Finding a friendship with your teen

December 21 | Guest post by Kim
Photo by White Rabbit Studios.
Photo by White Rabbit Studios.
I get asked all the time about my son, E. How did I score one of the rare awesome teenagers in the world?

I'm always very flattered — how can you not be when someone is enamored with your child? My instinct and dominant responses usually revolve around reasons that have little to do with me. If they're speaking in reference to how awesome E is with his brother and sister, I give him all of the credit. I explain that E wanted to be a big brother for years.

He suffered as much through my struggle to have a child and resulting miscarriages as I did. I believe this anticipation over having young siblings helped form a good basis for his relationship with them. He truly enjoys their company a lot of the time. Not ALL the time — they are small and often annoying. But, many long days are best ended by play sessions with his little brother and sister. He just loves chasing them around and playing with them. They, in turn, worship the ground he walks on. Great situation for me, but I take none of the credit.

Surprise! A lot of teens aren't the heathens they're made out to be.

I've realized as I get to know all of my son's friend's that there are a LOT of awesome teenagers in the world. Way more than primetime television wants to tell you about. With all of the crazy reality shows and scripted teen dramas painting The Teenager as everything from trashy spoiled brats to drugged out deviants, we tend to have false negative expectations of what The Teenager actually is. I know because I was surprised, too! I thought my son was an anomaly. When I had to interact with his classmates, I braced myself for the worst. Lo and Behold … they were awesome too! In other words? My son is totally just one of a very large, but very under-noticed population of Good Kids. Don't lose hope, America!

Sometimes the question or compliment I'm given regarding E is more specifically about our relationship. How are we so close? How do I get him to hang out and do things with me and the family? How have I built such a great friendship with him while still being his Mom? I can't always pass the buck off in these instances. Sometimes? I have to accept some of the credit myself.

Finding common interests

I credit our close relationship with the same thing that adults need to have good friendships: having common interests. Somewhere along the way when E was child, I learned the value of having something to talk about at dinner. I think it must have surely started with Harry Potter. (That's where it ALL starts in our home.) He was five when I discovered the books. Once he started reading them a while later, we had so much to be excited about together for the following years. Midnight movie and book releases, and recently we even had our own Harry Potter party!

E and I at a Harry Potter book release party.

Harry Potter was easy — we both loved it. It gave us plenty to talk about and that, to me, has always been the key. Kids like being excited. About anything. If you can take advantage of that and share the excitement with them, then forming a bond is relatively easy. They want someone to share their excitement. As long as you can be sincere about it and don't fake interest in something you don't actually like? They'll come to YOU. Harry Potter was only a few times every few years. When the books came out, or the movies, we were all about it. But it takes more than just a few days a year to build a relationship.

With E, there are a lot of things that he likes that I just can NOT get into. There are TV shows he watches that drive me crazy, books he reads that bore me to death, and movies he gets excited about that I'd rather stab my eyeballs out than watch. But I keep trying. He keeps making suggestions, knowing that sometimes he helps me find something I adore. He gives me books to read and music to listen to. And I try everything. We now have a fantastic foundation of shared interests to build on. I even recommend stuff to him, like the most recent Hunger Games series.

Be genuinely interested and involved

I also take sincere interest in stories he tells about school or recreational activities. If he's proud of a good grade or mortified by an embarrassing moment, I don't just nod and hum. I actually engage in conversation and get invested.

These small moments are what keeps us close even between the periodic punishments and groundings for non-ideal behavior. Of course he's not perfect. Sometimes he's grounded. And these moments suck. But we can still have a friendship even around those moments because we have so many shared interests. We've got a book release in May we're very excited about, we've purchased tickets to a few performances this year we're anticipating, and we both just bought the same album on iTunes this week.

In conclusion …

Is any of this easy? Sometimes, yes. Often … no. It requires a lot of failed attempts, but I don't give up because every shared interest adds to the foundation of our friendship, just like it would if he was simply my peer. This friendship allows us to stay close and gives us plenty to talk about which is key. The second you lose conversation? They grow further and further away with every car ride and meal that comes and goes in silence.

Does this make me a great parent? Not really. I just stumbled upon this valuable tool during the beginning days of Harry Potter. I realized how much I enjoyed having someone to share the excitement with, and how easily it could work the other way too. Give my son someone in the same house to share excitement with — that's all it is. A relationship built on shared interests. Just like every friendship I've ever had. Does this mean he never disobeys? No. Does this mean I never have to yell or punish? No. But it gives us a foundation that holds up our friendship even between those instances.

And in the end? I rely on that friendship. I love having someone to tell when a favorite author is writing a new book or a band is releasing a new album. And when that someone eats several meals a day at the same table I do? Best. Best. Friend. EVER.

