"Teenagers are behaviorally oriented. Adults are verbally
oriented. That is the main reason most adults are unable to effectively convey
love to their teenager."
"They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you
made them feel."
Carl W. Buechner
"Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" is the title of a popular book. It
should add "Boys are from Jupiter"! To effectively interact with boys an adult
has to learn to speak 'Jupiter' language to meet that most basic of human needs -
for a boy to feel loved and accepted.
On the other side of the equation, teenage boys will follow and imitate the
person they feel loves them the most - the person who gives them time, attention
How boys receive love
"Having a warm feeling of love in
your heart for your teenager is wonderful - but it's not enough!
Saying "I love you" to a teenager is great, and it should be done -
but it's not enough!
Your teenager sees your love for him by what you say and do, but what
you do carries more weight. Your teenager is far more affected by your actions
than by your words.
Actions that convey love
Focused attention is not something that is simply nice to give your
teenager if time permits. It is a crucial need each teenager has. Without enough
focused attention, a teenager experiences increased anxiety, because he feels
everything else is more important than he is to you.
Focused attention makes your teenager feel that he is the most
important person in the world to you.... The best way to give focused attention
is to set aside time to spend with him alone. It doesn't have to be great amounts
of time necessarily, just the fact that you make the effort to spend the time
regularly, alone with him.
If you are a teenager seeking this attention from a parent/adult, then try
making an appointment with that person e.g. "after school next Thursday could we
play golf together Dad?"
Loving, consistent eye contact with your teenager is crucial not only
for good communicational contact, but also in filling his emotional needs.
Without realizing it you use eye contact to express many feelings - sadness,
anger, hate, pity, rage and love. In some homes there is amazingly little eye
contact between parents and teenagers. What exists is usually negative, such as
reprimands or being given instructions. The more you are able to make eye contact
with your teenager as a means of expressing love, the more your teenager will be
emotionally nourished with love.
Appropriate and consistent physical contact is a vital way to give
your teenager that feeling and conviction that you truly care about him. This is
especially true when your teenager is non communicative, sullen, moody or
resistant. During these times, eye contact may be difficult or impossible, but
physical contact can almost always be used effectively. Seldom does an adolescent
respond negatively to a light, brief touch on the shoulder, back or arm. You will
get to know your teenager well enough to know how much physical contact he can
accept at a particular time.
Children love to have their backs scratched. This has an amazing
effect on their psychological defenses and also helps tremendously in keeping
them emotionally fulfilled.
If you want to get along well with boys you have to learn to wrestle
Boys love to wrestle. They love to match their strength against
an adult's strength to see how they are shaping up. (The Bible states "the glory
of young men is their strength") Play wrestling teaches boys self control -
physically, emotionally, mentally and possibly even sexually (they won't
initially be overwhelmed when a girl touches them since they are used to being
touched by others). There are many boys who are never touched by anyone.
Sometimes a boy will engage me in wrestling and he will very quickly simply hold
my hand while continuing with an outward show of the wrestling match - so lonely
are the many boys who are touch deprived!
There is a saying among youth workers that if you want to quickly reach a
teenage boy, then rough him up a bit. For parents and guardians this is easy -
all you have to do is initiate the interaction and match your strength to theirs.
(Your boy doesn't want to come out defeated every time he interacts with you in
For youth leaders it is not quite so easy. A bit of good natured pushing and
shoving I find works OK ("accidentally" bumping into them as you walk past them).
Games involving physical contact of the group mostly work OK too. The exposure of
pedophile activity has created various levels of suspicion surrounding all who
work with youth. You need to establish the level of acceptable physical
interaction and the safeguards needed from the organization that you operate
"How poignant that, out of feelings of love and protectiveness, a
father held back from showing any physical affection, and left his son
longing and yearning for it"
Won't this interaction make him gay?
Some may think this close male contact could set up a path to gay
relationships in the future. The opposite appears to be the truth. From research
I have read and from personal observations, this sort of attention from an older
male satisfies the teenage boy's unasked question "Am I acceptable as a male?".
