|Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the teenage boy in front of you was once a cuddly, affectionate baby. But it’s important to show physical affection to your teenage boy because it can build self-esteem and show your teenager you love him.|
They are often covered in acne, sharp-tongued, sweaty, and always stuffing food into their mouths. They can sleep until noon and may be permanently attached to cell phones, iPods, or video controllers. These charming creatures are teenage boys. As parents, we are always asking where they are going, who they will be with, when they will return, and is their homework done. But what we should really be asking is “when was the last time I gave you a hug?”
“Adolescence is a critical period of identity development,” explains Angela Stern, a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has a private practice in Crofton. “When parents hug their children, they are giving the important message of ‘I love you; I value you.’ This message translates into ‘I am loveable; I am valuable.’ Feeling loveable and valuable is at the core of positive identity and self-esteem.”
“Hugging is good when I feel down,” notes 15-year-old Matt. “It always improves my mood. Hugs at home are great but not so much out in public. That is not cool.”
Adolescence can be an extremely stressful period of development for a variety of reasons. One major source of stress for adolescents is the need to feel accepted by peers. Hugs and nurturing can decrease stress and can automatically make your teenager feel better.
“Some of the negative side effects of puberty, such as acne, can lead to an adolescent’s negative body image,” suggests Stern. “Positive physical contact is a nonverbal way to communicate, ‘Your body is okay and I accept you,’ a message which can provide some relief from fear of rejection. Affection can be a strong source of comfort during a confusing time in life.”
“When we are touched by a loving other, oxytocin is released in our brain. This hormone makes us feel better,” explains Stephanie C. Chupein, M.Ed., LCMFT, a Marriage and Family Therapist who practices in Odenton. “At the same time, stress hormones such as cortisol are decreased with touch. Emotional regulation can develop much easier in children and teens that maintain close relationships.”
Some teens may have difficulty feeling centered and grounded. They may have trouble with relationships. Being “hug-deprived” is a form of emotional abandonment, often stemming from emotionally unavailable parents. Sometimes, even parents feel abandoned from being hug-deprived.
“The adolescent male is under such pressure to turn into a man, and parents are under pressure to raise a man; the American male is socialized to be less affectionate than women and to be less affectionate than men in other cultures,” says Stern. “This societal norm to not touch is even stronger between men, which unfortunately includes between fathers and sons.”
Mark Brandenburg, MA, CPCC, is the author of 25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers and he believes that fathers especially, have a responsibility to touch, hug, and cuddle with their kids.
“Commit to hugging your kids through their teen years,” encourages Brandenburg. “They may not agree with this plan, but keep at it! Let them know that you’d like to hug them, and stay with it through all the rolling eyes and disgusted looks. You can’t make them hug you, but you can let them know you’d like to.”
But if you’re out of the hugging habit, how do you start again? Stern says this question reminds her of a conversation she had with her sister-in-law last summer at their annual family beach vacation.
“I noticed how often my 17-year-old nephew would hug his mother and put his head on her shoulder. I asked my sister-in-law, ‘How do you do it? How do you have such an openly affectionate relationship with your children now that they have grown up?’ She simply said, ‘You start when they are little, and you never stop.'”
But it’s never too late to start. Keep in mind, though, that your teenage son’s need to be loved needs to be balanced with his need to feel autonomous and masculine.
“For fathers and sons, playful rough housing, sports, and pats on the back are a safe place to start,” says Stern. “Moms can do this too. Parents can tousle his hair and drape an arm behind his back. When he is comfortable with this form of affection, try more intimate forms of affection such as hugs and a kiss on the cheek. Ultimately, touch him every day.”
A son’s relationship with his parents is the prototype for how he relates to his family one day.
“I can’t leave the house without a hug and a kiss from both my mom and my dad, even if all my friends are around,” says 15-year-old Nick. “But, I still kind of like it.”
By Lisa Stanley-Smith