As a parent or guardian, you may assume that your child knows that you love them. After all, they live with you, and you provide their food, clothing, phone, hobbies and activities, transportation, and more. Providing for them should be a physical manifestation that they understand, right? Many parents even say “I love you” on a daily basis. Yet too many teens do not feel loved or do not understand the degree to which you love them. How can you tell your teen that you love them so they hear you?
When Words Are Not Enough
Whether you are a parent who communicates your love to your teen or one who takes for granted your child knows you love them, sometimes words are just not enough. In the screen-driven, social media-filled, self-absorbed world that adolescents are often sucked into today, they may not even hear your words. Their lives are filled with pressure to excel academically from well-meaning adults; they feel pressure from social media to look a certain way or from peers to participate in activities that are potentially dangerous, including using substances. Your words can get lost when they are trying to find themselves amongst all of this noise.
While it is important to express your love verbally, sometimes the words become empty after being said repeatedly over time. For example, if saying “I love you” is a habit when they leave the house or go to bed, they may presume that it is merely a habit and that you don’t actually mean it. Sometimes, words are simply not enough.
Why Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Your demonstrations of love will be infinitely more powerful than all of the words you say. When you say that you love your child but do not back those words up with your actions, they will sense the duplicity and may not believe you.
As teens grow and change, the way you express your love for them should change as well. They likely will not want public displays of affection; in fact, they may not want to be seen in public with you at all. This does not mean that they do not return your love. As they are maturing and breaking away from you to become an adult in their own right, respecting their boundaries is important. Yet they still need to know that you love them. They may even still let you hug them, but only at home.
Daily Ideas to Say ‘I Love You’ Effectively
Teens need to have love expressed daily through actions, usually in different ways from how you expressed your love when they were younger. There are many ways you can actively demonstrate your love to your teen, including:
- Make time for them
- Turn off your phone
- Offer choices rather than make decisions for them
- Show up for their sports, hobbies, or interests
- Prioritize their needs
- Set aside your stress to be present for them
- Offer consistency and structure
- Listen to them
Learn Their Love Language
Another way for your teen to feel your love for them is to learn their love language. What is it they enjoy doing? What activities or interests are important to them? What can you do that will be meaningful to them because they know it is unique to their needs, and you are not just pretending to care? Do they like to go for ice cream? Play video games? Listen to music? Go for walks? Cook (or eat) new foods? You do not have to infringe on the activities they share with their friends, but you can find something that is important to them that you can share together.
Saying ‘I Love You’ by Not Saying Anything at All
The best way to allow your teen to truly hear you is actually by not saying anything at all. Listening to them lets them know you love them more than all of the words you can say. Truly taking the time, being there for them, and being present whenever they need to talk is the ultimate demonstration that you truly care about them.
As parents, you may be brimming with wisdom and life experiences. Your child, though, wants to be heard. They are more likely to benefit from your wisdom when they ask for it than when it is unsolicited advice. Knowing when to listen and when to speak can be one of the biggest challenges of raising a teenager, but when in doubt, listening is going to be the best choice a majority of the time.
How can I tell my teen that I love them, so they hear me? Actions speak louder than words, so making time for them and being present will show you care. Learning what is important to them and taking time to actually listen to them can also help them to understand how deeply you love them. At Sustain Recovery, we know the value of respecting and listening to your teen. We also know that providing consistency and structure for them helps them to feel safe and always know what to expect, even when they do not always like it. Our extended residential treatment program for teens with substance abuse and co-occurring mental health diagnoses offers the opportunity for them to return to their life with support from both our program and their community. Contact us today at (949) 407-9052 to find out if our program is right for your family.