He can then move on to the next stage in his mental development, usually an
increased interest in girls.
When this question goes unanswered, it can stay deep within the boy and become
sexualized and manifest as gay fantasies - looking for that male bonding that
never happened as a boy. The mental development never moves on properly from that
'stalling' point. Admittedly, being gay is a complex issue, but I have seen boys
move from being convinced of their gay sexuality to enjoying a heterosexual
marriage later in life. One of the key factors was being able to reach them at a
critical time with the unspoken message "You're OK as a male - I accept you as a
male". On other occasions the message had to be 'screamed' out in the form of a
rite-of-passage into male adulthood. (see the web page
Some fathers think that being too affectionate with their sons
will turn them into homosexuals. Actually the exact opposite is true - young boys
who are liberally affirmed by their fathers will be less likely to seek
affirmation in the arms of other men when they're older.
As a youth leader I deliberately make sure I greet each young friend whenever
our paths cross. I go up to them (focused attention), shake their hand with our
unique two stage hand shake (physical attention) and don't let go of their hand
until they look me in the eye (eye contact). They all quickly learn the routine
and mostly come up to me now wanting to shake my hand and at the same time
looking for the eye contact. This is enough for them to know that "John cares
that I'm here". This small amount of regular one-on-one interaction is mostly
enough to give them peace that their relationship with me is secure and fine. If
there is a group I am greeting individually, they wait their turn. They know me
well enough that I won't leave them out. They don't end up having to do dumb
things to try and get my attention then. Boys will do whatever it takes to get an
adult's attention and it is beneficial to train them to fulfill that need with
positive interactions like this.
I have found growling softly beside a boy to work well too! A non
communicative boy will nearly always respond if I get near him and then without
warning start growling softly like a dog looking for a fight. My experience is
that they will respond the same way back to you. Once this "interaction" is
established they will often growl softly later as they walk past you and
obviously I respond in the same way. It's a bridge - what else can I say?
Once you have reached them behaviorally, then it is much easier to reach them
verbally. In the case of a Christian youth leader, to pass on the good news of
Jesus Christ to them.
Use their real name
I always use the boy's given Christian name - even if every one
else calls him by a 'nickname'. I always work hard on remembering their name too,
even to the point of writing it down. The second time you meet a boy will either
make or break your relationship with him by whether you have remembered his name.
Names associate the true identity of the person, since when all else is gone, the
name is still there. To use the given name seems to imply your acceptance of the
person. Sometimes you are the only person in the world who uses the boy's real
name - that has to make you stand out in his mind and make him feel special to
Boys have an inbuilt need to know where the boundaries are. Without this sure
knowledge they are insecure and will keep testing you to find where the real
boundaries are located in their world. For boys to be contented each needs to
- Who is in charge?
- What are the rules?
- What are the consequences for disobeying the rules?
You as a parent or youth leader will initially be tested and then periodically
retested to establish or confirm the boundaries. The silent questions being asked
- "Does this adult love me enough to stop me doing damage or injury to
- "Does this adult love me enough to honor his own boundaries so I won't be
damaged or injured?"
A typical situation which occurs often when in the car is to have the teenager
tell me to speed or lay rubber or drive recklessly. If I follow his suggestion
then I proclaim that my boundaries are not strong and anyone can talk me into
stepping past them. "This man may not be safe to be with - I need to test him
some more" is the teenager's subconscious response. While the boy may say to his
friends (and parents) how great it was that we were doing 160 km/h, you may find
an increasing reluctance for him to get back in the car with you. You have really
proclaimed that you don't care enough about his safety and security to obey the
speed limit! Teenagers seem to have a fear of death and carnage on the road and
so testing your boundaries in this area is quite common.
