If you haven’t read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, I highly recommend the book.
It’s a game changer for relationships in helping couples learn what truly helps the other feel most loved, whether that is words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, gifts, or acts of service.
My hubby and I used to teach the concepts of this book as part of our marriage ministry years ago. It was eye-opening to see how many couples thought they were loving their partner well, only to find they were missing the mark (us included!)
Several years back, I expanded the concept of the love languages and came up with five love languages of parenting from my own perspective.
Understanding the love languages of teenagers
After 28 years of doing the mom thing to three kids (which now includes being a new grandma and mother-in-law), I’ve found these five languages of the heart to be of utmost importance through every age and stage, but especially the volatile teen years.
If you aren’t familiar with the premise, the goal is to speak in your teen’s primary love language. We all express love in different ways, and we also receive it differently, too. When our love languages don’t match up, we can get upset and feel unappreciated.
Knowing the basic languages of love when it comes to your own unique child can help you bridge the gap and get through this challenging time a little easier.
While your teen’s love language may be specific, I believe all teens need a combination of these five love languages.
My Five Love Languages for Parenting Teens
Our teens are a hot mess sometimes. Their world is hijacked by developmental changes and internal struggles, including hormonal surges, body transformation, and shifting emotional states that, for the most part, don’t make sense to them.
They then carry this invisible chaos into a world that feels big and scary while surrounded by a sea of peers who are all in the same boat, trying to find their way. They face various pressures ranging from academics and managing social hierarchies to drugs and social media.
Teens’ frontal lobes are not fully developed, so they lack the cognitive ability to reason and spend more time than not in survival mode, scanning the environment for threats to their blossoming individuality as they seek acceptance and belonging.
As parents, it is tough to meet these challenges, and we struggle to appropriately set boundaries while maintaining open communication–no matter how hard we try to get it right.
When we create a safe space for our teens to speak their minds, bare their hearts, and unburden their souls without judgment—no matter how disjointed or sassy the delivery, it is life-giving. Being fully present as they express themselves, reserving our opinions and judgment, helps them feel seen and heard.
As a family of three, my husband and I intentionally scheduled one-on-one time with each of our kids so they could have quality time away from their siblings to speak freely and have our full attention. When our kids were teens, we also implemented No Consequence Conversations. These were random family meetings we called where our kids could unburden their hearts and share anything without fear of repercussion. We wanted to build trust and connection with them and let them know our love was unconditional and that we were there for them no matter what.
In a world consumed with cancel culture, our kids must know we are their biggest fans and always have their backs. If we can’t encourage our kids when they struggle and falter, who will? This is why encouragement is the fastest way to fill your teen’s emotional love tank.
Fear can strangle parenting and cause us to try and fix everything for our kids. Instead, we must encourage our teens to push through the hard stuff and believe in their ability to overcome whatever life throws at them.
The faster they realize that failure doesn’t exist unless they choose to stop learning from what doesn’t work, the sooner they will rebound from the knockdowns of life.
It is imperative that we encourage our teens to stand in their authentic truth and believe they are good. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. This inner resolve and confidence in their uniqueness becomes a reservoir they’ll learn to count on and take with them everywhere they go.
Sometimes encouragement can be as simple as pointing out our teen’s strengths on the daily. Often it looks like modeling radical self-love in our own life. Always it looks like unconditional love and acceptance for who they are and where they’re at in life, so they begin to believe deeply in the value of their beautiful existence.
Teens especially need to know it’s okay to have flaws and imperfections.
They are trying desperately to fit into whatever ‘gold standard of the day’ is trending in their world, and their behaviors toward us will often be a projection of their fear of not reaching the bar.
When we extend grace to them (and ourselves when we react from our shadowy side), we are giving permission to be perfectly imperfect.
Life is a learning school, after all. Forgiveness sends the message to our teens that we expect them to make poor choices, act wonky, wake up on the nasty side of the bed, and forget all kinds of important things…and all those things are OKAY because they are part of growth and transformation. If our teens feel like they can never do anything right or can’t meet our expectations, it’s defeating and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One of the hardest things I heard from my kids when they got older was how often they felt like they were disappointing me. UGH!
I was never disappointed in ‘them,’ only the behavior. But I wasn’t clear in my communication, so my actions came across as unforgiving. Now I understand their behavior was a normal part of their development. Even my disappointment in that was unhealthy on many levels. My momma heart is still mending from this faux pas.
One of the greatest gifts we can give our teens is to let them know we believe in their ability to know what is right for them.
Affirming their decisions and ideas and choices helps build them up until they learn a better way on their own. If we expect our kids to follow what we think is best and take away their agency, not-so-good things happen.
Expectations are impossible for our kids (or anyone) to meet because we see things through our lens of experience, beliefs, trauma, conditioning, etc. For me, I want my kids to know I believe in them 100000000%. I may not agree with their choice or may worry about their path, but I cannot live their life, nor should I.
This was a huge letting-go experience for me and an avenue for freedom for my family. I still (do my best) not to tell my grown kids what I think unless they ask for my opinion. It’s their life, their choices, their journey, and I want them to believe in themselves, learn the lessons, and follow their inner guide, not mine.
When we celebrate our teens every day for WHO THEY ARE, as is, we are helping to cultivate a deep well of healthy self-esteem within them. Meaning celebrating their true essence of love underneath the many layers and masks they present to the world as they find their way.
The identity they cling to, behaviors they project, and passions they pursue may change by the week or even the hour. Such is the fluid state of this season.
But when we champion their curiosity, celebrate their wins, and bring enthusiasm to their successes and failures, we validate their indelible worth.
Our teens need to feel valued and celebrated by us first because it can be a bumpy road during this stage to find this type of confidence until self-awareness and emotional regulation are integrated—something they desperately need our help in teaching and modeling.
P.S. Are you looking to have a better relationship with your teen? Check out this book, Parenting Teens with Love and Logic: Preparing Adolescents for Responsible Adulthood, by Jim Fay.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
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