Do you speak the language of love?

Valentine's Day is over but hopefully love is still in the air. While the media has romanticised this day, anybody who is committed to any relationship will know that this “loving business” is more than chocolates and roses. It requires hard work.

The most foundational building block of parent-teen relationship is love. Teens/tweens are different, and loving them effectively takes some new insights. They are going through a tremendous transition, and parents who will be effective in loving them must also make transitions in the manner in which they express their love.

Bestselling author Dr Gary Chapman, in his book The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers, points out that teens develop strong love languages. The key is to discover which is your teens/tweens’ primary love language and fill up their love tank based on it.

Teenager 1

Primary love language – words of affirmation:
“Whenever I feel down, my mum is always there to tell me how much she loves me and she tells me good things about myself which I sometimes forget. I couldn’t have made it without her.”

Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your teens/tweens’ love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to them. Hearing the words “I love you” is important – hearing the reasons behind that love sends their spirits soaring. Insults can leave them shattered and are not easily forgotten.

Teenager 2

Primary love language – quality time:
“When I go to university, I’m going to really miss my talks with mum. We spend a lot of time together and we talk about everything. I know I can always tell her what’s bothering me and she will be there for me.”

In the vernacular of quality time, nothing says “I love you” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there – with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby – makes your teens/tweens feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.

Teenager 3

Primary love language – receiving gifts:
“I look around my room and I see reminders of my parents’ love. My books, computer, clothes and toys were all given by them. I still remember the night they gave me my computer. When I opened it up, the screen read: ‘Happy birthday, we love you.’ That really meant a lot to me.”

Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness and effort behind the gift. If your teen/ tween speaks this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that they are known, they are cared for, and they are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to them. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous – so would the absence of everyday gestures.

Teenager 4

Primary love language – acts of service:
“I know my parents love me because they do so many things for me. Mum ferries me to all the places I need to go and Dad helps me with my maths which I hate.”

Can chauffeuring your kids really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “acts of service” person will speak volumes.

The words he or she most wants to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.

Teenager 5

Primary love language – physical touch:
“I know sometimes I’m hard to live with. My parents put up with a lot of my moods. I guess it’s just being a teenager, but when they give me a buddy-hug or even a pat on my back, I feel like everything is going to be okay. It’s like a calming thing. I know they really love me.”

A person whose primary language is physical touch is tactile. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder or face – they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care and love.

Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.

So how can you find out your child’s primary love language?

Other than spending time observing and asking them, you can also do a simple 30-question assessment online at to find out.

As the website suggests, you may want to first take the profile yourself, selecting the statements you believe most accurately describe your teen. Then once they have also taken the assessment, compare your results with theirs. This can make for a lively and constructive conversation.

Just like when you are lost in a country that does not speak your language, when someone suddenly speaks in a language you understand, it will immediately catch your attention. Even before you find your way, you already feel comforted. When love becomes a language, it becomes less abstract and more tangible. More importantly, when we begin to speak in our teens/ tweens’ primary love language, we will get their attention and they will feel loved.

Charis Patrick is a trainer and family life educator who is married with four children.

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