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10 Simple Things You Can Say To Your Teen To Make Them Feel Loved

While tickles and tandem slide rides might be the love language of toddlers, try and see how well those go over with a moody teen. But just when you thought cold, hard cash was the only way to your teen’s heart, it turns out that showing them you care is a lot easier than you think.

According to Melanie McNally, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, brain coach, and author of The Emotionally Intelligent Teen, “Parents often think they need to do something huge to show their teen they care, but really, it’s the small moments that their teen notices.”

To put parents on the right path, she shared a few everyday examples of these gestures.

Teens Know You Care When…

  • you put down your phone to listen. It could be as simple as leaning in for a silly story about what the science teacher said to the student who burped loudly during the exam, but this shows you’re interested in what happens in your teen’s day.
  • you pay attention to what they like. When you turn up the radio and poorly sing along with Taylor Swift as you’re driving your teen to their friend’s house, it shows you notice the things they enjoy (bonus points if you’ve paid attention enough to know the lyrics).
  • you ask thoughtful questions. These questions could be about something your teen enjoys, their thoughts on current events, or the memory of a randomly small and insignificant detail about their life. This shows you care about your teen’s thoughts, feelings, and actions.

What Teens Don’t Need

In truth, spending money on your teen can be a way to show them love, especially when spent on something they really need or that supports their goals or interests — maybe it’s clothing for the new school year, braces to boost their confidence, or sports or art supplies. However, cash doesn’t equate to love.

“Parents don’t need to spend money or buy fancy gifts to show their teen they love them. In fact, that sometimes does the opposite. Teens would rather have their parents rewatch an episode of Gilmore Girls or take their time as they run errands together than have money or presents thrown at them,” says McNally.

If finances are limited, or there’s a “want” that requires budgeting, it’s natural for teens (and children in general) to feel disappointed at the lack of instant gratification. But sitting down to listen to why a given desire is important to them and to plan out the details of how and when/if it can be attained is a great way to show that you truly care — versus replying with a dismissive no.

How to Show Love Like a Pro

“When working with teens, my approach to showing them I care is pretty simple. I listen, I give space, and I get curious,” says McNally. And parents can use this straightforward method at home pretty easily. Here’s how:

  • Make eye contact to show you are giving them your undivided attention.
  • Nod or use facial expressions that encourage them to keep sharing.
  • Give space by pausing, allowing them to expand.
  • Show curiosity or a desire to learn by asking them open-ended questions.
  • Remain non-judgemental.
  • Educate yourself privately (or with them, if they’re comfortable) so you can contribute to any follow-up conversations.

A Few Phrases That Can Make Your Teen Feel Loved

Any parent of a teen can tell you that showing them your love can, at times, feel intimidating. It may seem like they’ve sprouted into an adult overnight, perhaps one that hardly resembles the little kid you once knew. To help you along, try these prompts:

  • Your hair/outfit looks great today.
  • Thanks for helping your little brother get ready this morning. I really appreciate it.
  • What do you feel like having for dinner tonight?
  • Do you need a ride to school today, or would you rather walk/take the bus?
  • Your teacher emailed me to tell me you aced your math test. That’s awesome. Let’s come up with a way to celebrate.
  • Remember that [blank] you wanted? We’ve reached our savings goal, so let’s go shopping/I haven’t forgotten. But feel free to check in anytime on how the budget is coming along.
  • Hey, if you’re not busy tonight, want to bake your favorite dessert/watch your favorite show together?
  • What do you feel like doing this weekend? I was thinking of going on a hike/to the beach together.
  • How is your friend doing? You mentioned she was having a hard time.
  • I’m really proud of you for achieving [blank].

These phrases and questions can help break the ice (without your teen recoiling in disgust or embarrassment) — and likely uncover the child you’ve always known, allowing you to build a stronger relationship.

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