Recently we took a family trip, a road trip. Twenty-four hour drive in a vehicle with the entire family: husband, and children – all boys – 17, 15, and 12 year old twins. All boys! You read that right! I deserve a gold star just for that! How about a trip for one (hubby you can come too) to a tropical beach!

I realized during this trip, I would be seeing my teens more than I see them within a month of living under the same roof. This will be interesting. The rental house was about 400 sq. feet. Yes that’s correct, an american family can survive in small quarters and still have fun. We are a family that’s used to camping so this should be a breeze. Although it is 20 degrees out and no beach to walk for hours. Somehow we managed and came home with good memories.

It occurred to me on this trip that even though I live in the same home as my children, teens especially, we hardly speak, and rarely show affection. If you have teens you may experience the same meal time scenario: mom “how was your day?” son “fine”. Mom “anything exciting happen?” son “no”. Mom “what was your favorite part of the day?” son “I don’t know”. You get the picture? Now when my children were small, and even today, good morning hugs and I love yous at night was the norm. My 12 year olds still give and receive their morning hugs and good nights, and I savor every one of them.

But what hurt my heart a bit was my teens rarely get physical affection anymore. I cant’ say what they do when I’m not around (oh the things a parent dreads). But I do realize that from their caregivers, the ones that hugged and held them every day since the first moment on this planet, they not longer get that physical touch, loving, caring, supportive embrace.

We read all the articles and supportive research documenting the critical necessity of hugging and physically touching infants for their proper development, and survival. But what happens when adolescent hits, and the separation begins? What I do know for sure, is that my boys never (or hardly ever) turn away from a hug. Of course, I have to ask for one, or say, ‘I want a hug good night”. They mumble but oblige. Physical contact is a necessity for human existence. So how do we continue to engage our teens when they want so desperately to be separate, independent beings?

Here are the steps I took after that family vacation, when I realized my family was changing as the kids grow into their independence. And I knew that some things needed to NOT be forgotten.

The book “Raising Happiness” by Christine Carter, PhD states that by fostering gratitude in your home can increase a child’s happiness by 25%. And we understand that moods shift as children move into adolescents and need as much positive influences as they did (or even more) than when they were children.

My Steps to Increasing Happiness in My Home

  1. Say “good morning” and “have a wonderful day” as they head off to school. I DO NOT criticize them for being grumpy morning people, or grunting ‘good morning’ in response. I focus on the positive, and gratitude for seeing them each morning.
  2. I talk or text them during the day at least once – usually once school is out – to touch base, ask what their schedule is: sports, work, social,etc. I care about them, who they hang around with, what they do in their free time, so I ask. Teens don’t often volunteer the info. It takes effort to stay engaged, so I do it.
  3. At the end of the day, I ask them about their day, open ended questions allow for more conversation; “who did you hang out with after school?” or “what are you working on right now in football?” or “what was work like today?” I DO NOT focus on what they don’t tell me, I embrace what they are willing to share. I stay present, put my phone down, and just listen.
  4. Say something positive every day: “I love you”, “Have a wonderful day”, “You are a hard worker”. Those are a few. You can come up with your own, find the treasures in your teens and praise them. It will guide them and lay the path for success and happiness for their today and every day.

By Dawn Gaden, M.A., LPC, NCC of Thriveworks Beverly Hills