Emotional intimacy occurs when a teenager feels a parent has “seen into” her true self and accepted what is there. If your teenager anticipates she’s going to meet with disapproval or rejection by Mom or Dad, she will hide that part. For example, if a girl is upset about excess weight gain but has heard her mother made critical remarks about overweight girls, she’s unlikely to bring up the subject for discussion. But when she hides a portion of herself in that way, intimacy cannot occur.
The key to establishing emotional intimacy with your kids is creating an environment where they feel safe about expressing their feelings. Parents who yell a lot, who constantly criticize, who are unpredictable, or who get drunk will have difficulty establishing this emotional intimacy, particularly if they make their kids feel stupid or defensive. Teens with these types of parents naturally assume that exposing deeply personal thoughts and feelings is like asking to get trampled.
So how do you create a safe space? By spending more time with your kids, for one thing. Teens need our presence. When we give our kids time, it powerfully communicates that we love them. When friends, work, or anything else takes too much time away from our kids, they feel less loved. Try to be there for them when they leave for school and come home in the afternoons. Be there for meals and bedtime. Set aside a couple of hours every week that you can devote totally to them with no interruptions. Think of activities you can share, like playing a sport or going to a movie. And the benefits of spending time won’t fall only to your teen. You may find that your own child will turn out to be one of the best companions you could imagine.