Talking to boys
Very few teenage boys can sit down at a table and have a face to
face meaningful conversation with an adult. You mostly need to distract them to
have a real conversation. I use television, bike riding, water ski-ing, ball
games, car trips. Anything to distract his attention from himself. Gradually
little bits of important information begin to seep out, each being a test to see
if you can handle the bigger stuff being thrown around in his mind. If you are an
adult male you are halfway there already since all teenage boys are looking for
an older male's acceptance. They want to interact with someone in your
Support them personally
Support their dreams for the future. Don't use your teenager to
help you achieve your personal dreams! If a teenager has a dream of being a
soccer star then support him by watching him play regularly and helping with
Offer to go with him to the funeral of a friend who has died to help share the
grief. Help him mend the flat tire on his bike. Build him up as a person so he
has enough confidence to tackle the world head on. His dreams will lead him on
from there when you are not around.
When he becomes obnoxious, remember that love is a choice, not necessarily a
feeling. It is then that you keep loving selflessly, with nothing in return. (in
the Bible there is a description of what real love is all about - see 1
Corinthians chapter 13). Continue to let him know either directly or indirectly
Boys' emotional needs
Your teenager has an emotional 'tank', figuratively speaking. He has
certain emotional needs and whether these emotional needs are met (through love,
understanding, discipline etc) helps determine how he feels and behaves. The
fuller the 'tank' the more positive the feelings and the better the behavior.
Only if the emotional 'tank' is full can a teenager be expected to be
his best and do his best.
It is your responsibility as a parent to do all you can to keep
the emotional 'tank' full. Every teenager strives for independence using the
energy from the emotional 'tank'. When the 'tank' has run dry, the teenager
returns to the parent/adult for a refill so they can continue to strive for
independence. Teenagers desperately need full emotional 'tanks' in order to feel
the security and self confidence they must have to cope with peer pressure and
other demands of adolescent society. Without this confidence, teenagers tend to
succumb to peer pressure and experience difficulty in upholding wholesome ethical
If the parent or responsible adult is not doing the emotional
refilling, then the teen will turn to others including his peers for emotional
nurture. The teenager will then be susceptible to peer pressure, to influences of
religious cults and to unscrupulous persons who use young people.
Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and
durable happiness there is in our natural lives.
How do you keep their emotional tank full? By speaking 'Jupiter' language. By
conveying love through actions to your teenager.
Make it official!
I work for a government organization, and a lot is said in the workplace with
peoples' ideas and thoughts about the work process. All of it is relevant to a
certain extent, however, let something be put in writing and it carries weight
You can do the same with your teenager - put your thoughts
towards him into writing and see what a dramatic, enduring event you have
created. Your letter of blessing to him will last well beyond your appointment
with the grave! Your spoken words fade and become drowned by life. Your written
words reinforce your original thoughts as though you were there in the room
reading them out aloud again. This is a great add-on to a rite-of-passage
sample lettersto give you some ideas.
I heard a story of a father who wrote a letter to his unborn child just before
being sent off for active war duty. The father was killed in battle, and years
later, the letter was discovered and given to the son. The letter carries a
weight in the young man's life which can only be imagined! It left an enduring
bond between these two men who have never met!
The five official love languages
Love Languages of Teenagers
Gary Chapman in his best selling book "The Five Love Languages of Teenagers"
notes five distinct love languages that all people communicate with to some
degree - they are:
- Affirming words - telling the other person they are OK and appreciating the
things they do
- Physical touch - appropriate to convey affection and emotional
- Quality time - "wasting" time with the person
- Acts of service - doing things to help the other person
- Gifts - giving a gift and not just on Christmas and birthdays
Everybody responds to love expressed mainly in one or two of these areas. If
you are a gift giver and your son responds to words of affirmation as his primary
love language, then your attempt to convey love doesn't reach his heart with a
gift. And if you never give him those affirming words, he will build up a picture
that you don't love him!
You have to speak the right language in your relationships - if you do, a
little effort gives great results. Get the book and sharpen your skills!
yourself - you don't have to be number one at anything to reach your teenager.
Work at meeting his emotional needs and you are more than halfway there!