I get it, I do. Your kid is stressed beyond belief, and you know you are part of the problem. This is the transition age, where you know you have to get them from child to adult, so there is homework, chores, and a slew of family and social responsibilities. You can’t exactly not have them do chores or let them not do their homework (most of the time). You’re also aware how easy it is to break the bank with misguided affection: an expensive new phone, a fashionable pair of boots, a trip to a restaurant or Broadway show – not so they can enjoy it, but so they can put it on Instagram. But that raises the bar and sets them up for expectations that life will not meet, so here are 5 ways to show your teen you love them – without spending money.
Write them a note.
Yes, it’s old fashioned, and if you think popping it in the lunch box to find might make them a laughingstock, put it on their bedside table. Simply saying you see how hard they’re working or that they are still a terrific person despite stress or even mentioning something terrific they did will let them know you A) noticed and B) took the time to put pen to paper. They will appreciate it – not necessarily right away, but someday.
Make a favorite meal and eat with them.
Yes, we are supposed to be having family meals most nights of the week, but if you have a teenager, things are getting pretty busy. It’s almost the end of the first grading period for anyone who started school in September, teachers lay on last minute projects, Homecoming is coming, and if you have a senior, they are frantically trying to file FAFSA’s, decide on their final colleges, requesting transcripts and letters of recommendation, and let’s not forget school plays and sports tournaments. But again, the symbol here is time – knowing that you have the time to eat with them and choose to make it a healthy food you know they like sends lots of good messages.
Do something for them – once.
Make their bed, let them take a mental health day, let them off the hook with a chore – but only do it once. If you allow them to ask you to drive them to school instead of taking the bus once, they will really appreciate it. If you always drive them to school, then not only are they probably going to take it for granted, but they will come to rely on you at a time when they should be learning to rely on themselves.
Commit to doing something fun with them.
Everyone needs something to look forward to, and before you know it, this kid will be an adult and have other things to do than hang with their parents, so do something they enjoy. Cook with them, see a movie they’ve been dying to see, go apple picking – just get something on the schedule. Better yet, make it something that doesn’t really end. Amusing Artist and I are attempting to read our way through the Newbery Medal Winning Books – all of them, since the creation of the prestigious children’s fiction award in 1922.
So bake your way through the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook, have a Marvel movie marathon, or just take a hike in their favorite spot. If you make sure they are enjoying themselves with you in fun and healthy ways, you aren’t just the task-master or the person who says “you’re wearing that to school?”
Sleep a little less.
I’m big on sleep, don’t get me wrong – we all need it, parents and teenagers, and like this miracle worker, it solves a lot of problems. But one of the ways you can show your teen you love them without spending money is to just Be There when they need you, whether that’s the night an essay is due or after a text fight (oh, how I hate text fights!) with a love interest or during a friend crisis. No, you can’t survive on as little sleep as a teenager can – especially if you’re more than twice their age and your job the next day requires awareness and focus. But if your teen is hysterical over something, (and depending on the kid, that might happen every night) don’t just say a chipper ‘good night!’ after they have bared their soul. Nor should you stay in the room unbidden – don’t tell them what to text the angry friend, how to write the paper, or, over-parenting crime number one, write a note to the teacher giving them an excuse for not doing the essay. Just make them a cup of tea or cocoa, pat them on the shoulder, and tell them you’ll check on them in 20 minutes. And then check on them in 20 minutes. Remember, most of parenting is follow through.
And save that for the really hysterical nights – if they’re just up late texting, then for heaven’s sake, take the phone away and get some sleep.