Hold On To a Your Kids
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October 2020
Middle Snapshot


Building Connection With Your Adolescent
The developmental stage of adolescence can be one of the most challenging times in the parent-child relationship. The increasing desire to become more oriented to peers rather than the family can leave parents feeling confused and sometimes helpless as they strive to maintain connection with their maturing child. 

During COVID-19, there have been additional stressors in family relationships during lockdown as we all spent increasing amounts of time together with reduced access to other social relationships and activities. Now, as our kids re-enter school, we are all navigating a new way of being together within an environment filled with safety protocols.

THE CIRCLE OF SECURITY model depicts attachment needs based on consistent principles throughout the life cycle. Just as a young child requires both a secure base from which to explore and a safe haven to return to, so does an adolescent, a young adult, and even a grown-up. We all have growth and development needs, which thrive in an environment where we are encouraged, delighted in and believed in.

Similarly, we all need to feel safe, protected and nurtured through loved ones who are trustworthy and available. If we keep this model in mind as parents, we can trust our instincts to both find connection and delight in exploration at each stage. The largest challenge will be how to best meet the attachment needs of our children at each developmental milestone.
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Adolescence is a time of immense growth and change. It is highlighted by development of increased independence and exploration. In fact, this emphasis on independence has helped to create the assumption that youth do not need nor desire the same level of connection with parents as they did in childhood.

In reality they can’t make the transition from childhood to adulthood without establishing some sort of separation from us.

 And sometimes, in their quest for this, it is our connection with them that gets lost. They have important work to do, so it’s up to us as their parents to hold on to that connection tightly enough for them and for us, for whenever they need it. When the connection with them is there, hopefully, sometimes, they will let us take the precious place beside them as they explore, learn and grow.
Detachment is a term used in psychology as a stage in adolescence that follows the stage of attachment in childhood. Gordon Neufeld addresses this misrepresentation of adolescent development in his book “Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers.” He suggests that parents often abandon their parenting and guidance role too soon. It is for this reason that adolescents turn to their peers to get their connection needs met. Is it possible that parents are the ones prone to detach when their kids still need them more than ever?

In the words of Dr. Gordon Neufeld, it is essential that we connect and ’hold onto our kids‘ when the draw to peers and social media is so strong during adolescence.
Tips to Connect and Communicate With Your Adolescent
Be attuned. All of us appreciate being seen and heard. If your adolescent starts a conversation with you, this is their way of cueing that they are available. Stop what you are doing and give them your attention. Give them the message that what they have to say matters more than anything else right now.
Show interest. Demonstrate an interest to know them, understand them and care about what they care about. Invite their friends over. Caring about their friends demonstrates that you care about them. Look for emotional cues that they are struggling, that they need you, or want to talk.
Be open to conflict. Conflict is a natural part of any family relationship when there are different perceptions about a situation. Conflict can be an opportunity for your child to learn how to communicate, learn how to problem solve and learn perspective-taking.
Schedule family time. Teens need to feel that they are a valued member of the family. Set aside family time to do regular activities together, such as going to the movies, going for a hike or skating. 
Family meals are an excellent way to connect with each other and talk about the things that happened during the day. Research also shows that having at least one family meal a day can prevent your teen from experimenting with risky health behaviour.
Listen. Youth want their parents to listen to their stories, concerns and feelings with patience, understanding, and acceptance. Your child needs to believe they can share problems and issues, and know that you will support them.

Be prepared and willing to discuss the things they want to talk about. Think about the things your child might want to talk about (relationships, sex, drugs, alcohol) so that you are ready when they come to you with difficult questions or ideas.

Offer help. The challenge is to be involved without intruding and to let your teen know you are always available. Ask your child if they would like some advice. Sometimes, teens are not interested in advice but just want to talk.
Avoid lectures. If your child‘s stories spark a lecture from you, they will be less likely to share with you another time. Express your concerns, but know that it‘s normal for teens to experiment. Be upfront about the rules and consequences.

Stay calm, and try not to get frustrated. Your questions and tone of voice might put your child on the defensive.
Keep it short, and to the point. Teens generally won‘t stay focused for long conversations.

Plan. Set aside regular time to catch up, or talk about issues your child is facing. Another good place to talk with your teen is while travelling together in the car, when you have a captive audience.
Don‘t rely on texting. While text messages can be a good way to keep in touch with your child, try to have more important conversations in person. Texting leaves too much room for misinterpretation and texts can easily be ignored.

Step away. If a conversation becomes emotional or heated, it is probably a good idea to step away and come back to it when everyone has calmed down.
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Communication and the Teenage Brain

In 2005, after reading around the topic of brain development, Martyn Richards wrote a paper titled The Teen Brain: What‘s Going On In There? Now, this topic is revisited, with further insight.
Resources and References

October Middle School Snapshot poster sent to all schools to post for their students viewing.
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