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Connecting with a Teenager

  • anonymous Asks ...

    I need any advice on how to create a connection with my 16 year old son. I left him and his mother when he was just a baby. I was an alcoholic and actually she kicked me out, not that I made any effort to stay or to stay involved in his life. I sent birthday gifts but I missed some years. I have more than 2 years of non stop sobriety behind me now. Long story short my exwife wants my son to get to know me. She is really a wonderful and forgiving person and she wants us to have a relationship. I want it also. We went out to the park with her and it was OK and we even all laughing and joking but then I took him out for dinner alone the next weekend and it was so awkward and uncomfortable for both of us. He would not say anything but yes or no and I don’t know what to do. He obviously does not want to do this so should I force things?

  • Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
    Rev. Christopher Smith

    While there could be more going on in your particular situation where it would be helpful to have someone sit down and help you talk, the situation you describe sounds quite normal and may not really have the conclusions that you have reached. Interacting with teenagers is different. It is tempting to think of them as children, yet they are pushing for more autonomy and self-definition. It is tempting to look at them as adults, but they have not quite developed to that point either.

    One of the questions to ask is what type of a relationship are you wanting to establish with your son and what might he be looking for, even if he is not saying it. Just from what you have said, it does not sounds like you are looking to be in a strong parenting role and neither of the other two are looking for that either. I would also suspect that you are not looking to try and foster a "best friend" role. Once you work out what type of a relationship everyone is hoping for (perhaps more akin to a mentor) then you may find it easier to move towards that goal.

    When you met with your son and ex-wife, the conversation was moderated by the fact that your ex-wife was a connection between the two of you. When you were on your own, the training wheels were off. Connecting with teens is not an easy task. Every year, high school teachers have to try and bridge that gap and gain the trust of their new students. People of your son's age are more focused on peers than forming relationships with adults. Developmentally, they are more involved in breaking away from parents than forging new relationships with adults. However, teenagers do look for people that have something to offer, especially if they have the choice to take it or not. This is to say that I would not be so certain that he doesn't want to have some type of a relationship with you but that it will take time.

    You can't regain the time that has passed. You will not have a strong role as a child's father but you may develop a positive relationship over time and even be able to take on the role of an adult parent. Working at it, allowing things to be awkward at times, you can journey to a place where there will be peace and wholeness.

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