Each February, after we get over the excitement of a weather-predicting rodent, the world becomes full of pink and red hearts and silly bow-and-arrow-carrying cherubs. It is natural around this time to think about ways to let our loved ones know how we feel. Though teenagers sometimes act as though they don’t want to give or receive love, they do. Here are some ways we can remind them we love them, year round.
Write a note
Old-fashioned pen and paper notes are still a valuable way to communicate. A note can convey love, affection, admiration, express an apology, or simply say “I’m thinking about you.” While younger kids may enjoy lunchbox notes, you might want to leave your note someplace only your teen will see, such as on their bed or bathroom counter.
Send them a link, message or text about something they are interested in
By the time they are teens, most kids are proficient in the use of technology. They may have a phone or access to a family computer with email and possibly social media. It is inevitable that at some point you will come across something that reminds you of your child. Send them a link, or a message to let them know. Even if it is something goofy (and guaranteed to get an eye-roll), it shows you are thinking of them, and who of us doesn’t like that?
Invite them to do something with just you
Parents of multiple kids often make one-on-one time with each child when they are small. Many teens will shun such parent-child “dates,” but one could argue that they need this quality time even more now. This can take the form of visiting a museum, participating in an activity (going bowling or to the batting cages, maybe) or sometimes simply running errands together. It likely won’t happen with the regularity it did when they were young, but will go further to forge a strong bond than ever before.
Revive an inside joke
Most small children do something silly at some point and when parents react, they tend to repeat the action. Sometimes it is the parent that has done something silly. Maybe in the past you had a secret handshake or a made up language. Remind your teen of this and if you get a positive response, use it as a secret code to remind each other of your bond.
Let them catch you being sentimental
We tend to hide those moments when we are going through old photos and remember how small our children were or how much we miss family members who are gone. Many parents are reluctant to let their children see their emotions, but doing so shows them that these feelings are not something to hide from. We all have certain triggers that evoke memories, both good and bad. Allowing our children to see us in a vulnerable state shows them that no one is strong all the time and gives them permission to allow their feelings to surface as well.
Ask their advice
One of the most challenging moments in parenting is when you realize that your kids know more about some things than you do. It is humbling to admit that you are no longer the all-knowing expert on everything. Equally frustrating is being forced to admit that sometimes they look at things through a different lens. Although their opinions may differ from yours, theirs are no less valid. Ask them what they think and why. And listen.
Ask them to teach you something
It is rare that our kids share all the same interests and hobbies that we do. Once they enter school, they are exposed to other people and activities and branch out, learning and exploring new things. Ask them about these new interests. Have them explain how they work and what the rules are.
Go to their events
If they play sports, attend at least some of the games. If they play music or sing, go to their concert. If they are into theater, attend the shows. Know that your presence will be noted and that they will be likely to celebrate successes with their teammates/fellow performers afterwards. (Do not take offense at this.)
Grant permission before it’s asked
There are times as parents that we know a request is coming. There is a special event that is scheduled to go past curfew or a group is trying to decide what to do before the big dance. Don’t wait until they ask. Suggest that curfew can be extended or ask if they want to host a small gathering of friends.
Do one of their chores
We all have days where the to-do list becomes challenging. Some weeks, like the one dedicated to midterm or final exams, are particularly stressful for teens. Take some of the pressure away and surprise them with the gift of one less thing to do.
Give them control of the remote/radio dial
While there are some TV shows and music that multiple generations can agree on, this is not usually the case. Every now and then, relinquish control and let your teen pick. You might be surprised and end up liking it yourself and then have something else you can talk about.
Tell them you are proud of them/in awe of them
On multiple occasions, I have felt the physical symptoms of pride: the heart-jumping-out-of-my-chest feeling when one of my kids has done something amazing. This could be anything from nailing a solo on stage to just being a good person. All too often I have let the feeling go without sharing it with them. When our children do great things, we should acknowledge it.
Find non-embarrassing methods of physical affection
While there will still be times that a hug is accepted or even welcome, physical displays of affection are often rebuffed in the teen years. Shoulder hugs, back scratches, or playful hip checks can provide essential human contact without being suffocating. It is too easy to let teen attitude get in the way of showing affection. Think of it as something they need, whether they like it or not.
Request a hug
If you need a hug, ask for one. If it looks like they need a hug, ask for one. Many teens will not request this interaction, even if they desperately need it. Few, however, will refuse to give a hug when requested sincerely. I remember when I was a teen, my mom read that people need a certain number of hugs a day to stay healthy. The exact number didn’t stay with me, but the concept did: physical contact is necessary. It is also good to remember that sometimes we most need a hug when we least deserve one.
Just say it
Choose your time and place carefully (some teens don’t want to hear it when their friends are around or out in public) but let the words slip off your tongue. They may roll their eyes and groan, but everyone likes to hear the words, “I love you.” If you’re lucky, you may even get to hear it back.