A lot of parents wonder when their child has become too old to kiss and hug. By time your teen graduates high school you probably don’t kiss them anymore, and might not hug them. This seems to be particularly common between dads and their sons. Dads also often express feeling uncomfortable holding their daughters.
Physical affection is a very important aspect of love. Part of the reason it is really important is because you are building a framework for your child in their older life. Your kid is developing a sense of what they perceive as “normal” for their adult life based on the way things work in your home. If you and your spouse never make physical contact in front of your kids, they are less likely to be affectionate with their future spouse. If you are a divorced parent, and you have your date come home to spend the night, your kids will learn that this is acceptable for them too. You need to be very, very intentional about how, and to whom you show physical affection in front of your kids.
When your child was young, you likely hugged, kissed, held, wrestled with, and tickled them without a thought. Once your child hit puberty, this might have felt awkward. However, if you continue to hug them and kiss them before they leave for school, sit right next to them on the couch, or rub their shoulders from time to time, you will maintain more emotional closeness.
What do you do if you are already pretty far down the path of not touching your adolescent child? What if it’s been two years since you last hugged your son or daughter? How do you overcome this unspoken rule? Start small. Help your teen put their jacket on. Help your teen take their backpack off when they get home. Look for small opportunities where it would be acceptable to make contact. When you feel you won’t be rejected, give a quick side hug, or a squeeze to the shoulders. Even try a high five. Basically, make a purposeful effort to slowly increase the frequency and duration of your physical contact with your teen. At first they might give you a look that says, ‘Are you an alien from Mars, what are you doing?’ Eventually though, most teens warm to attention and affection from their parents. In fact, as hard as this is to believe, most teens crave affection from their parents.
Remember, even if you think your teen no longer knows you exist, they are watching everything you do. Physical touch is one area where you can make a quick impact on how they feel. So, make it your goal today to give physical affection to your kid; they probably want and need it.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT