In March of 2020, I knew the names of a lot of my neighbors. We’d lived in our house for over 4 years, and we’d always walked a lot around our neighborhood. We have the kind of neighborhood where a lot of people sit on their front porch or stop us to ask if the boys would like to pet their dog. So, we probably knew the names of a few people on every street- in a casual, hello and goodbye sort of way.
I knew the names of my immediate neighbors but rarely saw them for more than a few minutes at a time.
And then suddenly, we were home. And all we had to do was walk. As a consequence, we were always outside, and very often, if we weren’t walking, we were camped out in our garage or on our driveway.
If anyone appeared in our alleyway for any reason, we were ready with enthusiastic hellos and nothing but time.
It didn’t happen overnight.
But in a long series of waves and hellos, we made friends. They brought their vacation pictures from 20 years ago to show us the time they were in Rome. We traded halves of cakes, loaves of bread, and cups of sugar.
We watched the people on our street change and new people arrived. There we were with baked goods and enthusiastic hellos, and more to the point, availability.
We don’t know everyone the same, but our relationships are deeper. More meaningful. More connected.
Somewhere in the middle, people went back to the office or back to restaurants and stores, but they also started coming over and cracking the front door to call in when they knew we were home. People who have little in common with us except for location became friends.
I tell you this story to say this:
You may feel like you have nothing in common with teens. Like they don’t want you around or don’t want to talk. But the number one quality that will draw them in and keep them coming back is availability.
Your un-pressured, unhurried, undivided presence.
It may seem impossible for any number of reasons. But if you build it, they will come.
Make tea, grab a book, and wait where they will be, ready with an enthusiastic hello and nothing but time.
Our CEO, Chris Robey, was talking about tech breaks recently. One day, he was walking into a support group he was leading when he realized he had left his phone in his car by accident. He usually set his phone to “do not disturb”. However, he found that he was more present and a better listener without it. He wasn’t wondering whether he needed to answer a text or how much time they had left. In short, he was more available, physically and mentally.
After that group, he started leaving his phone on purpose. If it’s as easy as removing the distraction, why not?
A huge part of availability is removing distractions and showing up!
Here are a few tips for setting the stage:
- Set aside time every day that you aren’t looking at your phone.
- Don’t take it personally if it seems like they don’t have time or don’t care. It definitely matters to them, but sometimes, at the moment, they don’t recognize it.
- Be wherever your teen will find you. Pick a common area where you can read a book, fold laundry, do a crossword puzzle, or do anything else that doesn’t require a screen. If you aren’t present, it’s harder to be available. As a bonus, slowing down sets a great example and is good for your mental health.
- Create opportunity. Invite your teen to do something they enjoy regularly. Ask them for help with something you don’t know how to do. Ask them to go for a walk around the block. If you continue to seek them out, they are more likely to do the same.
- Be emotionally present. When appropriate, talk about your feelings and ask them about theirs. Get curious about what makes them tick.
- Be shock-proof no matter what. You might not get a second chance if they don’t feel like they can trust you with hard things.
If you haven’t been readily available before now, creating trust will take time. But trust me, if you stay consistent, they will come.
Consider the time you spend now on availability an investment in your relationship. Over the long term, the payoff is most likely better than you expect it will be!