What to do if your teenager doesn't want to spend time with you

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Aug 26, 2014

Photo by Al Lafolie.

In celebration of the release of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, stickyfaith.org is hosting a “Blog Tour” to share some of the book’s research highlights and practical ideas. This story begins chapter 5: “Connecting: Finding Ways to Relate to Your Teenager.”

“What if my teenager doesn’t want to spend time with me?”

It’s a common question, one our team is asked almost every time we share the secrets of Sticky Faith families.

My favorite answer is to share the story of Nora, a mom who has used our research to bridge the divide with her son. Seventeen-year-old Sam walled himself off from Nora and the rest of the family eighteen months ago. The only time Sam leaves his room is when he’s hungry (which, luckily for Nora, is often). But when she tries to start up a conversation while Sam’s standing in front of the refrigerator or the microwave, she’s greeted with one-syllable answers: “Fine,” “Nope,” or “Uh-uh.”

Longing for a deeper relationship, Nora has tried to connect with Sam. But every time she offers to take him out for a meal or do something fun, he refuses. He’d rather shut himself in his room and go online or play video games than be with her.

But Sam does love going to movies.

So Nora has become a student of film. She tracks movie release dates, visits movie websites, and has learned the nuances of various directors and actors.

The only time Sam says yes to Nora’s invitations to do something with her is when she asks Sam to a movie. On the way to the movie, the two of them discuss what they know about the film and what they hope it will be like. Driving home, they evaluate the movie and share their favorite scenes. At times Sam even opens up about connections he sees between the film and his own experiences. The roundtrip conversation is Nora’s best window into her son’s life and heart.

Because of this, Nora tries to pick theaters that are far away, so they have more time in the car together.

She also tries to suggest movies that have a spiritual flavor. Hints of spiritual growth in the films’ characters occasionally prompt Sam to talk about his spiritual journey—at least for a few sentences.

Nora doesn’t really like movies all that much, but she likes her son. As with the majority of the Sticky Faith parents we interviewed, Nora is willing to leave the well-worn path of her own comfort and preferences to journey with her teenager.

How do you try to connect with your kids’ interests?

Discover the Sticky Faith Guide for Parents

Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the chief of leadership formation and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women to Watch," Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara has authored or coauthored numerous books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Growing With, Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and the entire Sticky Faith series. Kara and her husband, Dave, are regularly inspired by the learning and laughter that comes from their three teenage and young adult children.

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