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Teen Health 411

Parent-Child Connectedness

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We hear a lot of about the importance of being connected to our teens, but I am not sure most parents understand exactly what "being connected" means. In addition, there are many things that are required before parents can actually behave in a connected way. This post is meant to help parents and teachers understand the determinants of the behaviors that help parent-child connectedness.

Parent-child connectedness is a condition characterized by an emotional bond between a parent and a child that is both mutual and sustained over time. Parent-child connectedness is something that protects young people from the many challenges and risks facing them in today's world, including tobacco use, depression, eating disorders, pregnancy, and HIV infection.

The specific parent behaviors include:
  • Provide for basic physiological needs;
  • Build and maintain trust;
  • Demonstrate love, care and affection;
  • Share activity;
  • Prevent, negotiate and resolve family conflicts;
  • Establish and maintain structure (establish expectations, conduct effective monitoring, conduct effective discipline, and use positive reinforcement); and
  • Communicate effectively (Receive messages effectively, understand messages, and send messages effectively).

In order to provide for basic physiological needs, parents must:
  • Understand the basic nutritional, clothing, shelter, healthcare, mental & physical needs of their preteens and teens, including how these needs change over time;
  • Know where to access services for providing basic needs;
  • Have the skills necessary to overcome any barriers to access; and
  • Have support for their parenting including family, friends, neighbors, professionals, community-level support like church, or other support networks.

In order to build and maintain trust, parents must:
  • Believe that trust is important in relationships;
  • Understand the function of trust in healthy relationships;
  • Understand the components of trust include honesty, commitment, openness, confidentiality, patience, loyalty, consistency, respect, avoiding humiliation, listening, forgiveness, and providing emotional support in the form of encouragement, nurturing, love, and affection;
  • Use parental power and influence appropriately;
  • Apologize when appropriate;
  • Demonstrate respect for your child by expressing pride in and appreciation for your child; and
  • Understand how their own childhoods are influencing their parenting.

In order to demonstrate love, care and affection, parents must:
  • Learn what does and doesn't feel loving and affectionate to your child (through discussion and observation);
  • Understand that showing love and caring include expressing physical and verbal affection, doing special things for your child, being consistent and loving, and building trust;
  • Hugs, kisses, snuggling, saying "I love you," holding hands, etc.. that are age appropriate and feel "right" to your children;
  • Do special things for your child including cards, gifts, special meals, and one-to-one time;
  • Make love and affection unconditional;
  • Express love, care and affection equally among siblings;
  • Model love and affection in other relationships; and
  • Recognize and deal with your own barriers to giving and receiving love, care and affection.

In order to share activity, parents must:
  • Find a time for regular shared activity (and watching TV does not count);
  • Be well enough physically and emotionally to share activities with your child;
  • Learn what shared activities your child enjoys and negotiate differences in interests between yourself and your child;
  • Recognize the value of "down time" for shared activity;
  • Understand the value of "connective" shared activity, including laughter, humor, playfulness, creating together, and patience;
  • Recognize the value of ritual including the celebration of milestones, traditions, cultural and religious events as shared activity; and
  • Recognize and problem-solve teens' experience of negative social pressure to spend time with parents.

In order to prevent, negotiate and resolve conflicts, parents must:
  • Learn and use conflict resolution skills including: establishing ground rules, negotiating and making decisions jointly, focusing on common ground, compromising, apologizing and forgiving;
  • Learn and use conflict prevention skills including: family meetings, parent admitting mistakes, asking teens' opinions, being clear and reasonable, and having fair and consistent rules;
  • Understand teens need more autonomy as they grow older, and give it to them (in the form of work ethics, money management, pet care, making appointments, planning and scheduling, and time management);
  • Be aware of and model healthy, non-violent, non-aggressive, constructive methods for releasing stress, anger and frustration;
  • Recognize and be able to control the effect of outside conflict (with spouse, relatives, and child's siblings) on your relationship with your child;
  • Understand contributors to conflict (e.g., not following through with agreements, chores not being done, conflicts between parent-child); and
  • Ability to monitor child's behavior without nagging.

In order to establish and maintain structure, parents must:
  • Believe that providing structure by establishing expectations, monitoring, and disciplining are important to healthy parent-child relationships;
  • Be aware of your expectations of your child and avoid imposing your own tastes and preferences;
  • Understand adolescent development, especially a teen's increased need for autonomy in relation to realistic expectations;
  • Develop and communicate expectations that are clear, specific, consistent, realistic, and fair;
  • Negotiate the amount of structure and the scheduling of teen's out-of-school time;
  • Establish short- and long-term goals for achievement with your child;
  • Negotiate and use joint decision-making and provide rationale for rules;
  • Grant autonomy effectively, teaching values about work, money, planning, and time mangement;
  • Know who your teen is spending time with, their personal interests, and risk-taking behaviors;
  • Help your teen find and participate in structured, monitored activities;
  • Use shared activities that double as monitoring (e.g., completing homework together, "down time" discussions, transporting teens to outside activities, and observing peers);
  • Believe that the purpose of discipline is for teaching and not for punishment or penitence;
  • Establish a set of consequences that are clear, consistent, and/or natural consequences;
  • Negotiate consequences with teen;
  • Depersonalize discipline and talk about behavior without blaming or judging the child's self-worth;
  • Provide praise, privileges and rewards for positive behavior in a consistent manner and with equal or greater frequency than negative reinforcement/punishment;
  • Express confidence in the child's cpapabilities, specifically the child's ability to behave positively; and
  • Publicly affirming and displaying tokens of your child's accomplishments (e.g., hang report card on the refrigerator).

In order to communicate effectively, parents must:
  • Know that there are three components of communication - receiving, understanding, and sending messages;
  • Demonstrate openness by initiating conversations, being availalbe, using welcoming and positive body language, being patient, inviting opinions, and valuing child's feelings; and
  • Be open-minded.


For more Information
Rolleri, L., Bean, S., and Ecker, N. (2006): A Logic Model of Parent-Child Connectedness: Using the Behavior-Determinant-Intervention (BDI) Logic Model to Identify Parent Behaviors necessary for Connectedness with Teen Children. Santa Cruz, CA ETR Associates.

Photo Credit: FUEL Camera Lady

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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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