Blogpost was written by Anna Robbins, the coordinator for the C.A.R.E. Coalition of Transylvania County, a local organization that strives to create a healthy, vibrant Transylvania County, free of underage drinking and substance use.

It seems like so often when I turn on the TV there is a commercial about eating dinner together as a family, phone- free. Maybe you have noticed this too. In the past five years alone, I have seen commercials, articles, social media posts, and more all with the same message centered around the importance of this very thing. Organizations such as The Family Dinner Project, have dedicated their entire mission to the cause of helping families have meaningful meals together. Why would an organization spend so much time dedicated to the simple idea of families eating meals together? The idea comes from the result of eating meals together: connectedness.

Connectedness: We all need it

The idea of connectedness can be complex, but in simple terms, refers to feelings of being cared for, supported, and having a sense of belonging (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). In other words, it’s something we all need and crave. Especially in 2020!
We have seen tips and tricks to best takes care of ourselves that include healthy diets and exercise routines. But- did you know that being socially connected to others is also an indicator of good health? Genuine connection with others improves our social, emotional, and physical wellbeing. It is good for you. In fact, it is so good for you that a study from Stanford University (Connectedness & Health: The Science of Social Connection, 2014) found that a lack of social connectedness is worse for you than obesity, smoking, AND high blood pressure. Yikes!

Get this – studies are also showing that social connection is so important that is becoming a huge part of a prescribed treatment for patients with chronic disease!

Connectedness and Youth

Now that we know what connectedness is and how it can benefit our health, I want to talk the other benefits. While connectedness is important no matter your age, I want to talk about the importance of connectedness and youth specifically. If you are the parent or caregiver (or soon to be) – first of all: kudos to you, and second: if you find connecting with your kid to be a challenge, this is for you!
Kids can feel connected from several sources, including friends, school, and family or other important people and organizations in their lives. However, the primary source of connection that kids feel comes from parents and caregivers. Meaning, if you are the parent or caregiver of a child, teen, or young adult, you have a huge impact in their life!

Kids who experience strong feelings of connectedness experience the same benefits to their health and well-being that we talked about earlier. Did you know that connectedness can also prevent disease, mental health problems, and other risky behaviors? According to the CDC, kids who feel connected at school and home are less likely to experience negative health outcomes related to sexual risk, substance use, violence, and mental health. Crazy, right?

Here’s a graphic from the CDC explaining this concept:

At the C.A.R.E. Coalition, we focus on substance use prevention in youth, and one of our strategies is always centered around parent/caregiver connectivity. We know that this truly starts at home and you, are the #1 prevention strategy when it comes to substance use and your kids.

How to Connect

So where do we start? Connecting with your kid may already be easy for you, and if so, congrats! However, for most this is not something that is considered easy to do. If you happen to fall into this category and connecting with the kid or kids in your life is a challenge, don’t worry! You are not alone and there are tons of resources out there to help you. First let’s take a look at the The Child Mind Institute’s list of 9 ways to regularly connect with your teen:

1. Listen
2. Validate their feelings
3. Show trust
4. Don’t be a dictator (Give them choices where you can)
5. Give praise for good habits (5x more than correcting behaviors)
6. Control your emotions
7. Do things together
8. Share regular meals (here’s another tip directed at eating meals together like I mentioned earlier!)
9. Be observant

Of course, this is not an all-encompassing list, and it also isn’t a check list! You won’t use all of these at one time and some may be better depending on the day. I think it does give a good place to start! Let’s break of few of these down and what they might look like in your household.

Listen

As simple as this one may seem, sometimes I know that I spend more time talking than listening – and I mean actively listening and trying to understand where the other person is coming from and how they are feeling. Taking time to listen can be hard, and with the ever-looming effects of technology on our relationships, it’s one you have to be intentional about doing. If you ask your teen a question, take the time to fully listen to their response! You never know what kind of conversation me stem from them feeling heard. This may also include validating their feelings and not making them feel judged for them.

Control your Emotions

This one is tough. Especially when you are talking about things with your teens that you feel are important and they are not taking it seriously – or the other way around! If you need to stop the conversation and take a break, that’s ok! A calm response will ultimately improve the connection.

Do things together

Spend time together. Watch a movie. Go on a walk. Play a game. The list goes on and on. Remember, talking isn’t the only way to communicate! As quoted in the article: “It’s important for kids to know that they can be in proximity to you, and share positive experiences, without having to worry that you will pop intrusive questions or call them on the carpet for something.”

Be Observant

Lastly, be observant. Teens change frequently and it is important to notice those changes and change the way you communicate if necessary. This can also be important in matters of mental health and substance use. You will be the first to notice a change in their behavior. This can be your window to start up an open-window of communication that could help them feel supported in a tough time – or if needed, may be the first step in getting them necessary help.

Which one of these tips can you use today to start connecting with your kids?

If you want more tips and tricks on connecting with teens, visit these sites below:

https://www.familyeducation.com/life/10-simple-ways-connect-your-teen

Sources:
https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/youth-connectedness-important-protective-factor-for-health-well-being.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6125010/

To learn more about the C.A.R.E. Coalition, click here.