by Bec Cavalôt

5 hug-free ways to show love to your teen

When my sons were young, a hug could soothe them almost instantly. Putting my arms around them was a powerful way to calm, comfort and connect with them.

My almost 11-year-old is still big on hugs and couch snuggles. But I rarely hug my teen these days. In fact, if I go in for a hug, he’ll actively arch or back away from me. And as hard as this physical rejection is, I respect his boundaries and his right to say ‘no thanks’ – no matter how much I’m craving a cuddle.

If, like mine, your teenager isn’t big on hugs, here are a few touch-free ways you can show him he’s loved, supported and safe.

1. Amp up the words of affirmation

Actions don’t always speak louder than words. Build your connection with your son by telling him how incredible you think he is. Try not to limit your compliments, encouragement and appreciation to what he’s already good at. Notice when he’s struggled with a new school task and shown resilience or persistence. Call him out if he demonstrates a newfound maturity, kindness or empathy when talking to a friend. By noticing and affirming not only who he is, but who he’s becoming, you’ll help your son feel seen, appreciated and loved.

2. Spend time doing something he loves

The parenting juggle is real and time is our most precious resource. One of the most powerful ways to build connection is to spend time doing something your teenager loves – even if you’d rather be doing almost anything else… Whether it’s watching YouTube videos, kicking a ball around or window-shopping for new basketball boots, your time is a gift. And by doing something he cares about, you’re confirming that what matters to him, matters.

3. Let him teach you something

Yes, this one can be tricky, especially if your teenager isn’t the most patient teacher. But nothing makes my son happier than being considered the expert on something. Ask your son to help you edit a photo or install an app on your phone. Learn how he does a specific move in a video game. Let him show you how to dribble a basketball or solve a Rubik’s cube. It’s not only a chance for you to be physically close to each other, but it will boost your teen’s self-confidence (and your possibly your own skills) in the process. 

4. Put down your phone

Let’s be honest, our teenagers aren’t the only ones who are glued to devices. Whether it’s work emails, WhatsApp notifications, social media or news scrolling, the distractions we carry around in our pockets are endless. When your son gives you that rare opportunity of opening up, step away from your mobile. This lets him know that he is the centre of your world, and in turn gives him space and permission to let you into his.

5. Listen

It sounds simple, but listening – really listening – is a vital way to strengthen your connection and relationship with your teen. Avoid interrupting, even if you don’t agree with him. And try not to go into solutions mode – even if you think you can fix an issue. Instead, give him your undivided attention and then reflect his words and feelings back to him, without judgement. This kind of true listening builds trust. It shows your son that you care about what he cares about. That you’re interested in what interests him. And importantly, it can help open the floodgates for him to share even more. 

Of course, you’ll still crave those hugs from your son. And that’s normal. But remember that you’re giving your teenager the gift of independence, which is exactly what he needs right now. He’ll be back, and maybe the hugs will return too. For now, just know you’re doing an amazing job, so put your arms around yourself and give yourself a well-deserved hug.


 Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Bec Cavalôt is a Melbourne-based writer and mum of two boys. You can find her at This article is about


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