Today we are talking about the most powerful tool we have in our relationships with our teenagers….LOVE!
What does love look like in the teen years as opposed to the early childhood years?
Before we start, let's briefly outline the 5 most common means of expressing our love language:
WORDS OF AFFIRMATION
ACTS OF SERVICE
During the early years PHYSICAL TOUCH is the most important love language we have as we breast feed our newborns, cuddle our toddler and carry them in our arms, picking them up when they fall and sitting them on our laps to read stories and plaster their grazed knees. The touch language that is relevant and appropriate when they are small is however not required when they are teens, and so as they mature, we must also be responsive to their ever shifting needs around the love languages we display.
QUALITY TIME is one of the shifts that parents often find the most difficult with teens wanting to spend less time with parents and more and more time with peers or girl/boyfriends. A project at the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State found that although many teenagers are acknowledged for seeking independence from their parents, the shared time they do spend with them is important for teens’ well-being. Researcher Susan McHale said, "Our research shows that, well into the adolescent years, teens continue to spend time with their parents and that this shared time, especially shared time with fathers, has important implications for adolescents' psychological and social adjustment."
WORDS OF AFFIRMATION are critical during the teen years because through the instability of hormones, identity crisis, peer pressures, confusion, relationship anxieties, insecurity, self-doubt etc, our words can make or break the interior world of our teens. We MUST remain consistent that we LOVE them for who they are NOT for what they do or don’t do. They need the stability to know that NO MATTER WHAT THEY DO they are still loved, and in that way they are learning what UNCONDITIONAL LOVE LOOKS LIKE. We must at all times separate who they are with the behaviour that they display ie “I love you, but I don’t like your current behaviour”. Or “I will always love you and that is irrelevant of; how you behave, what you do or however much you disrespect me, BUT I will not always tolerate your behaviour and I will place boundaries around you to make sure you are safe and respectful.”
GIFTS are one of the love languages that vary enormously from family to family, some parents lavishing gifts on their children at every turn but I believe strongly more than ever the teen years are a crucial time for learning value associated with money.
A key tip for raising teens that understand the value of money is to MODEL THE BEHAVIOUR YOU WISH TO SEE IN THEM. Studies have shown that our children do as we do, rather than as we say. They follow our lead and copy our behaviours, from our views on work, how we spend our time to what we spend our money on and how much we spend.
ACTS OF SERVICE can become a tricky one because parents often feel that this stage that their teens should be helping out more around the house and doing more ‘jobs’ - and indeed they should be talking on more responsibility. They should also be learning independence through participating in doing their washing, tidying the garden etc but we must be careful as to the language we use when communicating their roles. Using language such as, “I will drive you to town after you have cleaned your room”, or “Yes I will speak to you but only when you have done the dishes”, is not acts of service offered in love, but with conditions attached.
‘MANIPULATION HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH LOVE AND EVERYTHING TO DO WITH CONTROL. LOVING SERVICE IS AN INTENTIONALLY MOTIVATED DESIRE TO GIVE ONE’S ENERGY TO OTHERS’.
The key in loving our teenagers is to always check our motivation for what we do and how we behave. Are we teaching conditional love or are we loving our teens unconditionally so that they have a stable platform from which to operate no matter what they choose to do?? Will they know that they can come back to us for reassurance once they have failed in an area of their lives? Will they trust our love enough to know they can communicate some bad news, knowing they will still be loved? Are we showing that even though they are behaving in a way we dislike or disapprove of, they always have a place in our hearts and we will always help them find a way through?
TOOLS FOR THE DAY:
Let your teen know that you love them REGARDLESS of how they behave.
Teach them the difference between their behaviour and who they are.
Provide a stable platform where you will not ‘react’ emotionally to their behaviour but rather will discuss openly the boundaries without withdrawing your love.
Separate your needs of love from theirs. You are the parent and they are still the child.
Remember that parenting is hard. No parent ever had it easy and no parent is perfect.
‘One day at a time’ is enough and when it gets particularly tough love them more - they will be blown away by your capacity to forgive and that in itself will change their world!