Teenagers may push back from their parents hour by hour and day by day, but it doesn't mean they don't need their parents and want a lot from them. What then is it that they want to hear?
1. I love you.
Sometimes when your teen turns away from your hug because they need to feel physically separate, it's easy to misinterpret the pull away personally. They need their autonomy or they feel irritated with someone else, but they still need you even when they definitely don't show it. So don't hold back. Even when you don't feel love coming your way--in fact, especially when you don't feel love coming your way--say, "I love you."
2. I'm proud of you.
Teens act like they know so much about everything. They may seem arrogant and unkind toward you. But deep inside it's your approval that they seek. So, any chance you get, tell them you are proud but tell them why you feel that way. A general, "I'm proud of you" isn't as momentous as, "I'm proud of you because you were kind to someone who hurt your feelings. That took a lot of courage."
3. You impress me.
Teenagers want to know that their parents find them interesting. When your child says something that shows they've given it a lot of thought, comment on their idea and let them know it's impressive--even if you don't agree with it.
4. You have good judgment.
Teens are much more self-doubting than you may think when they act all uppity. But they need to know that you trust their judgment when you really do. You may not feel that about everything they deal with, but when you do, make sure to say so. It will go a long way. If they know you believe in their judgment, their judgment will actually improve.
5. I want you to be my child.
Teenagers need to feel wanted. There are so many changing friend groups, social media slurs, clashing friendships, they need to know someone offers unconditional love and wants them. That's you no matter what. Let them know you want them in particular and why.
6. I can depend on you.
It may not always be true that you can depend on your teen who is often self-centered and self-absorbed. But the bottom line is if you were in trouble they would be there for you. When you see an instance of that, let them know that you appreciated you could depend on them. It may be small; it may be big. But, to them it will feel important and build their self-esteem.
7. You are special to me.
Each child needs to believe they are special to their parent. Your views are their bottom line. So be detailed about what makes your son or daughter special to you and they will carry that inside for a long time.
No matter how antagonistic and frustrating your teenager may feel at times, remember that you are their parent and they feel deeply connected to you even when they don't show it. If they can depend on you to build their self-esteem, they have the edge they need.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with a recent book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior, found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Familius, and wherever books are sold.