Seven Steps to Staying Close
When your kid starts insisting you keep your distance — in my house, that involves eye rolling, mock gagging or the ultra-offensive "eww, get away from me!" — relax. You can show your teens you love them while still giving them space.
1. Let your kids go. Hard as it can be, it's important to accept the fact that once your teen starts pulling away, he's in charge, not you. "Try not to take it personally," says Glenn Kashurba, MD, an assistant psychiatry professor at Drexel University and Allegheny University of the Health Sciences in Pennsylvania. "He'll come back when he needs to — and you should be there for him." To make things easier, talk to your teens about what's happening. "Tell them you understand why they need to keep their distance," says Glenn Roisman, PhD, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, "and that it's okay because you're entering a new phase of your relationship."
2. Respect your teen's rep. When kids are hanging with their friends, it's important they look cool. Don't mess that up with any displays of affection — which are certain to be rebuffed-in front of your children's peers, Cauffman advises. Hugs can wait until no one else is around.
3. Start new routines. The days of tucking them into bed at night or waking them up with a kiss may be long gone, but that doesn't mean you can't find clever ways to start some new show-your-love rituals. Try blowing a bedtime kiss through their door. Or pat them on the back when you hand them lunch money in the morning. Playfully insist on a smooch every time you hand over the car keys. The point is making an affectionate gesture habit, which they'll come to rely on even if they act like they hate it.
4. Find affection alternatives. Kashurba suggests parents, especially dads, modify the ways they show affection to their teens. Hugging daughters can become embarrassing once their breasts begin to develop. Chances are you've already figured out that rumpling her hair is out of the question, so experiment. Try an occasional hip check by the kitchen sink or a back scratch while she's at the computer. Games — whether it's touch football or flicking each other with wet dishrags — offer parents a chance to stay physical with both boys and girls.
5. Chill their way. Flop down on the couch next to your teen, even if it means you have to endure MTV's The Hills. You might not be able to hug it out, but sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and sharing a laugh can be the next best thing.
6. Pick your moments. Your teen may brush off most of your overtures, but there are always unexpected times when she feels especially vulnerable — overwhelmed by calculus, for example, or after a fight with her best friend. Seize the moment. She might not ask for it, but she'd really love a reassuring arm around the shoulder.
7. Remember, showing up matters most. When raising teens, "being actively engaged in their daily lives trumps everything," says Cauffman. That means rooting from the bleachers at basketball games, eating dinner together most nights, and really listening — on their terms, not yours — without judgment.