Contributed by: Lauren Moore, MSW, LCSWA
Communicating with your teenager can often feel like a frustrating task. As a therapist, I often point parents towards a great resource called “The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers” by Dr. Gary Chapman to help parents better understand how to express love to their children. Dr. Chapman, a North Carolina native, has several books surrounding his concept of love languages- the way we express and receive love with one another. In his books, Dr. Chapman describes the 5 primary love languages: Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Quality Time, Acts of Service, and Gifts. If you are interested in finding out which love language you or your teenager utilizes, check out Dr. Chapman’s quizzes on his website. As we explore each love language, keep in mind it is possible to prefer one to two love languages, and they may change over time. It is always recommended to get creative and try different ones with your teen to see what they respond to best!
Words of Affirmation
Words of affirmation involves specific and positive praise or words of affection. If your child prefers to receive love through words of affirmation, they may like to hear you say “you are an awesome kid” or “I love you” throughout the week. Dr. Chapman also recommends trying to use this love language in the presence of others if possible. Keep in mind, if words of affirmation is your child’s primary love language, negative words may also greatly impact them.
Physical touch is a love language involving age-, time-, and place-appropriate touch between an adolescent and parent. Examples of physical touch include a hug, fist bump, high five, and more. It is important to respect your child’s boundaries and to pay attention to their body language. When you are trying to express love to a teenager who prefers physical touch, look for open body language and always respect their right to move away or decline physical touch.
Quality time is a period of time in which you commit to being emotionally present with your teenager. While the activity you choose to complete with them can increase the expression of love, it is more important to focus on the conversation and your relationship when using this love language. Common examples of quality time include going on a walk together, playing a board game, or shopping.
Acts of Service
According to Dr. Chapman, routine, everyday acts of service that parents perform can positively impact their adolescent as expressions of love. Parents, here is your opportunity to lean into some creativity! Try teaching your teenager how to cook, help them create flash cards for school, surprise them with their favorite breakfast, or offer to help them with a chore when you notice they are stressed. Acts of service along with quality time can be utilized to develop interests further and focus on your child’s needs.
The final love language Dr. Chapman teaches us about is gifts. Dr. Chapman recommends utilizing gift giving to create a ceremonious moment. He suggests wrapping the present and remaining mindful as you give the gift to your child. This is often accompanied with other love languages such as physical touch and/or words of affirmation. Gifts do not need to be expensive and they can be gifts that you and your teenager give to someone else together.
Now that you have a basic understanding of each love language, start to experiment with your adolescent. Try taking this quiz together and see if you can come up with different ideas for each other. Don’t forget to continue to be patient and mindful of their boundaries, and have fun together!
Chapman, Gary D. The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers: The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively. Northfield Publishing, 2016.