  1. Great piece – I'm over a decade off having a teenager myself, but I think it's so important just to *like* teenagers. People wink and say 'Oh yeah, bet you can't wait until she's a teenager' and I tell them that actually, I do look forward to it. Adolescence is when kids start to develop deeper capacities for objective thought and understanding life and others on a more profound level and I genuinely look forward to engaging with her on that level (occasionally). Teenagers are cool, and lively and fun – there's no need to prepare for war as soon as they turn 12, which is what some people seem to do.

    My siblings and I enjoyed a great relationship with our parents during our teens because they liked us and they also trusted us not to do anything too stupid, and we wanted to repay that trust. And they didn't sweat the seriously unimportant stuff like clothes or music etc, because it was so clear the important stuff was just fine (and were it not, why would the superficial stuff matter anyway?)

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  2. I'm nowhere near being a parent of a teenager. At 22, I'm only a few years removed from being a teenager myself. I remember being constantly frustrated by the way people treated me, often based only on my age. Now that my brother is 17, I do my best to meet his friends, pick him up when he needs a ride somewhere, and engaged in conversations about his hopes and dreams. I remember missing those kinds of things.

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  3. This piece excites me!
    I've been dreading the teenage years myself out of fear, but this encourages me that it won't be so bad. :-)

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  4. This is awesome to read! It perfectly describes the problems I had with my own parents as a teenager who never was able to get them to take an interest in my interests. It is so important in any relationship, but especially during those awkward years for parent and teen alike!

  5. I love this post! I totally agree that teenagers are made out to be WAY worse than they are. Part of the reason many people think they act so bratty and horrible is that many adults treat them as though they expect them to act that way! If you talk to them like any other person they are so stoked to have an adult we seems to care about what they think and so on.

    I am only 8 weeks pregnant but I am already looking forward to having a teenager and getting geeked out with him/her :)

  6. Great read! It's nice to hear about teenagers getting along with their parents, and you guys look like such a happy family. 😀

    I was mostly a good kid, but had a "mean" streak here and there; by the time I was 16/17, I got to be really close to my parents; we've always been a candid and honest family. I still very much enjoy their company.

    That said, as a teenager my parents did tend to talk down to me (my stepdad more than my mom, though we're all cool now), and I reacted. My role model for a long time was one of the only adults who treated me like a thinking, expressive individual. That mattered a lot to my development.

    Also: your pink hair is amazing.

  7. I have also been looking forward to the teenage years. Even though we've had plenty of drug using and pregnant teenagers in my family, guess what? They were still lovable human beings, fun, interesting, and more.

  8. 1. This was a lovely story! Thank you for sharing!

    2. That's a handsome young man you have there! But just as I was going to ask how far apart he and his oldest sister are, I noticed that was YOU in the first picture! Yowza!

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  9. Yay, Hunger Games! I very much love that series!

    I have no kids, but I remember what it was like being a teenager (it wasn't that long ago, haha) and I agree with a lot of the posters. I remember be frustrated growing up because people seemed to expect me to act a certain way and then when I wasn't that (and instead was polite and courteous and attentive) they assumed I was just doing it because I wanted something. Bah. Teenagers are cool! They want to learn! They want to experience stuff! Most of them know drugs are bad! Etc!

  10. • Great article!
    I, however, am finding it difficult to get my teen (boy age 13, almost 14 in 8th. grade) to give me the 1st opportunity to be a friend!
    Everyone says he's a good kid, hangs out with average kids at school, well-mannered, smart, etc. but he REFUSES to bring ANY friends home to hang out!
    Even though my boyfriend has 3 kids, they're only here 1/2 of the time. I've said he's welcome to bring people over when they're not here. I've offered to clean the house extra, told him it wasn't that long ago for me, I won't embarrass him, I'll go in my room & let them have the living area to themselves unless he needs something. We have all the newest game systems that his friends are into, I'll order pizza, etc. Yet he says that's not why. He just doesn't want to. He only rarely shares anything with me & is very hard to get close to. He's been this way since he was little.
    So I find myself putting on my 'mom hat' & saying, "well, you can't go out w/them till they've been over to the house & I've had the opportunity to be around them a little bit. I also need to meet the parents & talk to them before you go places w/friends un-supervised until I'm comfortable letting you go out into the world alone." I try to explain that the sooner I can get a feel for him & his friends the sooner he'll be given trust & freedom. He just says, "Then I guess I'll never go anywhere." uuug!

  11. I'm a high school librarian and people are always SHOCKED when I say that I deliberately chose that age group. They are even more shocked that I like teenagers! Teenagers are smart and savvy and are trying to decide who they're going to be. You can't put anything past them and they are not afraid to challenge you, which keeps you sharp. What the OP said is true – if you show genuine interest in their lives and show them that you value their thoughts and options (they don't often get that respect, unfortunately) they are very appreciative.

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    • High school teacher here. Yes to everything you've said. I love working with teenagers! Such an exciting time in life!

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