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Connecting with Teenagers One at a Time on Their Terms, Always

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I do my best as a single dad. I’ve not had the same amount of time with my kids as my ex, nor as much time as I wanted/want/desire going forward. So I have one option, these days. Make constant offers to them. Show up for them any way they allow. And when they show a tiny bit of interest, capitalize on that. Here are a few examples.

My daughter likes to go to church. I invite her to church almost every Sunday. She always accepts. And most Sundays, like today, she sleeps until Noon. Well, church is obviously out, but we can still go out to lunch. And that’s enough. If that’s the best I can do, I’m into it.

“Yes, where would you like to go?,” I ask.

“IDK” is the inevitable reply.

“Okay, I’ll pick you up in 30 minutes?”


And that’s it. That’s the best I can do. Offer. Accept what I get. And offer again the next weekend. And, she’s just about to qualify for a driver’s license, so these opportunities are quickly coming to a close. So, let’s do it often, and with much joy.

My son like cars. He’s trying to convince his mom and her husband to let him trade his Mazda in for an older BMW that he “can work on.” He’s into it. He’s made PowerPoint presentations to convince them of his seriousness and intention. I’ve been behind the idea since its inception. And along this path I’ve been trying to get him to ID cars he’d like to drive. I’m offering to make the arrangements with the owners. I’m offering to pick him up and do all the legwork. And… Nothing.

This morning I found his dream car within his budget. I invited him to a test drive this afternoon.

And, that’s as good as it’s going to get. It’s the car he wants. It’s within his price range. And I’m offering… And, he’s fairly nonplussed. Perhaps the struggles with his mom and step dad are more than I know. Or, perhaps he’s got more interesting things to do this afternoon. Or, well, I don’t have to know. I just know I’d like to see him, support him, meet him on his terms. Here’s one way I can connect with him.

I’m a single dad who wants as close a relationship as I can have with my two kids. They’ve got their own agendas, their own friends, and their own problems. I’m simply here to offer my companionship and support. I know everything changes when they go off to college. I’ve seen it with my sister’s kids. I’ve got a year with my son in town. And three years with my daughter. I’m going to make the most of my opportunities to connect with them.

What ways have you found to connect with your kids? Are teens as hard to reach as we think they are? How do you grab their attention, give them a priority activity? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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image: driving teens, creative commons usage

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