The unhappiness of youth can’t always be cured by hugs, but physical contact that carries the message “I’m on your side” can make the misery bearable for kids and teenagers, too. It also makes misery bearable for parents. Hugs are messages of love.
Are Reminders to Hug Your Child Doing the Job?
Most parents love their children dearly and we see a new and almost desperate effort by parents to be perfect role models, protectors, and motivators. Anxious to leave no stone unturned, many parents read countless books and articles to learn how to be good parents and to arm their children with all the tools needed to grow into happy, fulfilled adults.
In fact, the new helicopter parents hover over their child, watch every move, organize every minute of the day, direct their child to develop good work ethic and study habits, and to be well-rounded by sufficient involvement in sports, music, art, volunteering programs, and, oh, yes, playtime. Right. Playtime must be programmed, too, because a child can’t always reach a friend’s home without parental help in this day and age.
There are innumerable books on how to raise boys, how to raise girls, how not to destroy your child’s self-esteem but to encourage and praise and do so without turning the child into demanding, self-centered monster. Many parents are worried and upset about today’s expectations of child-raising. The widespread message from all sides “Have you hugged your child today?” reinforces the parental fear that many important things have been left undone: “Am I failing at everything, including hugging?”
What Has Been Going Wrong?
The basis for my writing this blog post is the messages I receive from my twitter followers. Although I write books for children, I also write murder mysteries for adults, and my twitter profile mentions that I do all this writing to music. Musicians follow me and I listen to their music and re-tweet all that I like. I think music is the draw for the young people who follow me, and many of them are students in middle school, high school, and college.
The tweets sent out are often heartbreaking. Overwhelming sadness is the underlying theme as they announce: “If only I could find someone who loves me”; “I’m so ugly”; “I’m such a terrible student”; “I can’t do anything right”; “I have no friends”; “my parents would hate me if they really knew me”; “love is the most important thing in the world.”
Yes, love IS the most important thing in the world but, in many cases, young people think their parents only love them if they are obedient, successful, more competitive, look prettier, work harder. The messages of love are not coming through, even from the hovering parents whose actions are interpreted by their children as pressure to be successful, and to fit in and also stand out.
In some families, parents end all phone calls to friends and relatives by saying “I love you”; the hug has replaced the handshake and everyone gets a hug. Maybe these messages of love aren’t getting through because they are automatic and careless, or too many hugs have been “demanded” rather than requested, or hugs are hastily bestowed when the parent is checking e-mail rather than focusing on the child.
In other cases, parents stop hugging when their children are quite young, and don’t know how to begin again. If that has happened in your family, start with a pat on the back and, over time, work your way to a shoulder squeeze and then a hug.
Parents Should Relax More and Trust the Hug
Parents younger than fifty remember what they hated about poor parenting and are receiving information—often conflicting—from “experts” on how to do it better. They don’t know yet that no matter what style of parenting they choose, their children will remember the bad parts anyway—and there are always bad parts.
Consider taking at least one page from your parents’ handbook and remember that they didn’t worry so much and yet, here you are, safe and sound. (Well, pretty safe and sound.) Maybe it’s time to relax a little bit. The most important goal in child-raising is making sure your children know they are loved.
That doesn’t happen by closely monitoring every move they make and depriving yourself of everything you want; and it doesn’t come by forcing a full-on hug and telling them you love them so often they no longer hear it. It doesn’t come by never demanding anything, never criticizing, and lavishing praise on everything they do whether it is deserved or not. It also doesn’t come from constant criticism of your child’s taste and choices, insults, or threats and inflexible discipline.
Hugs help. If you haven’t hugged your child regularly or a teenager signals that he doesn’t want to be hugged, try a very quick shoulder squeeze or reach out and touch your child’s arm. Insert “I love you” into normal messages: “Good luck with the game (concert, trip, exam); remember, I love you.” Do say it, but avoid “I love you” as a non-thinking postscript to everything that comes out of your mouth.
It is from failing that we learn, and dealing with unhappiness within the protection of a family that makes us stronger. Don’t try and shield your children from every blow in life. You can’t. The unhappiness of kids and teens can’t be cured by hugs but they can certainly help. Have a little faith in yourself and hug your kids today. There. I said it, too.
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