by Harb Gill

Teen troubles? LOVE is the answer

As every parent knows, the best way to support our kids in difficult times – whatever their age or stage – is with love.

In her upcoming book, resilience expert Mariam Issa talks about another parenting support tool: LOVE. Issa’s LOVE stands for Listening, Observing, Validating and Emotion.

As a parent of a teenage boy, I believe Issa’s LOVE is just as vital in supporting him on his often-precarious journey to manhood as its namesake.

Here’s how you can apply LOVE when your teenage son is going through a tricky time.


Active, sharp listening is called for when your son is ready to share something that’s troubling him.

Boys will speak only when they’re ready, so parents need to be ready to switch into deep listening at short notice. My 14-year-old rarely wants to talk immediately after school. He only opens up when the sun starts to go down. When my son starts talking about something that happened at school or something important, I can hear it in his tone. I remove distractions so he knows that I’m ready to connect with him.

There are two parts to this listening – listening to him and listening to your intuition.

“It’s not just the listening of the ears, it’s listening with feeling,” Issa says. “It’s about intuition; it’s about connecting with the other in a very present way. It’s an energy that the other can feel as well.

“Make the space and give him the time. There could be something deeper behind that initial cry.”


This involves resisting the urge to fix things. It means observing without judgement. And, here’s the tough one – it means not trying to make him feel better.

“If the emotion is one of anger about something, for instance, imagine if you just allowed that anger to be there and not judge where that is coming from,” Issa says.

“Giving it that space and allowing it to come out the way your son relates it to you will allow him to get to where it’s coming from and he will work it out himself.”


Whatever the emotion – pain, fear, anger or frustration – validate it.

Allowing your son to express his feelings, however intense, sends the message that whatever he is feeling does matter, and that you want to hear about it. By validating him, you are helping him realise that you’re in it together and that no problem is too big or too small.


See your son’s emotion as energy in motion. The energy is going through him and being shared between the two of you.

I know that when I am fully present to my son in this way, he later shows his appreciation in a tangible way. It could be something as simple as him playfully squeezing my shoulders as we cross the road.

“When you have loved the other that way, they feel it. They feel loved,” Issa says.

After LOVE has been shown, I like to add in a ‘D’ to make it LOVED. This D stands for Direct action.

Direct action

LOVE is a non-judgmental support approach, and employing it will help give your son the courage to deal with a difficult situation. When the space of healing has been created, it’s sometimes useful to encourage your son to come up with a direct action he can take next. After LOVE, you’ll find that your son will feel listened to and validated, and will naturally make his own way to a thoughtful action (rather than a thoughtless reaction).

LOVE really is the answer. I hope that this approach will help your son realise that no matter what life throws at him, he is always LOVED.


Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Harb Gill is a journalist, university teacher and mother of a 14-year-old boy who has spent a lifetime of inquiry into how to live consciously. Find her mindfulness column at This article is about


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