Last Friday I left school about 45 minutes early to go to the airport. On my way out the door, I was surprised to find myself stopped three times by students: “You’re leaving, Mrs. Acuna? Bye!” And each one of them gave me a quick hug. These were 7th and 8th graders, mind you – and one of them was a boy!
Touch is a basic human need, but as children grow into tweens and teens, they may become less willing to be affectionate. Hugging or kissing parents good-bye is seen as the ultimate in embarrassing acts, even if no one is actually looking. Parents sometimes aren’t sure what’s appropriate, so they hold back their affection.
Among their peers, teens are hampered by the fear of being seen as romantically linked with the wrong person, by the possible accusation of being homosexual, or by the threat of being accused of sexual harassment.
Yet the need to be physically touched doesn’t go away. As parents, you’d prefer to be the major people to satisfy this need (as opposed to a girlfriend or a boyfriend), so you may need to get creative. While walking next to your son, you can give a friendly shove with a shoulder. High fives and fist bumps are socially acceptable and can even be given in public. If you’re sitting on the floor at a family gathering, you can probably get away with leaning against your teen’s knees. You might also find a one-armed hug from the side is tolerated more than a full frontal bear hug.
If you have a teen who’s reluctant to show affection, take advantage of opportunities that come for hugs and kisses – and don’t make the mistake of calling attention to them with comments like, “Oh, she’s so embarrassed when her mom hugs her!” or “I see you’ll hug me when you want something.” Just graciously accept or give the hug and be grateful, because you don’t know when the next opportunity will arise.