Why Your Teen May Not Want a Hug, But They Still Want You
Finding ways to show affection to your son or daughter at that age is certainly no walk in the park, but it is possible to do so, establishing a connection that will work towards not only a better relationship, but also a better future for them.
Laura Joyce, LICSW at Simplified Life Therapy in Boston, knows all too well the struggle parents go through with teenagers. Not only does she deal with it on a daily basis through her practice, but she also has a 15-year-old foster child with whom she is currently navigating such tricky waters.
Forging a line of affection to your teenager starts with simply understanding where they're coming from; after all, teenage years are quite far in the past for most parents and they may forget what it was like.
It's a time when puberty is creeping in and besides the physical changes, there's a sense of independence that strikes, a need to assert individuality, though they still know they have to rely on family for things. This line of thought is highlighted in a book Joyce mentioned as a guide to raising teenagers, Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? by Anthony Wolf.
"There's a lot of push and pull," Joyce said. "Their brains are still developing and they don't stop developing until they're 26, so they still need affection and care, but at the same time they're hitting puberty and wanting to develop their own identity separate from the family unit."
For starters, don't worry too much about any negativity that may spew from the mouth of your teenager; don't let it hamper your efforts at a connection.
"There will be some kind of blowout: ‘I don't like you,’ ‘I hate you,’ and it's tough for parents to hear that," Joyce said, "but they don't actually mean that. That's them saying, ‘I need my space,’ and ‘I'm learning to be who I am on my own.’"
Take note of what Joyce refers to as your child's "love language," the type of affection to which they most respond. Pioneered by author, marriage counselor and syndicated radio host Gary Chapman, such displays of affection may fall under categories like "Words of Affirmation,” "Quality Time" or "Physical Touch."
"Knowing your teenager's love language will give you a better sense of how to go about things. They may perceive physical affection as love and care, or maybe just saying nice things as a way to show love."
Complimenting a child is a common way to connect with them, acknowledging their efforts and successes. However, parents shouldn't get too carried away.
"I hear a lot of parents telling their kids everything they do is good," Joyce said. “‘It's good you got up today,’ ‘I'm proud you ate a good breakfast,’ ‘I'm glad you did this, I'm glad you did that.’ At this point, teenagers see through things like that. Parents may be trying to boost their child's confidence, but teenagers need genuine compliments or they'll start disregarding what you're saying."
Another key: Strive to build a connection with your child away from the eyes of others.
"In front of friends or siblings is not the best time," Joyce said. "Time driving in the car or right before bed — quiet times — are when you can have more meaningful talks."
At a time in which teenagers are attempting to be more grown up, it's a good idea to treat them as adults to a certain extent. This can be as simple as taking them out for coffee or to get their nails done. Joyce said it's in these situations that parents are more likely to connect with their child, because the child feels like what they're doing is cool.
Technology is a huge part of children’s worlds today and also a great way to connect with your child. This doesn't mean you have to start sending your child messages on Facebook (an act that may be frowned upon), but rather examine how tech can benefit your relationship in other ways.
"One of the things I'll do sometimes is send a $5 Dunkin gift card via his phone, with a message like, ‘Hey, great job at hockey today!’’ Joyce said. "It's a random way to show appreciation, and from afar."
Through everything, the rebuffed affection, the I-can't-stand-yous and the looks of annoyance, Joyce said the most important thing is to not ignore or write it off; simply showing up, being there and making an effort will go a long way, even if you may feel like it isn't.
"If you're not connecting with your child that's when you're going to run into problems, because they'll start looking for connections elsewhere,” Joyce said. “Oftentimes they look to peers, which can be good, but can also be them going to people with the wrong information or the wrong way of doing things. Connecting with your child avoids negativity; smoking, unsafe sex, drugs, alcohol. The more you connect with your child, the more you know what's going on and are there for him, you're helping them become a successful adult."