking with it.

 


 

Citations: Connections can help vulnerable teens (NIH):
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6128354/

Connections that make a difference (U.S. HHS):
https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/sites/default/files/essentialresearch1-positiveconnections.pdf