How to Stay Close to Your Distant Teen

Remember your child’s baby and childhood days with all those kisses and hugs, declarations of love and devotion, and opportunities to hold them close? When you have a teenager, those times can seem so very far away. Suddenly your former “snuggle bug” flinches every time you get anywhere near.

So are your days of cuddling over when your child hits the teen years?

Well, yes and no. Teenagers still need affection from you, but, like most aspects of adolescence, they need it differently than they did when they were younger. For social, emotional and physical reasons, they ask for and seek closeness less. In adolescence, as teens begin to seek increasing independence from parents, their physical separation is a reflection of the need to separate emotionally.  Furthermore it becomes less socially acceptable to demonstrate the same level of physical and emotional connection with parents.  Hugging mom or dad is not cool for teens and sometimes even uncomfortable. Showing affection in front of peers can feel like the ultimate embarrassment. With their emerging sexuality so much in the forefront, physical closeness to parents can feel awkward and even taboo.

Here are some suggestions for maintaining closeness that may be less likely to violate your son or daughter’s adolescent sensibilities:

Sit close while watching movies or TV.

  • If your child liked to snuggle in his or her younger years, this is a great way to get some closeness that will feel satisfying to both of you.

Ask for hugs every so often.

  • Your child might sigh and roll her eyes, but she will probably secretly be glad. If he isn’t interested, let it go. He’ll know that the offer is open.  Know that hugs might look a little different.  My son would wrap his arms around my neck and lean on me. Family members would always ask why I would let this huge kid hang on me like that, but I knew that this was his way of getting close.

Be active together.

  • It used to drive me crazy that my husband and one of our sons seemed to be wrestling constantly. They were always rolling around, getting in the way and knocking stuff over. Then I learned that this can be an important bonding ritual in adolescence, while teaching kids how to manage aggression. Once I realized this, I became much more tolerant.

Share foot and hand massages

  • A massage is often considered a more mature and, therefore, acceptable form of affection than a hug and definitely light years better than a peck on the cheek.
Click here for video
Click here for video

Indulge in a quick shoulder squeeze or pat on the head.  

  • Like the mother in the video above, sneak in those gestures where and when you can. If nothing else, it will be a second that puts you in touch with the good parts of being a parent to carry you through the more challenging moments.  (We’re not endorsing the product in the video but love the mom’s example of staying connected to her son.)

 Say “I love you.”

  • Say it out loud and often. Write it on notes or in texts. Just be very careful that you do so in a private moment and not when your child’s friends are likely to see or hear.

Like many things, sharing affection with an adolescent becomes more challenging. But with a little thought and a lot of patience and understanding, you can still find ways to get your child’s and your own needs met.

How do you stay close to your teen?

Happy Valentine’s Day from Parenthetical!


Article by Becky Mather

Becky is an Outreach Specialist for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Much of her work centers on parenting education and adolescent development. She and her husband are the parents of two young adults and a pre-adolescent. Becky is a Certified Family Life Educator.