From the day that darling little bundle was placed in your arms; nothing could have prepared you for the complexities of ADOLESCENCE! The joys and challenges that often come with raising teenagers is nothing short of a wild roller-coaster ride. From the extreme highs to the lowest of lows; we (parents & caregivers) often feel inadequate to handle the emotional, social, and physical difficulties that face our teenagers today. My husband and I were just such parents! With 11 children of all ages and abilities, the “Teen Years” were unarguably some of our greatest trials. Through this article, I hope to share our struggles and triumphs in such a way; that they might assist you on your journey in strengthening your connection or reconnecting with your adolescent son or daughter. One of the most effective strategies I have found to accomplish this objective, is through their Love Language.
What is a LOVE Language?
Author, Gary Chapman, Ph.D. is the Love Language guru of our time. Since 1992 Doctor Chapman has written several books dedicated to strengthening and healing our most important relationships. Love begins (or should begin) at home where our first connections are established. Many of us have our own thoughts and ideas about how to rear responsible, respectful and loving children. However, if you are like me…parenting does not always go as planned. In fact, in my experience; it rarely goes as planned! I found myself so focused on why we should meet the end goal (rearing responsible, respectful, and loving children) that I forgot how to get there; that’s when I discovered Dr. Chapman’s book of the Five Love Languages for teens.
There are five primary love languages that can be used to fill our teens “Love Tank”. They are: Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Quality Time, Acts of Service, and Gifts. Definitions of each of these are as follows:
Words of affirmation:
Using words or language that builds confidence and compliment our teen. This can be done through a variety of ways such as: verbal communication, letters of appreciation, a lunch box note, a note on the mirror, etc. You know your teen the best! Reach them through things that interest them. Mark Twain once said,
“I can live for two months on a good compliment.”
Speaking kind words about your teen in front of others will do wonders to bolster their self-esteem.
Timing is everything! Teens are different than children and public display of affection may not be as welcomed as it once was. Physical touch for teens can be tricky; you have to know where, when and how to touch your young adults that allows them to feel the emotional support you are offering.
For example, one of our foster daughters was sexually assaulted. This was a horrifying experience for her. Her primary Love Language was physical touch. However, when this tragedy took place, she was so fearful of anyone touching her that she would shy away from any form of embrace. She established rigid boundaries that did not allow for physical touch -from anyone- for a long time. It was a difficult emotional process. Over time, she eventually learned that not everyone was going to hurt her. We had to be consciously aware of when and how to touch her, reassuring her that not all touch was bad or painful.
Remember Personal Boundaries
Teens who experience any form of sexual abuse may respond in a similar or negative ways toward physical touch. Be cautious and respect their boundaries while you seek professional support. Knowing when to touch and when not to, takes careful planning and parental/caregiver intuition. Individual successes or personal failures can be acknowledged and augmented through physical touch accompanied by verbal affirmation to further express sincere love, appreciation, and support. Simply remember to respect your teens’ personal boundaries and let them know in every way they are loved and supported.
This one can also be complicated as young adults are moving toward personal independence and time with friends over time with family. Demonstrating love through quality time can be accomplished with careful planning. Find ways to adjust your schedule that includes time with your teen. Quality time should be focused on your teen’s interests such as: dinner out, fun activity, athletic event. Or, simply quiet time for the two of you to talk, play a game, listen to music or enjoy a movie together. Let your teen know during your time together, you are physically and emotionally “there” for them.
Acts of Service:
Parenting itself is a service-oriented occupation (Chapman, 2005). We give all kinds of service to our families on a daily basis; however, this type of service must be distinctive and focused on your teen. Kind Acts of Service; such as completing household responsibilities, helping them study for an exam, or make a favorite meal can send your teen a clear message that they are valued and loved.
Dr. Chapman describes it best when he states,
“Gifts are visible, tangible evidence of emotional love.”
Gifts can encompass all types of things including: money, trips, trinkets and other meaningful things. They should be centered toward your teen and should not be considered “payment for services rendered”. For example “If you do this…… I will give you this”. Deal-making is often used to manipulate specific behaviors from children and teens. This method is fine in other circumstances. However, gifts should be given as a way to express love in a genuine and special way. This demonstrates that you treasure and value your young adult as an individual.
While raising our own children and fostering others; we’ve had some interesting and educational experiences. I will be the first to admit that in the beginning, we were TERRIBLE at figuring this out. (And we still sometimes struggle to this day!) Every young person is different, so please, be patient with yourself and your teen as you learn this new concept. The rewards will be well worth it!
Primary and Secondary Love Languages
Adolescents may fall into more than one category; however, there is typically one primary love language that is most effective in reaching your “tween or young adult”. Dr. Chapman helps parents and caregivers determine your teen’s Love Language through a series of quizzes found in the back of his book “The Five Love Languages of Teenagers”. You can also use this online version if you don’t have access to the book.
