As my oldest son enters the teen years, a whole new phase of parenting is upon me. I can no longer just snuggle a bad day away, he is spending more time away from home, and our conversations are often reduced to a series of grunts. How do I continue to connect with him? How can I influence his moral choices when he spends so much time with his peers? And how can I be sure that he will come to me or my husband with his struggles, his fears, and his joys?
In his book, The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers: The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively, Dr. Gary Chapman reminds his readers that, even as teens embrace their individuality, our parenting still remains rooted in the simplicity of just loving them. Dr. Chapman’s book is packed with practical ideas and suggestions for maintaining a loving and open relationship with your teen. Here is a list of the five love languages addressed in the book and some ideas for speaking them to your teen:
Words of Affirmation
I’m trying to remember to praise my teen for the things he does well, tell him I love him (in private is best), and affirm his good actions in front of other family members. I may not get much of a response from him at the time, but I can sense that he is pleased to hear that I liked the way he did something, that I am proud of him, and that I love him.
While I am certain my son does not want me to hug him in front of his friends, he is usually happy to give me a hug before bed. When I check in with him while doing homework, I try to encourage him with a pat on the back. It is especially important for teenage girls to receive physical affection from their fathers, and for teenage boys to receive physical affection from their mothers. This will help fulfill a need for affirmation as their bodies rapidly change — a need that they will then hopefully not seek to fulfill in inappropriate ways elsewhere.
It is important that I am truly present to my son when he is around me. I try to drop everything, look him in the eye, and listen when he talks to me. If I don’t act interested in what he has to say, it will only discourage him from opening up to me. I try to acknowledge his feelings and perspective, and offer my guidance by first asking, “Would it be okay if I share with you what I think?” My son is then much more likely to listen to me and consider my perspective. Make quality time with your teen by doing activities together that he or she chooses. Even something as simple as going out for a quick slice of pizza after school with your teen while someone else watches younger siblings will remind him that he is an important part of your life.
Acts of Service
Acts of service evolve as our teens get older. Instead of tying their shoes for them, they need us to take the time to teach them to do their own laundry. Instead of driving them everywhere, they need us to teach them how to drive or change the oil in their car. They need the gift of our time and our thoughtfulness. These are gifts to be freely and cheerfully given — not tools for manipulation. Doing one of my son’s chores on a night when he is loaded down with homework doesn’t give me the right to later deny him something else. There are times to teach responsibility in the proper way, but our teens also need times when we are simply loving them through the gift of ourselves.
My 13-year-old suddenly became quite animated one afternoon when he saw that I bought a package of his favorite cookies for him. Gifts are meant to convey I love you. They are something which is good for them, and something they can truly appreciate. They are not meant to replace our time and attention, but they can be another very effective way to convey our love. Dr. Chapman recommends giving gifts with some ceremony. Wrap up a new pair of basketball shoes and present them to your teen with a note affirming his work ethic. Dr. Chapman also provides guidance for speaking this love language without encouraging materialism. When used appropriately, this love language can really lift your teen’s spirits. And after all, doesn’t God surprise us with His gifts more often than we deserve?
Dr. Chapman’s book is already helping me to feel more connected to my teen, and to understand him better. Most importantly, it has reminded me that what our teens need most is to feel our love. No amount of discipline or lessons in responsibility will be effective unless our teens are convinced that we love them and truly want what is best for them.
Copyright 2018 Charisse Tierney