This was written by Teen Treatment Center's Director of Family Services, Kari Bouldin, MA, LMFT.
One of the questions parents often ask the family therapists at Teen Treatment Center is, “Does my teen know I love him or her?” The turmoil of substance use, behavior issues and changes in relationship transactions leave parents and teens feeling emotionally disconnected, angry at each other and deeply hurt. Teens have often expressed to their family therapist, “I know my parents love me, I just don’t feel it sometimes.” Rebuilding emotional connection and reducing emotional reactivity are two of the goals of family therapy as our team works to restore families at Teen Treatment Center.
Our family therapists refer to a powerful resource to facilitate some of this restoration. Noted author, speaker and relationship counselor Dr. Gary Chapman has co-authored a series of books entitled The 5 Love Languages. This has been expanded to children, couples, men, women and yes, teenagers. These books are written to address creating a strong emotional connection by teaching the reader to recognize and “speak” the love language of their family members. If you have not had the opportunity to read these books, the premise is: we each have a primary love language that, when spoken in our intimate relationships, helps us feel loved and promotes reciprocity of speaking the love language of our loved ones. The five love languages all matter to each person, and are ranked in importance to the individual.
The book The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers is a valuable resource the family program promotes as part of rebuilding and healing the emotional connection between caregivers and teens. The family therapists strongly encourage the use of love languages as part of behavior change strategies. This allows us to encourage and focus on positive behaviors rather than negative ones.
Teens need to receive love from their parents/caregivers in all five love languages. Although the teen years typically represent the strongest push for autonomy, freedom and independence, teens still need and desire parental/caregiver connection. Teens have a strong need for acceptance and need to hear it even when their behavior is not approved of. Nurture is another important need, and teens can send strong, mixed messages regarding their desire to be treated and viewed as being grown up. They will seek this nurturance often in times of distress and when they feel unsure of themselves. When any or all of these needs (connection, acceptance and nurture) go unmet, teens seek them through unhealthy and high risk activities, or act out in an attempt to communicate the unmet need.
Discovering your teens love language isn’t quite as mysterious as it may sound. They may have been communicating their love language to you and you weren’t sure what you were seeing at the time. Think back to positive, loving interactions between you and your teen:
- Does your teen compliment, affirm, praise, “cheerlead” or promote positive attributes in you or others in the family? Are they devastated by negative or condemning words of others? This teen may be a Words of Affirmation person.
- Was your teen a hugger, cuddler and loving touch type child? If so, this is a Physical Touch child. Physical touch as a primary love language does not change much in the teen years. Speaking this language to your teen takes timing.
- Have you noticed your teen lurking in the kitchen (yes, they are food motivated as teens!) as you prepare or clean up from a meal? Do they come in your room late in the evening to “see if you’re still awake,” just as you drift off to sleep? Do they jump at the chance to go to the store with you without asking to be dropped off somewhere? These could be signs your teen has Quality Time as their primary love language.
- Sometimes a surprising event may occur: your teen decides to organize the kitchen cabinets, straighten up the garage, or wash the dog without being asked or expecting something in return! After you pick yourself up off the floor, you may begin to realize you have an Acts of Service teen on your hands.
- Does your teen bring you special things when they have been out? Do they get excited over watching a parent or family member open a gift they have given during a special occasion? Do they become ecstatic when you bring home something they mentioned in passing they would like to have? If so, Receiving Gifts may the primary love language here.
There is so much more to be said about this subject. If you would like to know how to “speak” these languages to your teen, consider attending our Online Family Support groups held every other Wednesday. You’ll receive an invitation via email or look for a previous email entitled “Family Support Group” as the meeting ID will be the same.
We look forward to discovering your teens love language with you and guiding you on your continued journey of restoring your family.
- Rebuilding Trust with Your Teen and Moving Forward
- How to Have Effective Family Meetings
- Am I Enabling My Teen?