Teenagers need much emotional nurture to function at their best and to grow to be their best. They desperately need full emotional tanks in order to feel the security and self-confidence they must have to cope with peer pressure and other demands of adolescent society.
Unconditional love is the basic foundation for a solid relationship with your teenager, for only unconditional love can prevent problems such as resentment, guilt, fear, or the insecurity of feeling unwanted.
Without unconditional love, parenting is a confusing and frustrating burden. The love acts as a guiding light, showing you where you are with your teenager and what to do next. When you begin with unconditional love, you can then build your knowledge and expertise in guiding your teenager and filling his needs on a daily basis.
Unconditional love means loving a teenager, no matter what he looks like, no matter what his assets and liabilities are, and no matter how he acts. This does not mean you always like his behavior. Unconditional love means you love him even when you detest his behavior.
Unconditional love is an ideal. You can't love a teenager - or anyone else - 100 percent of the time. But the closer you come to this goal, the more satisfied and confident you will feel, and the more pleasant your teenager will be.
It helps to constantly keep in mind that teenagers are children, that they will tend to act like teenagers, and that much teenage behavior is unpleasant. If you convey love to them only when they please you (conditional love), they will not feel genuinely loved. But if you do your part as parents and love them despite their unpleasant behavior, they will be able to mature and give up their unpleasant ways. Children who are loved unconditionally feel good about themselves. They learn to control their behavior as they grow into adulthood.
Do you know what is the most important question on your teenager's mind? Without realizing it, he is continually asking, "Do you love me?" It is absolutely the most important question in his life. And he asks it primarily through his behavior rather than with words.
Having a warm feeling of love in your heart for your teenager is wonderful, but it's not enough. Saying "I love you" to a teenager is great and should be done, but it's not enough. For your teenager to know and feel that you love him, you must also love him behaviorally because he is still primarily behaviorally oriented. He sees your love for him by what you say and do, but what you do carries more weight. He is far more affected by your actions than by your words.
It is important to remember that your teenager has an emotional tank. He has certain emotional needs, and whether these needs are met (through love, understanding, discipline, and so on) helps determine how he feels - whether he is content, angry, depressed, or joyful. It also strongly affects his behavior - whether he is obedient, disobedient, whiny, perky, playful, or withdrawn. Naturally, the fuller the tank, the more positive the feelings and the better the behavior. Only if the emotional tank is full can a teenager be expected to be his best and do his best. It is your responsibility as parents to do all you can to keep the emotional tank full.
A teenager will strive for independence in typical adolescent ways - doing things by himself, going places without family, testing parental rules. But he will eventually run out of emotional gasoline and come back to his parents for emotional maintenance - for a refill. This is what we want, as parents of teenagers. We want our adolescents to be able to come to us for emotional maintenance when they need it.
There are several reasons this refilling is so important. Teenagers need much emotional nurture to function at their best and to grow to be their best. They desperately need full emotional tanks in order to feel the security and self-confidence they must have to cope with peer pressure and other demands of adolescent society. Without this confidence, they tend to succumb to peer pressure and experience difficulty upholding wholesome, ethical values. Emotional refilling is crucial because, while it is taking place, it is possible to keep open lines of communication between parents and teenagers. When a teenager's tank is empty and he seeks parental love, communication is so much easier.
Most parents do not realize how important it is for their teenagers to be able to come to them to have their emotional tanks refilled. During times when a teenager is striving for independence, he may upset his parents to such an extent that they overreact emotionally, usually with anger. This emotional overreaction, if too excessive or frequent, makes it extremely difficult and perhaps impossible for the teenager to return to his parents for emotional refills.
Then, if parent-child communication is broken, a teenager may turn to his peers for emotional nurture. What a dangerous and frequently disastrous situation this is. For the teenager will then be easily susceptible to peer pressure, to influences of religious cults, and to unscrupulous persons who use young people.
When your teenager tests you by striving through inappropriate behavior to be independent, you must be careful not to overreact emotionally. Regardless of how your teenager expresses his drive for independence, you must keep open the avenues by which he returns to you to have his emotional tank refilled. This is crucial if he is to enter adulthood as a whole person.