Teens can get prickly. Your cuddly little kid may have turned into a porcupine who bristles or rolls his eyes when you want to hug him.
But that doesn’t mean you should stop being affectionate. You’ll do it differently than when she was younger—but please don’t stop all touch. Teens need human contact as much as anyone (sometimes more, depending on what’s going on with their emotions).
What you don’t want: your teen to feel that the only way to get touched is to find someone to have sex with.
Because if you stop cuddling your kid when he hits puberty and/or gets difficult, how else can he meet the basic human need for touch? Guys especially have few socially acceptable ways to get affection.
Here’s how to keep physical contact in your relationship with your teen:
Be respectful of maturing bodies. Steer clear of any touch that could be remotely sexual. Stick to “neutral” places like shoulders, back, and head.
Avoid public displays of affection. A quick hug may be tolerated in front of peers, but more than that won’t. Save cuddling for at home.
Don’t ask permission. If you offer to rub his shoulders, he’ll probably say No. So when he’s watching TV, just plunk down on the couch next to him and do it wordlessly. He’ll probably like it a lot—as long as he doesn’t have to admit he likes it.
Listen to a No. If you put your arm around her and she tells you to stop, stop. It’s essential to honor her limits. But you might ask for clarification (at the time, or later): “Are you just not in the mood right now, or do you never like it when I pet your head/rub your shoulders/scratch your back? Are some times better than others? If I wanted to cuddle you, what kind of cuddling do you like best?”
Know your kid. If your teen didn’t really like to be cuddled as a toddler, he probably won’t now. But if he used to be affectionate, that need for affection is still there beneath the prickles.
Acknowledge your own needs. It’s not unreasonable to say “Hey, I miss being able to cuddle with you, and I’d like to do that sometimes.” Or, “I’m upset too about the bad thing that happened, and I’d really like a hug.”
Of course, no amount of parental cuddling is going to keep a young person from having sex when she decides to. But don’t let being starved for affection push him to find a sexual partner sooner than he otherwise might.