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How to fill that awkward silence: 'I love you.' Your teen will hate it - and love it

Tonia is lying on the couch watching television. Her mother comes into the room to look for a pencil, finds one next to the magazines and leaves.

Adam is in his room with the door closed. His parents are both home. Over the course of the next three hours, there are no verbal exchanges between them.

Morgan's dad drops her off at soccer practice. She mumbles "Bye," as she darts out of the car.

Lance, on the way to his room, passes his father in the hallway. No words are spoken between the two.

Once they hit their teens - as part of the normal temporary allergy to parents - a child's end of conversations can all but dry up. It becomes very easy to go through days with virtually no communication, apart from day-to-day business.

"Ryan, don't forget you said you'd take out the recycling."

"Sure, whatever."

Days at a time - maybe even more than days - can go by with no real loving contact between a parent and a teen. Even if your relationship is mostly harmonious, there may still not be a whole lot positive happening.

This is not good.

Let me suggest another way. Let's try the above scenes a little differently.

Tonia's mother comes into the room to look for a pencil.

"I sure love my Tonia."

Tonia grunts. Her mother exits, but not before she adds, "I sure love my Tonia a lot."

Adam's mother comes to the door of his room, knocks on the door and then calls out: "Hello. I love you." Silence.

An hour later, she comes back and knocks again. "Hello. I still love you."

And maybe an hour after that. "It's me. I love you."

"Bye," Morgan says as she rushes by her father out to the field.

"Bye. You're my best girl. I love you. Knock 'em dead. I really love you," her father calls out to his rapidly receding daughter.

"I've got the best guy in the world," says Lance's father to his son as they pass each other in the hallway. (Even though Lance is a straight-D student and seems to reserve most of his passion for video games.) These little phrases of love are particularly useful in those moments when you and your teenager are together and have nothing really to talk about. It immediately changes awkward silence into a swift, friendly moment.

My point: It is a really good idea, on a regular basis, to make sure you say affectionate things to your teenager. Every day. More than once a day.

This is not a minor suggestion. This definitely is one of those deals where a little can go a long way.

Make it a habit. They may not respond. It doesn't matter. The point is that you are reaching out and regularly making loving contact with your child.

"You know what? It would be nice if one time when I say something friendly, you might actually say something friendly back."

"How about 'get out of my life'? Would that be good?"

No. It is not conditional. You are not requiring anything of them.

Some days will be harder than others. You'll be tired, in a lousy mood, in a hurry. You won't be feeling especially loving toward your teen because they've been giving you trouble lately. Don't forgo the loving little phrases. That would be a mistake. You want to keep doing it, regardless.

On those tough days, tell yourself this: You are having conversations with the inner, loving child, who may often be invisible but is still there. The good news is it actually gets you to like them more.

It really takes very little effort. Do it regularly enough, and it becomes automatic.

And the truth is, they grow to like it. A lot. Even if they won't admit it.

"Dad, do you always have to say that stuff? 'You're my best guy. You're my best guy.' It's really stupid."

"Yes, I do have to always say that stuff."

"Well, it's really stupid. It doesn't do anything."

But it does.

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books, including Get Out of My life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager.

source: Toronto Globe and Mail