Through these simple tests, your teen’s primary love language reveals itself. This will be the most effective way to connect and strengthen your relationship. Subsequent Love Languages will also be discovered (through the same testing) as you view the scoring and is often the next highest category. I actually had a teen that scored very similarly in 3 of the 5 Love Languages, allowing to utilize varying methods to connect to this young adult. In my experience, most teens enjoy finding out their Love Language and learning how this can help them connect with family and friends. These resources are most helpful and will strengthen your relationships as you discover new ways to bond with your teenager.
How Do I Use Love Language to Connect to My Teen?
So, before we get into how to use Love Languages to connect to your teen; let me share how NOT to do it. My 13-year-old son’s primary Love Language is gifts. I was misusing gifts to express love and appreciation toward him (or so I thought) as I continued to give him things as a reward. I was surprised as this did NOT WORK as well as I expected.
After more research for this article, I came to realize I was not presenting gifts to simply show my love to him. Instead, (this is embarrassing to admit) I was using the gift as a bargaining tool. Uuugggghhhhhh!! Let me be clear, this is not the correct way to use this Love Language. Once I began using gift-giving to show I love him correctly, my son blossomed! He has more confidence and assurance in who he is as an individual. As a result, he feels more secure in his place in our family.
Teens and tweens struggle with a menagerie of things from raging hormones and emotions to friend and dating troubles. They need to know and feel that their parent is in their corner. Identifying and utilizing their Love Language to connect with them will be foundational as they learn to connect with others and begin building lasting relationships.
Put it into Practice
We have six adopted children at home and even though their stories and backgrounds are different; all of their love languages include quality time and physical touch. It makes sense to me that a neglected or abused child would want to feel love through tender touches and quality time. Bedtime stories for our kiddos are a must! This is a favorite time of the evening and helps to settle everyone before nodding off to sleep…Yes, this even works for my 18-year-old. We all snuggle on the couch (physical touch) while we read scripture stories and then a fun book (quality time) before saying family prayers. I believe this routine gives each person in our family a sense of belonging and an assurance that they are indeed loved. Depending on the Love Language, there are endless creative ways to demonstrate your love and admiration for your teenager.
Something my 18-year-old enjoys is writing songs. So, we spend quality time (her secondary love language) finding words to write lyrics then she composes the music to her new song on her guitar. Her primary love language is physical touch. She is always looking for “warm hugs” or enjoys snuggling up with mom, dad, or siblings watching a movie. My 13-year-old enjoys working with my husband on our family car or any building/repair project. He has fun learning about the different tools while spending time with his dad. The most important way to connect with your teen is to learn what makes them happy; use that coupled with their Love Language and you’ll make significant deposits in their love bank!
How Does My Teen Respond When I Do (or do not) Use their Love Language?
Love Languages can be a catalyst in creating a needed foundation to bolster relationships with your tween and young adult. It is important to remember that showing love to your teen through your Love Language WILL NOT help them feel love. They may appreciate your efforts; however, ultimately this method will not demonstrate the desired results.
You must reach your teen through their Love Language. Think about it for a minute…if your love language is Acts of Service and your “better half” comes home and gives you a big squeeze, (because his Love Language is physical touch) then goes to sit down and relax…that probably won’t make the cut for a husband-of-the-year award. However, if he came home, gave you a big hug then asked what he could do to help out? That might do the trick right? You get the idea. Tweens and young adults of all ages and abilities want to feel love in a way that makes sense to them.
Cause & Effect
Through Dr. Chapman’s book we learn how to accomplish this and have a little fun on the way there. I can tell you that in our experience; when we use individual Love Languages to reach our teens, they are happier, more responsible, more willing to listen and follow family rules. They had the ability to “widen their window of tolerance” (I spoke about this in my past article here) and everyone is more connected. When you’re strongly connected you feel LOVE, PEACE, CONFIDENCE, JOY, HAPPINESS, and TOLERANCE.
When we do not use Love Language to communicate love to our young people; it will not be noticed at first…but then you will see less tolerance, less connectivity, less confidence in themselves, insecurity, loneliness, angry with self/others, more frustrated, etc. Connecting through Love Languages (in our experience) have built our relationships with our tweens and teens and remaining family members.
Seeing My Teen through New Lenses
Once we were using Love Languages to strengthen our relationships with the tweens and teens in our family; we began to see a great transformation. We recognized that they demonstrated deeper levels of trust, love, and harmony in the home. Now, of course this does not mean that our home is this amazing state of bliss all the time; with six special-needs children we definitely have days where life is just messy (in fact that’s us most days). However, we are seeing a significant positive difference in the attitudes and behaviors of our tweens and teens. This example has trickled down to our younger children and has helped our family become closer.
Parenting is a work in progress and we are learning through trial and error. Honestly, I wish we had understood Dr. Chapman’s Love Languages long before now, as it may have helped us connect more closely with our older adult children. We are blessed to have a very large family and with that there are challenges and extraordinary moments (like most families). Using Champman’s Love Languages helped us see our young adults through new lenses. We are getting to know them on a deeper level and that has been worth any amount of work it took to get there!
Wishing you the best of luck!