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Set For Life

Connecting with your kids today prepares them for what's ahead
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I know when my 12-year-old daughter, Lexi, finally falls asleep at night—her mouth stops moving! She's been a chatterbox since birth and sometimes, out of sheer self-preservation, I tune out. But she's on to my game. Just as I'm about to disappear into my imaginary bath of Calgon, I hear her voice bursting through my fantasy:

"Mom, what did I just say?"

Usually, I have to admit that I don't know. I'm sure a lot of you moms out there can identify with me. When I speak to teen girls in one of my workshops, I often ask what they most want to change in their moms. Nearly every time someone raises her hand and says, "Like, she sometimes isn't very focused when she talks to me. I wish she would, like, not wash the dishes or totally stop taking out the trash when I'm talking and, like, well, really, totally look me in the eyes and, like, listen!"

Right about then I start feeling, like, really totally guilty.

The Importance of Connectedness

The world of social science calls the ability to be fully engaged in your child's life "connectedness." And it's a vital ingredient in raising healthy kids. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that found teens who felt loved and connected to their parents had significantly lower incidence of pregnancy, drug use, violence, and suicide. Another study points to the fact that teens in families with "traditions" are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as violence, substance abuse, and unhealthy relationships. In other words, when children feel connected to their parents, they aren't as likely to look for fulfillment in destructive habits and people.

These studies provide some motivating data, but "connecting" or creating traditions can often seem like just one more entry on an already packed parenting "to do" list. So here's the good news: Being connected with your child provides a lot of bang for the buck. With just a little effort invested throughout childhood, you and your child can reap dramatic risk-reducing results in the teenage years.

For example, my husband takes our 14-year-old out for wings and guy talk nearly every Thursday night. Christmas day isn't complete without the annual unveiling of some gourmet wing sauce such as "Texas Butt Burner!" The wings are their tradition—their special dad/son connection. As I've spoken about traditions at my mother/daughter events these are some ideas I've loved:

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