Laura Kastner, Ph.D.

Parenting Tools

Is a Teen Hug the New "Hello?"

Have you heard how the teen hug is the new hello?  Teens hug each other when they say hello, goodbye and congratulate just about anyone these days. It’s an epidemic.

It’s amazing that kids can ever get to class -- there is so much hugging going on in the corridors at school.

And there's another communication trend on the loose.  A new “tick” has entered into teen verbal chatter as they “sign off” from cell phone calls: “Love you!" <click>.  It’s habitual, unconscious and indiscriminate. I’m a psychologist and fairly formal as therapists go, and a teen patient mistakenly shot me one as she said goodbye the other day. She was pretty embarrassed, but I understood, since I’ve heard my own teenagers spit it out as quickly as their “dude!”, “NO way!” and “Totally!”

Hugging or saying “love you” all the time cheapens love, doesn’t it? Or does it convey love? Or maybe it spreads good karma. Maybe it is simply a teenage version of “Shalom,” “Take care,” and “Peace and Love, brother.” Think about all the slightly nerdy or disconnected kids that might be appreciating those hugs and affirmations. I hope they get little jolts of dopamine (the brain juice that creates pleasure) instead of a sense of fakeness, hypocrisy and self-doubt. With all the alienation created by family mobility or dislocation, busy lives and just plain adolescence, shouldn’t we appreciate love and connection in an innocent form?

Some adults, teachers and administrators don’t think constant hugging is so innocent.

Some schools have 3-second rules and concerns are voiced about the breakdown of physical boundaries and decorum among youth. But ask your teenagers, and you’ll get about as much agreement with that position as we had with our parents’ rules against phone-hogging, “bear hug” slow dancing, and too much physicality during a (co-ed) game of Twister.

If you do ask your teen about hugs hello and love-you goodbyes, hold off on your opinion. Maybe you could ask about it in a carpool, because even if your teen turns mum, the spray of others’ opinions might get your teen to chime in at some point. Parents are told to “just listen” to their teens, but often it’s hard to get them to talk.  However, if you are open to it, between a hug hello and a love-you goodbye, maybe you’ll get a conversation!

To read about affection in romantic relationships among teens, click here.

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