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.
"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 and
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. (18)
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. (18)
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 (19)
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 this way!)
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 under.
"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" (21)
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 Manhood)
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
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
Use their real name
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 you.
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 know:
- 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 are
- "Does this adult love me enough to stop me doing
damage or injury to myself?"
- "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
Talking to boys
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 position.
Support them personally
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 soccer
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 "You're OK".
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.
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. (18)
Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever
solid and durable happiness there is in our natural
How do you keep their emotional tank full? By speaking
'Jupiter' language. By conveying love through actions to
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 and authority!
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 celebration!
See these 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
Five 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
- Quality time - "wasting" time with the person
- Acts of service - doing things to help the other
- Gifts - giving a gift and not just on Christmas and
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!
Be 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!