Connection is a core component of adolescent mental health. Without supportive relationships, tweens and teens are far more likely to experience depression and anxiety and to be at risk for self-harm. Positive relationships with family, friends and others build tweens’ and teens’ self-esteem, increase their resilience, lower their risk of anxiety and depression, and even help them stay physically healthy.
Caregivers of tweens and teens need to know that connection can be cultivated. How? Start with these five simple strategies to strengthen relationships:
1. Remember, your teen wants to connect.
American families spend just 37 minutes of quality time together per day, according to a recent survey. Why so little? Busy schedules make it a real challenge to carve out quality time. But while parents often perceive that their teens have lost interest in spending time together, teens say parents are the ones who are too busy. Remember, even as teens seek greater independence and spend more time with friends, quality time with parents continues to be critical for their overall well-being. Teens want to connect with you even when they don’t say so, so go ahead and make the first move.
2. Be more present in the time you already spend together.
When it comes to connection, quality matters more than quantity. Quality time means being present: you’re not letting distractions, worries, or feelings of overwhelm intrude. You’re really there for each other, listening, sharing, having fun, or just being. Ask yourself how you might be more present during the time you and your teen already spend together. Do you drive them to school most mornings or eat dinner together a few nights a week? Consider declaring a phone-free zone, playing a conversation card game, or creating a family ritual to check in with each other. And be sure to ask your teen what would make it most meaningful for them.
3. Don’t leave connection up to chance.
When families see each other often, it’s easy to make time together a low priority or leave it entirely up to chance. But that means you’re hanging out when you’re stressed, tired and distracted. To foster deeper connection, make family time sacred and spend time together when everyone can be energized and engaged. Block off regular time in all your calendars and make a plan together. Create a few simple rituals, like cooking dinner one night a week or going for a hike once a month. Keep it simple with easy, everyday moments of connection, then mix it up by trying new things or planning an adventure once in a while. Teens benefit from regular routines and opportunities to get out of their comfort zone, so aim for a balance of both.
4. Support teens’ friendships with peers.
Connection with parents or caregivers is key, but it doesn’t replace the need for close, supportive peer friendships. Studies show that connection with peers decreases stress, increases teens’ sense of self-worth and protects their mental health well into early adulthood. Caregivers can help teens nurture these critical friendships with a little background support and structure. Teaching your teen to prioritize authenticity, getting to know their friends, and encouraging extracurricular activities are all ways you can help teens build a network of supportive connections. Read our post on nurturing teen friendships for more ideas.
5. Help them create their Crew.
Connection supports adolescent mental health, and healthy habits like connection are easier to build when tweens and teens have a support system. That’s why we designed Lucero to be a place where friends and families can radically support each other. Teens can invite up to seven “framily” members to join their Crew. Crew members cheer each other on, support each other on the hard days, and always apologize if their actions or words hurt someone’s feelings. With the support of their Crew, teens discover themselves, strengthen their relationships, and deepen their capacity to connect.