What to Do When Your Teen No Longer Hugs You

Feb 12, 2020

February - it’s the month of love and hugs, right? When you have a teen in your life, hugs may feel in short supply.

"Why doesn’t my teenager want to hug me anymore? What changed? All I want to do is give her a hug so she knows just how loved she is."

Sil, mom of three, ages 8-14

Aw, yes, I remember clearly when I leaned into to give my oldest kiddo, who was 12 years old at the time, a hug, and he put his hand up to say, “Not now, mom.” Ouch. I kept thinking that there must be something wrong because, here I was, an adolescent specialist, and my son was resisting my hug. It didn’t help any that the article sitting atop my desk stated, “Teens Need More Hugs.”

To be clear, we all need more hugs. Research has shown that hugs are incredibly effective at healing illness, disease, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and stress. They not only relax our muscles but they lift our serotonin levels, elevate our mood, and create feelings happiness. Hugs boost our self-esteem, create a sense of safety, and even build trust.

Pioneering family therapist Virginia Satir once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”

Hugs truly are fantastic. We all - including teens - can benefit having more hugs in our life. And, with all those feel-good properties, hugs seem like the perfect remedy to combat teen pressure, worry, mood swings - even hormonal shifts. But, what do you do when your teen no longer hugs?

Understand that your teens are no longer little children who will come running when you yell “come hug your mom!” They are inching closer and closer to adulthood, with their own comfort level, boundaries, and preferences.

So, what can you do when, despite a teen’s growing need for space, they still need to feel loved? Hug or not, there are still ways to show and tell they are loved.

  1. Ask. Ask your teen if you can give her a hug. Ask if there is a hug-alternative that would work for him. Ask your teen what helps them when they want to feel comforted and loved? Ask if there is a good time to give a hug.  Just ask, and then listen. Simply by asking a question and listening to the response, you are sending the message that your teen’s opinion matters.
  2. Give a high-five. The 'high-five' is a great way of showing acknowledgment. Pair it with a laugh and a smile, and its ability to boost levels of oxytocin (the snuggle hormone) and strengthen connections can be almost as beneficial as hugs.
  3. Try an air-hug. This is a favorite among my own teens. Sometimes they want the acknowledgment but not the physical contact, so we yell out "air-hug." It sends the message that they are seen, heard, and loved. Then, later, we follow-up with a real hug.
  4. Know your teen’s hug preference. Occasionally, teens will push a hug away because it feels like all hugs are the same. Check in with your teen to see what feels good to them. Is it a side-by-side hug, a one-armed hug, a bear hug, or a heart-to-heart hug (my personal favorite!).
  5. Don't yell "Give me a hug!" when you drop them off somewhere or when they are with their friends. Along those lines, don’t force a hug in public either. Many teens feel that hugs are meant to be private. Shouting out or forcing a hug feels awkward and can feel as if a personal boundary has been crossed. Rather, save those hugs for a time when it is just the two of you.
  6. Say "I love you".
  7. Give your teen your full attention when they are talking. Put down what you are doing, turn towards them, and look them in the eye. This sends the message that you hear and see your teen leaving them feeling appreciated, validated, and valued.

Try not to get discouraged if your teen doesn’t want to hug you right now, even if you still want to hug them every single day. Remember, that even though they are learning to establish a sense of self and build independence, they still need the comfort and knowing that you are there. So, keep showing up, listening to them and loving them.

And now, it's your turn. In the comments below, I’d love to hear from you...

  • Does your teen still hug you?
  • What are some of your hug-alternatives?
  • Do you have a hug preference?

Tell me in the comments below, and let's keep this conversation going. And, as always, if you know anyone who would benefit from this post, I’d be incredibly grateful if you passed it along.

With love and hugs,