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You Don’t Want a Hug? When Your Teenager Rejects Physical Affection

Your Teen published an article about the importance of parents hugging teenagers. We got a huge response. In fact, it has become one of our most popular articles ever.

But some parents feel frustrated. They told us that when they try to be physically affectionate with their teenagers, they get rebuffed . . . big time. Some teens just won’t hug their parents. So, we asked two experts, Dr. Laura Markham and Laurie A. Couture, for their advice on how parents should approach physical affection when a teenager resists—or outright rejects—it.

Here’s what they recommend:

When Your Teenager Rejects Physical Affection

1. Start with non-physical.

“Respect your child’s boundaries,” advises Markham, a clinical psychologist and editor of AhaParenting.com. Start with non-physical ways of connecting, including verbal affection or just sitting on the couch and watching a movie together. You can then “start to initiate physically, in a less intimate way,” she adds. For example, a high-five when an occasion warrants one.

2. Try light touches.

As you and your teenager feel more comfortable, try to add other kinds of touch, like on the arm or shoulder. Try to introducing some physical affection, but don’t force it. “A gentle, brief touch on their arm or hand will be a natural part of a connected conversation,” notes Couture.

3. Be patient.

Stick with it. “You’re building a physical relationship, and that takes time, and of course both people have to want the connection,” Markham adds. “But most teenagers are more open to it if they feel emotionally connected first.”

4. Give undivided attention.

Building—or re-building—that emotional connection is key, agrees Couture, author of Instead of Medicating and Punishing. When a teenager rejects affection, don’t give up on physical contact altogether. “Start slowly, by giving your full attention when they do bring up something to discuss, even if you are not interested in the subject matter,” she explains.

5. Ask if you can hug.

Couture suggests that, for this type of kid, you work up to a hug, but not before you ask permission. “Use close proximity, eye contact, active listening, and brief touches, and work up to a hug.” According to Couture, “Then initiate hugs, but by asking permission. ‘I missed you so much, and I am so glad to see you. Can I have a hug?’”

Diana Simeon

Diana Simeon is an editorial consultant for Your Teen.