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7 Messages Parents Need Their Teenaged Kids to Hear

There are going to be issues parenting teenaged kids.

My son is very disconnected from me. And I suppose he has every right, at 17, to be outwardly angry and hostile towards my outreach efforts to connect with him. He’s busy. He’s got homework. He’s got a girlfriend. Oh, and his mom absolutely hates me right now, I wonder sometimes if the two things are connected. But I can’t really work on that issue, so I’ll stay with my son and our relationship.

Here are some things I know about my son.

  • He is 17
  • He is angry about a lot of stuff
  • He has a girlfriend who is 19 and attending community college
  • He has a car (paid for) and does not pay for gas or insurance (covered by his mom)
  • He’d rather not do much of anything with me, except maybe test drive convertibles (for him) unless that process would take too long
  • He feels I have been unresponsive during portions of his life when he needed me most
  • He feels my current (12 months) of active outreach has been overbearing and too much, he’d like me to back off
  • He said he accepted my offer to see Weezer live (one of his favorite bands) out of a favor to me…
  • He is 17

Yadda yadda, hormones, and all that stuff.

What can a dad do to connect with a 17-year-old boy who doesn’t want to be bothered? For me, the challenge has been to find things we both care about that I can provide support and information about. Sometimes that’s money. Sometimes that’s enthusiasm. Sometimes it’s just continuing to put it out there. Here’s the message you want your kids to know.

7 Messages Parents Need Teenaged Their Kids to Hear

  1. I am here.
  2. I make you a priority in my life every day, and by proposing gatherings I am expressing my desire to get to know you and your inspirations more fully.
  3. I am here for you to let go of some of the overwhelm you are feeling.
  4. I love you, I like you, and I’m fascinated by the things you are into.
  5. If you want to go see a concert, test drive a sports car, learn to drive stick, I’m into it and can provide the means to make it happen
  6. Always, and forever, I support and love you, no matter what you do (well, no need to test this by being awful, but you get the idea.)
  7. When asked to contradict your ex, “I support your mom and believe that her requests are reasonable.”

But even with the best of intentions, you may get pushback. Yesterday I was trying to get some time with my son and I was brushed off vigorously. As I continued to “hold on loosely” he finally let loose with a rant that revealed a lot more about what he’s feeling about me.

Main message: When you are depressed, have been depressed in the past, you are not available for me.

This is my son expressing frustration and hurts about the times I was depressed an unable to be a support, or happy dad, for him. Painful revelation. He’s right. I was botched and unable to focus on much outside or my dark, locked, room of self-inflicted misery. And yet, this expression of his pain reveals more of a way in, for me.

In this conversation, it was time to back off, but I am able to update my outreach in subtle ways that might improve our bond and connection. I’m a dad in search of a way to stay close to both his teenage kids. Boys are different from girls. My daughter would tell you we have a great relationship. Sure, we don’t get as much time together as either of us would like, but a teenager’s life is chock full of activities and homework.


  • Express your desire to see and support your kids
  • Find activities they are already into and join them there
  • Even when you are rejected, keep up the positive attitude and make another offer (complaining doesn’t help)
  • When they don’t respond at all, understand that the emotional response is about you, not about them, they’re teenagers.
  • Your message, email, text, offer, request, is one of 400+ messages and requests they will get during the day (there are going to be misses and ball drops)
  • Find your own happy and confident place, reach out from there, often and with joy and love

Single parenting is not easy. But reaching out and getting the connection with one of your children is one of the most rewarding activities you can invest in. So make it happen. And ask again and again until it does.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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