The holiday season is upon us, prepare yourself for the usual volley of gift guides, gift wishlists, and gift giving. Some gifts are simpler to give than others. How about a daily hug?
Some years ago, before my own children were teenagers, a friend with older kids was over and said something I never forgot. Her (quite tall) teenage son sat on her lap for a moment before rejoining the other kids, and I commented on the physical ease which with he had done so, even at his age.
"I make a point of hugging my big kids every day,"
she said, "it keeps us connected."
I too have made a point of maintaining physical closeness with my children, now teenagers themselves. They get a hug in the morning, or at night, or randomly during the day. Often multiple times a day, but always at least once. I come from a family that does not spontaneously hug, and knew this was something I'd do differently as a parent.
As it turns out, the benefits to hugging extend well beyond the feel-good factor. There is plenty of science-backed evidence supporting the benefits of hugging our teens. Here are a few of them:
It's a natural stress buster. Studies show that hugs reduce levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, in the body. And, touch regulates heart rates and slows breathing. Hugging your teen helps to melt the stress away and put them, and you, in a better mood.
It brings you closer (literally, and figuratively). The importance of human connection can’t be understated. Hugs, or a parent's touch are a form of communication that convey messages and feelings that words can’t. It’s a deeper, more intimate level of connection that says "I see you," and "I love you." Physical touch causes the release of the “love hormone” oxytocin, which improves bonding and trust and makes people feel closer to one another.
It boosts self-esteem. When your teen is feeling down or lost, a hug can help ground them and remind them that they'll be ok. A big, long bear hug can make your teen feel calm and more relaxed, and conveys feelings of safety, love, and connection that boost self-esteem.
Whether you hug as a good morning or goodnight, a hello or a goodbye, a thank you, a moment of affection, to extend an olive branch after conflict, or to comfort a teen who is down, just hug. If you are in the habit of hugging during good times, your teenager will be more willing to seek out your comfort and support during tough times when it is most needed.
A word of warning: it's normal for teenagers to distance themselves from their parents, and public displays of parental affection may challenge the image of independence they are working so hard to cultivate! If you encounter resistance (e.g. "You're embarrassing me!" or an assertive shrug off), keep your hugs to the home setting.
They silently crave our touch – even though they’re way too cool to admit it, and will welcome physical affection when it’s given in small increments at the right time.
'Hug your teenager today' will continue to be my sign-off of choice for these emails, I hope it's a welcome reminder. And with that...
Hug your teenager today,