**As we wrap up our series on 7 Ways to Connect with Your Teen, we’re talking about how important it is to hug them. If you’ve stayed with me through the whole series, thank you! I pray it has given you some helpful tools to strengthen your relationship with your teens!
“I DON’T WANNA GO TO BED!” he hollered, tearing out of my grasp and throwing himself onto the couch. The more I tried to reason with my little guy, the more he fought me. My simmering anger rose like a thermometer on a hot day at the beach, until, finally, we were both about to explode.
Taking a step back, I turned and whispered a quick prayer. “Lord, help me love this child well in this moment, because otherwise I might kill him!”
Facing him again, I noticed his bright red cheeks and his little hands, balled into fists. His body was rigid, like a scared rabbit ready to bolt. Angry tears pooled behind his squinting eyes, and his forehead crinkled fiercely, his tiny chin tucked in defiance.
Something broke inside me. My heart instantly softened with love for my angry little warrior.
Hands lifted, I slowly moved forward, crouching down on the floor in front of him. He looked at me slant-eyed, wondering just what his momma was up to.
“It’s okay, buddy. I get it,” I whispered softly. “I love you and I don’t want to fight anymore.” I reached out gingerly, stroking his little arm. He grimaced at first, then began to thaw. Leaning in a little closer, I stretched my arms around him, and pulled him into a gentle embrace.
“Remember what we always say? Hugs make the Hulk go away.”
His body remained stiff, but I kept holding onto him. Before long, he melted into me, tiny sobs racking his little body. He didn’t want that hug, but he needed it.
We both did.
As kids reach adolescence, their desire for independence often comes with physical distancing from their parents, not just emotional. They spend more time in their room, isolated from the rest of the family. They no longer want a goodbye kiss as they leave for school in the morning or a hug goodnight when they go to bed. And heaven forbid you try to hug them in front of their friends!
All of this is natural, and parents are wise to respect some of these newfound boundaries. But the truth is, kids need healthy physical contact in their teen years just as much as (if not more than) when they were little! And if they don’t get it from us, they will be even hungrier to find it other places.
God created humans uniquely with the capacity to connect spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. As our children enter the teen years, we must learn to gradually release them in each of these areas, trusting the Lord to provide what they need. To us, it may seem like it happens overnight— one day they are our babies, snuggling with us on the couch; the next day, they are pushing us away and want nothing to do with us.
What’s a parent to do?
My advice? Respect their boundaries… AND fight for your kids! Give them space in all these different areas, but don’t let go. In many ways, I find the physical connection is the key to the others.
Just like with my little Hulk— connecting physically through a hug softened his heart, enabling me to connect with him emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. You have probably seen this same principle play out in marriage. Following a disagreement, the last thing we often feel like doing is embracing our spouse. But if we set aside our feelings and make the effort to reach out, it somehow paves the way for healing and reconciliation.
It’s true… Hugs make the Hulk go away.
The Importance of Hugging at Home
- Hugs at home provide security and assurance of a parent’s love.
- Hugs at home bring comfort, healing, and restoration.
- Hugs at home teach teens to use physical touch in a healthy way.
- Hugs at home leave teens less hungry for hugs elsewhere.
In general, our teens are growing up in a touch-starved environment. I was a very “huggy” teenager; my friends (guys and girls) and I were always hugging each other, sitting in laps, etc. Teachers and Youth Ministers in those days were actually encouraged to hug students (appropriately, of course), as research showed it helped them feel loved and accepted, building confidence in themselves.
However, with the growing sensitivity to our hyper-sexualized culture, most adults—even parents— are reluctant to have any kind of physical contact with students. And with the rise of social media, today’s teens are interacting virtually significantly more than they are in person. Sure, this emotional and mental contact gives them a surge of feeling connected; yet, without the physical connection, they quickly become emotionally drained without even recognizing it.
They feel like they have been with their friends, but the lack of physical interaction leaves them starving for something they don’t even realize they are missing. The COVID pandemic has multiplied this dynamic exponentially. Our teens are starving for physical connection, and fearing it at the same time!
They need us to step in and help meet these needs in a healthy way.
So, what does that look like? Obviously, hugging them is a great way to connect with them physically. But if your teen is resistant to hugs right now, there are other ways you can bond with them through healthy physical touch.
Alternatives to Hugging
When our girls hit their teen years, I would often play with their hair or scratch their back. One of our girls loved to have her arm “tickled” while we were watching a movie. Our boys beg me to scratch their back or massage their shoulders when their muscles are tight (which somehow seems to be ALL THE TIME, lol).
For dads, this may look different. When our boys were younger, Jeff would wrestle with them in the living room after dinner almost every night. Now, they play basketball together, and as they’ve grown up, their games have become more and more physical. This helps them hone their skills, but it also gives them physical interaction with their dad in a healthy way.
Reaching out to your teens in these small ways helps normalize touch and pave the way for more significant interactions. Once they are no longer shrinking away from you, you can be more intentional about hugging them.
Jeff used to tell our girls he needed a hug from them every day, even though he was mostly doing it because he knew they needed it. Now they instigate hugs on their own! I find myself doing the same thing with our boys. Not going to lie— hugging our 13 year old is about as cozy as hugging a porcupine these days! But it’s worth it to keep those emotional lines open.
Let me be clear: I am not saying to totally disregard your teen’s boundaries and preferences. Ultimately, it is theirbody, and we need to be mindful of that.
*Be thoughtful… There’s a time and place for everything! If your goal is ultimately to connect with them emotionally, then embarrassing them in front of their friends probably will not help you accomplish that.
*Be respectful… Respecting their boundaries helps them learn to respect others people’s boundaries. If your child is on the spectrum or has other developmental challenges, this is even more important to keep in mind.
*Be intentional… Ask the Lord to nudge you when they (or their friends) need a hug. Make the most of the opportunities God gives you to connect with them in this way.
The opportunities for “bear hugs” may be few and far between for several years, but in my experience, they usually come back around— especially if we work hard to continually connect with them during these years. Making the effort to love our kids when they least desire it will have dividends far outreaching anything we can imagine in the moment. And connecting with them physically opens the door to connection in so many other ways.
So… go hug your teen!
For more on the importance of physical touch with teens, check out these articles:
If you haven’t yet, you can CLICK HERE FOR A FREE PRINTABLE AND ACTION SHEET to help you put some of these principles into practice, being intentional about connecting with your teen!
For easy reference, here are all the topics we’ve covered in this series:
- Pray with them and for them
- Make time for them
- Learn to listen more than you speak
- Engage in the hard conversations
- Take advantage of their rhythms
- Be the first to say you’re sorry
- Hug them!
If you know someone who might find this series helpful, will you please send them an email link or share this with them on social media? And if you want to talk with other moms about Biblical parenting and faith, come join the conversation in my private FB group!