This post: Want to Make Your Teen Feel Loved? Love Them at Their Worst.
Parenting teenagers can sometimes feel like you’re walking on a tightrope.
Despite our attempts to keep some sense of balance and harmony in our home life, our teen’s unpredictable swinging hormones coupled with their need for growing independence (and our need to maintain some level of parental control) often fuels heated conflict.
One minute it’s smooth sailing and we’re getting along great with our teen, the next we say or do something that sets them off (or vice versa) and the arguing begins.
What makes it particularly hard is that, as parents, we want to make our kids feel loved.
We understand they’re going through a tremendous transition – not only physically, but psychologically and mentally – and we want to be there for them. We want to support and encourage them, be their sounding board and offer them our unconditional love. But, expressing love to a teen who’s closed off, angry, frustrated, unpredictable or even downright disrespectful can be hard, to say the least.
However, that’s exactly when our kids need us to love them the most.
According to a new study, the key to making our kids feel loved is to be persistently warm, even in conflict.
Psychologist John Coffee and his colleagues surveyed more than 150 teenagers (ages 13-16) and their parents for 21 days. Every evening, the parent (typically the mother) received a survey about “warmth” and “conflict” in the relationship with their teen.
Warmth was identified as how much praise, understanding, support and affection was shown to their teen that day; whereas conflict referred to how much anger, frustration and tension existed between them on that given day.
Teens, on the other hand, were simply given one question: “How loved did you feel by your parent today?”
Researchers discovered that most teens generally felt loved at moderate to high levels, but understandably, there were fluctuations over the 21 days. Even when parents and teens rated their relationship as “close” with plenty of respect, understanding and sensitivity, there were still some days in which teens didn’t feel loved at all by their parents.
Interestingly, though, the study found that even on those days when conflict was high, if the parent responded with warmth, compassion and understanding, their child was far more likely to say “they felt loved that day” despite having a combative day with their parents.
“In other words, when parents are warm and affectionate toward their teens, it seems to protect against the cost of conflict,” says Coffee.
According to Coffee and his colleagues, the results of this study help us better understand that emotional experiences can and will influence teens’ coping skills and behavior which can impact their well-being. “ What we do know is that when teens don’t feel loved for long periods of time, they may be at greater risk of depression.”
This study is also an eye-opener for parents.
Daily warmth and affection, even when your not so loveable teenager doesn’t seem deserving, can strengthen your relationship, especially in the face of conflict.
If you want to make your teen feel loved, the next time you argue with them try showing more patience, understanding, warmth and grace.
Offer them a hug when they’re having a bad day, stay calm when they’re not, lower your voice when they’re loud and express empathy even when they’re riled.
You may find a pattern – that exhibiting warmth in the heat of conflict or an argument may have a positive difference in your relationship.
“Parents and teens can find small ways throughout each day to give and receive warmth to nurture the love between them. It’s in these tender moments that love accumulates like a reservoir that you can both dip into to help smooth the edges when those disagreements inevitably happen.”