Creating connection with our teens

Messages from Chinuch Research Center

Eliav Friedman, MSW, has written an insightful article that sheds light on the significance of building connections with your teenager. If you’re feeling a lack of connection with your teenager, Chinuch Resource Center recommends reading Friedman’s article. The article can help you understand the importance of building a connection with your teenager and also identify the signs of your teenager’s yearning for connection. By recognizing these signs, you can pave the way for stronger relationships within the family.

Creating connection with our teens

I was practically ready for bed. I’m standing in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, in my pajamas, having already taken out my contacts. It was a very long day and I was really looking forward to a meeting with my pillow, one that would hopefully last straight until my alarm would wake me in the morning. 

My 13-year-old comes and tells me that his older brother wants to show me something. I know that they were sitting in my home office reading something. I had told them to finish up quickly and come get ready for bed. 

What I wanted to do was go to bed. The comment that first came to mind as my son was standing there was not particularly pleasant and related to how they should have already turned off the computer. Thankfully, I thought for a moment before responding (if only that happened more often) and motioned to my son that I’d be there in a minute. 

It turns out that there was some article that my son really wanted me to see. How interested was I? It doesn’t matter. Would I have preferred to go to bed rather than see it? It doesn’t matter. (Yes, I would have rather gone to bed, but still, it doesn’t matter). Why? When an adolescent wants to share something with me, then I’m going to express interest. Because while what he’s sharing may not be important to me, the connection is.


One of the most common complaints I hear from parents is that their teens aren’t interested in them, that they don’t speak with them, that they can’t get their teens to open up. There can be many reasons for this. Unfortunately, what parents usually don’t realize is that often the main reason that teens don’t share with their parents is because of the reactions they get when they do. 


I don’t know if it has always been the case that there’s been a generation gap in how parents and children see the world. I imagine that it wasn’t quite the case in medieval Europe or Morocco 300 years ago. The lives of parents and children weren’t so drastically different then. The way in which each grew up was more or less the same. Their experiences were so similar, the world they knew practically identical. 

The world in which our teens are growing up could hardly be more different than the one in which we were raised. It’s not that I didn’t have a cell phone at that age; there were none to be had. The internet of my youth was a fledgling concept with which the world was just beginning to experiment. Music was, well, musical. 

It is, therefore, only natural that what interests my kids may be quite different from what interests me. Putting the progress (or regress) of the world aside, it is logical that those at different stages of life would be interested in different things. What interests my five-year-old is not what interests my eleven-year-old. What interests him doesn’t interest my eighteen-year-old. It makes sense that adults in their 30s, 40s, or 50s would be interested in different things than their teens, as well. 

There is, however, something that interests both parents and children – of all ages. Connection. Everyone seeks connection. Every human being needs to feel connected to other humans. And despite the (myriad) indications otherwise, our children want to connect with us. In fact, they want (and need) it more than we can possibly imagine.


Adolescence is a challenging stage of development. Teens’ bodies are in a constant state of change (one might say metamorphosis) and their moods waver accordingly. Teens are struggling to understand themselves, to develop their own voice, to recognize that voice, and to respect it. In the process of developing their identity they’ll often push those around them away as they try to individuate. While this can be very uncomfortable for parents, it is a normal – and essentially healthy – part of development. 

This is (part of) why kids will often keep things to themselves or not share them with their parents. They want to figure things out on their own without having their thoughts tainted by their parents (even if the parents really are great at encouraging their kids to develop their own opinions). They’re busy learning, thinking, and processing on their own, and need the space to do that.  


Too often, we miss the times when our teens are trying to connect. This is primarily because we don’t realize what that attempt at connection looks like. Simply put, it can look like anything and everything. 

When your child comes into the room and just sits there, they’re seeking connection. When they ask what you’re doing, they’re (often) seeking connection. (Sometimes, they’re checking to see what sort of mood you’re in before asking for something.) Especially when your child does want to share something with you, they’re trying to connect with you.

First of all, pay attention! If your child is seeking connection, give it to them! Teens spend a lot of time by themselves, with friends, on the phone with friends,. When they actually are reaching out for connection with you, grab the opportunity with two hands and don’t let go!!! Yes, this will most likely happen at an inconvenient time. In fact, it is almost a given that it will be at the most inconvenient time. Anyone who told you that raising kids was easy is either incredibly stupid or trying to pull off a cruel joke. 

Realize that due to the age difference, generation gap, and, for many of us, culture gap, between us and our children, much of what interests your kids will not interest you. It doesn’t matter. If it’s important to them, it has to be important to you. Sure, it’s easier to connect when interests are shared. But what is critical here is the connection; when you express interest in what is important to your teen, that connection is enhanced. 

We find the same rule in marriage. There are many things that interest my wife that don’t interest me at all. We will still spend time discussing those things or even engaging in such activities together because anything that’s particularly enjoyable or important to my wife is a great way for us to connect. The same is true in the opposite direction. 

However, there is one critical difference between marriage and a relationship with our kids. Marriage is a two-way street, and each spouse needs to express interest in what is important to the other. As important as the connection with us may be to our teens, we can’t expect them to bear the burden of building, maintaining, or nurturing the relationship. We are the adults in the relationship. 

That does not mean not to share things in your life with your children. On the contrary, communicating with them shows them that you value them, their opinion, and your relationship with them. But do so wisely and in small doses. The need to feel heard is great, the desire to hear others, far less so. You do far more for your relationship with your child when you listen than you do when you’re speaking. 

When we don’t express interest in what our teen is sharing with us we are essentially rejecting them. That is not our intent, of course. But that is their experience. This rejection can come in many forms. It can be the refusal of the offer to listen to that song or read that article. It can be in the form of not having time for them. It can be by disparaging whatever it is that they’re sharing. 

The more often our children experience this rejection, the more closed they become. If their attempts at reaching out are rejected, they will stop reaching out. Even worse, if their attempts at reaching out lead to them (or their thoughts, ideas, or beliefs) being rejected, they will stop reaching out. 

So despite the late hour and my deeply held desire for sleep, I made my way across my apartment to my office. Not able to see well without my lenses, I leaned in close, squinted, and read the article my son wanted me to see. Did I gain much from it? I don’t think so. But I know of no better investment in my relationship with my son than the fact that I went to see it.