How to Positively Engage an Isolating Teen

From an early age, parents have the greatest impact on their children. Parents who spend quality time with their teenagers are more likely to raise competent, caring, and well-adjusted kids who successfully navigate the path to independence. As your child enters their teen years and begins to embrace their independence you may notice your teen start to isolate themselves from you and others. This isolation could be due to several factors, such as rejection by peers, bullying, and/or due to mental health concerns, like depression or anxiety.

Social withdrawal within the context of other symptoms of depression or anxiety correlates with the inability to connect with others. As a parent, the best thing you can do is strengthen your connection by positively engaging with them. Having a strong support system will increase the likelihood of your teen being an emotionally stable and productive member of society. Here are some things you can do to engage with your teen:

Communicate.

Open communication is key when it comes to positively engaging with your teen. This communication should be open on both sides—it is extremely important to engage in and model active listening as a parent. In some scenarios, asking direct questions might not be as effective as simply sitting back and listening. Teens are more likely to be open with their parents if they don’t feel interrogated or pressured to share information. Approaching conversations from a place of understanding or curiosity instead of judgment will get you farther with your teen.

By permitting yourself to suspend judgments and try to understand an ever-changing world, your teen will see you as a safe space to share their feelings. Teens are equally interested in their parents’ lives, so be prepared to gently open up—without unloading—and talk about work, emotions, or personal things that are important to you. By setting a precedent that you are a safe space and encouraging the sharing of thoughts and feelings, your teen will learn by example and feel a sense of mutual trust.

Create a fun and safe environment at home.

A good way to keep your teen engaged is by having a teen-friendly house or hangout spot. If your teen feels comfortable enjoying themselves, or time with friends, in your house, they will be less likely to want to leave and be exposed to outside influences. Be nice to your teen’s friends and talk with them politely when they come over.

You can learn a lot by involving yourself and learning who your teen hangs out with outside of the home and at school. Don’t intrude in their activities, but introduce yourself, ask thoughtful questions, and be certain to have lots of food in the house.

Stay involved in school and extracurricular activities.

Find opportunities to volunteer at your teen’s school, and talk to their teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, and after-school activity leaders. Parental involvement not only enhances academic performance but also positively influences student attitude and behavior. A parent’s interest and encouragement in a teen’s education can affect the teen’s attitude toward school, classroom conduct, self-esteem, attendance, and motivation.

Extracurricular activities help children and teens develop and advance motor skills and improve physical fitness, while also building their cognitive and social skills, all of which can enhance a teen’s sense of well-being. Another benefit is that extracurricular activities involve structure and a predictable series of events that help teens get on a schedule. The more they get comfortable sticking to a routine, the easier it gets for them to adhere to a schedule of activities both at home and school.

When expectations are set for teens and children, they experience less anxiety and stress. A well-adjusted teen has a set schedule that will carry them easily into adulthood. Be certain to attend your teen’s sports events, live performances, art shows, and other events as a sign of support. Staying in contact with individuals who influence your teen, or people they look up to, is a great way to have a full picture of what’s going on in other aspects of your teen’s life.

Search for shared passions and interests.

Showing an interest in what is important to your teen is a great way to express your care. Continuously look for opportunities to do things together and create shared hobbies. At home, activities such as reading a book together, watching a television series, listening to a podcast series, and sharing music offer opportunities for discussion and reflection.

Activities outside the home such as hiking, attending sporting events, shopping, taking a cooking class, traveling, or attending live performances also offer opportunities for a brief change in environment. Changing scenery can help us feel invigorated and more creative, as it forces our brains to process new surroundings and think in new ways. Finding common ground with your teen builds trust, understanding, appreciation, and affection. While family time is important, it is also absolutely critical for a teen to have alone time with each of their parents.

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