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Being Emotionally Present with Your Teen is More Important Than Being Physically Present

One of my main parenting pro tips is for parents to understand and realize that being emotionally present is a lot more important and effective than being physically present. I think most of us understand what it’s like to have a parent that is physically present but is not emotionally present. For me, my dad was that way. It was unusual for me to have him make an effort in being emotionally present with me or the family. My mom, however, would take the time to be emotionally present. She worked in higher education and would sometimes have to put in long days at the office and would often come home after it was dark. Her fifteen minutes of being emotionally present with me meant a lot more than having my dad camped out in front of the TV for several hours.

I want to talk more about what it means to be emotionally present. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day grind of work and responsibility, being an adult is no picnic these days. I think it can be easy to get caught up in the thinking that kids are happy with a pair of expensive shoes and a cell phone, but believe me, they need their parents. Being emotionally present means giving them undivided, one on one attention. Being physically close, sometimes making physical contact. It means making eye contact with them and most importantly, it means listening and asking questions. This last part is where a lot of people struggle. I have yet to encounter one single mom or dad that tells me that their kids enjoy it and are appreciative when mom and dad lecture them and tell them exactly what to do in situations. If you pay attention, you can pinpoint the moment when you lose your kid and they just want to go play video games. Your job as a parent isn’t always to fix their problems or remove obstacles. Sometimes your job is to be understanding, offer support and confidence in them.

Being emotionally present also means that parents may need to swallow some of their pride but I think parenthood forces that issue quite naturally anyway and usually boils down to a parent’s willingness to do so. As a parent, it’s probably going to be helpful to let go of your own wants and desires for your child and your own expectations. Expectations can really put a strain on relationships. You may expect your children to always get A’s and B’s in school and what will happen if they don’t? This is just an example but I point it out because it can often lead to lectures and just telling them what to do.

Do yourself and your child a favor. Spend at least 15 minutes a day being emotionally present with your child. Let go of agendas and expectations. Be emotionally present with them and may find that the relationship with them will become naturally easier and comfortable. Make a goal to learn five new things about them this week. A goal that you can only accomplish by listening and asking questions. This will help you get into the mode of listening and asking questions. For children and tweens, this one on one emotionally present time is usually met with eagerness, they want your attention and your validation.

For mid aged teens, ages 12 to 15, they may act as though you are annoying or some kind of nuisance but deep down the one on one attention feels good and is helpful so don’t be discouraged if they aren’t very responsive. For older teens, ages 16 to 19, they are more independent and while being emotionally present is helpful and important, the quality of the time is going to mean a lot more than the quantity. This is an age of high autonomy and an age where lecturing and telling them what to do is going to have extremely limited effectiveness. Too much lecturing can actually create an avoidance in them, they will avoid you on purpose if they know talking to you is going to result in a lecture. I understand where parents are coming with lecturing and even though many parents don’t mean to have lectures be a point of problem, it comes from a place of helpfulness, teens just don’t respond to them. I am going to now give you a second parenting pro tip. If you listen and ask enough questions, eventually they will ask you for advice. This is what you want, the walls have come down and if they are genuinely seeking advice and ask for it, they are going to be far more likely to absorb your wisdom.

So for this article, I have two parenting pro tips:

  1. Being emotionally present for short periods of time is far more helpful and valuable to kids than being physically present.

  2. Listen and ask questions and teens will often eventually ask you for advice. When they ask for advice they are much more likely to listen and take it heart than if advice is forced onto them.


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