Month of the Military Child: Building Connection with Tweens & Teens

A time of growing independence, adolescence is a pivotal period in a child’s life. For military teens it can be compounded by the unique circumstances associated with their parents’ service, such as lengthy separations, frequent moves, and the need to continuously adapt to new schools and social circles. So, how can parents maintain a connection with their kids to help them navigate the challenges related to teenhood? Ashley Jensen, LMFT, Senior Manager of Clinical Practice at Cohen Veterans Network, has three suggestions in support of your kids’ mental health and well-being:

  • Be Flexible – It is a normal part of development for pre-teens and teens to separate from their parents as they establish their own identity. But this can be a challenge for some parents to accept, resulting in conflict. Recognize that your relationship is going to evolve as they do. Create new rituals for connection as they grow.
  • Remain Curious – A teen’s emerging independence coincides with their need for parental support. As they explore who they are, ask questions about what they say is important to them. But rather than speaking face-to-face, which can be intimidating for kids, try parallel talking. This means having a conversation while engaging in another activity such as driving, walking, or cooking. It can help kids process information more efficiently and encourage them to share more openly.
  • Give Your Kids Space – Teenager’s emotions can be unpredictable. If your kid is having a tough day, offer them the chance to speak about it, but don’t demand that they talk. Kids are more likely to open up if they aren’t pressured to do so. Instead of saying, “You need to tell me what happened.” Try, “I understand you’re having a hard time. I’d really like to talk about it when you’re ready.”