If your kids are anything like mine, they are connected kids. It seems that turning on an electronic screen will attract them like bugs to a light bulb. Texting is replacing face-to-face or even phone conversations, and connections seem less and less about real human emotions and more and more about the clever use of emojis. So how can you connect with your middle-schooler through more than just sharing the same wifi?
Here are eight steps to help you connect with your kids:
1) Put down your own phone. I know, you need to send one more email or check Facebook one more time. But chances are you’re not emailing your kid and I’m guessing they’re not on Facebook. Set your own phone somewhere it can’t be easily reached when your kids are in the room or car. Be present for your kids.
2) Set limits and boundaries on electronics. I know, you can get way more done when Sony or Apple are entertaining your kids—but turning them off will force face-to-face interaction. Consider what age your child really needs a cell phone, and in what environments. (Lest your middle-schooler convinces you they are the only kid in America without a phone, point them to this article. My kids do not get phones until high school sports begin.) Make those boundaries known and tell them the reasoning behind them and your expected outcomes—a more loving, respectful family.
3) Ask questions. Ask questions that require thought and more than a one-word response. More than the 140 characters allowed in a tweet. Start questions with “how,” “what,” or “tell me more about” and you can draw a bit more out in your teen. Then listen to their answers.
4) Just listen to their answers. Don’t lecture. I do love a good “mom lecture.” My middle-schooler is not a fan. So I have to learn that respecting him and showing him love is a lesson far beyond what he could extrapolate from any lecture I can give in the car ride to and from school. Our kids can Google information, but a good conversation can lead to transformation. Ask good questions and wait for great answers, then respond with love and respect.
5) Try things they love. I ran track in high school and college and then appropriately retired from the sport. This year, all three of my boys started running, so I became a runner again. They talk while we run (I can’t talk while I try to keep up with them, so this allows step three to happen quite well), and they are so proud of me for doing what they love. I even occasionally pick up a video game controller and play with them. Just showing an active interest in something they love makes an instant connection.
6) Show affection. Our kids know the number of hugs and kisses given in our home will increase as the child’s height increases and years left at home decrease. We are affectionate with our kids and they don’t hate it. While you’re at it, date your kids. Take each one out for a special dinner or lunch—often food will encourage conversation, especially when you aren’t distracted by preparing it.
7) Google them. Maybe not your child’s name, but do some research on what kids their age are in to. Know the top songs, movies, apps, and even slang terms. Show an interest in what interests them and be ready to talk about it or ask them questions to understand.
8) Pick up your phone. Yes, pick the phone back up and send your child a text telling them you love them and are proud of them. Take a selfie together. Record a lip sync video. Use the technology to connect with them and show them how to responsibly use it.
Remember, you are still the greatest influence in your child’s life, and with a little effort, you can be connected on a deeper level.