Cheryl Maguire, contributing writer

I feel like I never see my 17-year-old twin teens anymore. School, sports, activities, work, and friends all call them away from home. I try to convince myself that their packed schedules help ease me into the transition of them going to college next year, but the truth remains — I miss spending time with them. 

According to Maria Sanders, LSW, a clinical social worker and certified parent coach, my situation is ordinary. “Doing your own thing is normal and healthy in those teen years, but it is tough for us parents,” she said. 

She’s right. It is difficult. For me, and many other parents. On the one hand, as teens shift toward adulthood and become more independent, we’re excited for them. Ken Ginsburg, MD, the founding director of The Center for Parent and Teen Communication in Philadelphia and author of Congrats — You’re Having a Teen!: Strengthen Your Family and Raise a Good Person, says that “the major difference between the teen years and the tween years is the extra experiences that young people have. They’ve learned to stretch their wings and to succeed.” But he also says, “In addition to that, they have the ability to think differently.” In other words, as our children mature into adulthood, they form their own thoughts and opinions, which may not align with our ideas and make it more difficult for us to connect with our teens.

We want a deeper connection with our teens, but…


Maria says that once our children move into their teen years, they have most likely figured out who they are. They’re capable of better conversations and potentially forming deeper connections with family members. It can strain the entire family when teens don’t have time to invest in those core relationships because of other commitments. When our teens aren’t at home much anymore, it’s like a practice mourning period. “We’re missing our teens — they’re out of the house, and there is a period of loss,” Maria said. “There is a period of, ‘I see where this is going. They are going to leave soon.’”


Now that our kids have grown more independent, they’re also taking more risks than they did as tweens. In 2022, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released their injury and fatality statistics for 2020, stating, “About 2,800 teens in the United States ages 13 to 19 were killed, and about 227,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2020. That means that about eight teens died daily from motor vehicle crashes, and hundreds more were injured.” Data like that support the worry we feel when our teens drive cars, or when they’re a passenger in the car of a new driver. Of course, we will worry about their safety on the road.

We have a lot to worry about with their growing independence. For example, now that our kids are teenagers, we also worry about their access to drugs and alcohol and having sex, too. If our teenagers are sexually active, we worry about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. We may also worry about their friendships and romantic relationships and whether they’ll be hurt emotionally or manipulated. We worry about many things because, as Maria says, “There are a lot more opportunities for teens to get together without adult supervision, so [these things] come into play.” 


Teenagers are pros at testing limits and pushing boundaries, sometimes leading to arguments when parents try to dictate what their teenagers can and cannot do. “When parents try to control their kids, it comes from a place of fear: ‘I’m afraid I’m going to lose my child.’ We want to clasp on as hard as we can to feel like we’re in control. But we can’t control our kids,” Maria said. 

Experts tell us we can still form deeper connections with our teens despite those challenges.

How to form deeper connections with our teens:

Adolescents are moving toward becoming independent of their parents physically, emotionally, and cognitively, yet they still need parent and family support as much as they did when they were younger. Here are some ways experts suggest we support teens.


It can be tough to stay centered and calm when our teens are determined to criticize us at every turn. Our first instinct might be to respond with anger, but Maria says this will only cause more problems. “There’s a phrase called ‘no action in reaction.’ If we are reacting to something our kids did, let’s say your child comes home late. Then that’s not the time to act because you are in a reactive mode. Don’t take any action. Instead, take a deep breath, a big pause, maybe sleep on it and discuss it when there is a good time, and you’re calmer,” she said.


Suppose your teenager is having trouble with following limits, like not coming home in time for curfew or letting the car run out of gas. In that case, Maria recommends using Dr. Ross Green’s method of collaborative problem-solving, where parents and kids work together to solve problems within their relationship.

Maria offers an example of how this might work when your teen is struggling with coming home on time for a curfew:

Parent: “It seems like you’ve had a difficult time getting home at curfew. Help me understand what’s going on.” 

Teenager: “Nobody starts to hang out until 9 o’clock. So if I have to be home at 10 o’clock, I only get an hour with my friends.” 

Parent: “OK, that’s good information. What’s important to me is that you do get home because I’m concerned about your safety. After 10 p.m., things start to get sketchy. So I’m wondering what ideas you have so you can hang out with your friends and still make it home on time.”

This kind of practice allows teens and parents to come together to define consequences. “It’s not just the parent, dictating what the consequences are,” Maria said. “It’s the parent and the child, having their concerns put on the table and figuring out a solution that works for everybody.” 

Dr. Ginsburg agrees. “Your ultimate goal with your teenager is to have a relationship that lasts for decades after they’ve left your house,” he said. “If they are struggling to become independent and you become very controlling, they will push you away.” 

He also stresses the importance of communicating that we respect them. “When we tell kids what to do based on our experience, kids are hearing the message, ‘I don’t think you’re capable of figuring this out on your own,’” he said. 

Dr. Ginsburg suggests instead that we be curious and ask questions about how they can solve problems on their own. “When we ask them what they’re experiencing, and ask them what they think is going to happen, then we give them the opportunity to think things through.”


Rituals and routines are a great way to connect with a teenager who is often not able to spend as much time with their parents and siblings. For example, even though my teenagers didn’t need me to walk them to the bus stop in the morning, I created a routine so that I could have extra time to connect with them. 

“It’s important to find those family traditions that can be carried through to when they are older so we’re able to have that connection,” Maria said. She says one example is her family’s annual summer camping trip, where they go screen-free because quality time together without their screens is good for developing adolescent brains and for family dynamics.


The teen years are full of incremental moves to separate from parents. For both parties, it’s an exciting time for personal growth; yet, those moves toward separation can also be scary and stressful. 

“There are a lot of myths out there about adolescence,” Dr. Ginsburg said. “One suggests that adolescents don’t care what adults think and don’t particularly like their parents. Know that definitively and without question: You matter to your teen.”