Parenting and the Importance of Liking Your Adolescent

Many parents value the importance of love but underestimate the power of liking.

Posted Apr 20, 2020

Carl Pickhardt Ph.D.
Source: Carl Pickhardt Ph.D.

Adolescence is the time when you and your child still love each other as always, but often don’t like each other as much.” So I was told on good parental authority.

The notion was that while childhood was filled with taking pleasure in each other’s company, adolescence is often about parent and teenager putting up with how each other have become harder to live with.

What follows is why I believe that active liking is an important part of effectively parenting an adolescent. 

Less liking from the loss of childhood

For the parents, gone is the adoring and adorable little child whose tag-along company they miss. For the adolescent, gone are the perfectly wonderful parents and the fun-loving company they used to be. For both parent and changing child, adolescence begins with some loss of mutual enjoyment, and liking is its name.

Come adolescence, a lessening of traditional liking on both sides of the relationship can occur.

Although it can feel easy to blame each other for this disaffection, the real culprit is growth. Now, three developmental engines – separation, experimentation, and opposition – drive the adolescent transformation toward more independence and individuality. Now more contention can occur. “You haven’t done what I asked!” collides with, “I said I would, in a while!”

Increased abrasion from normal differences starts wearing down the old connection between them, gradually growing them more apart from each other, which is what the coming of age passage is meant to accomplish.

Love is not enough

To some parents, this partial loss of liking seems like no big deal so long as lasting love remains strong because, surely, loving counts more than liking. Yes and no. If you could only have one, certainly love would be the best choice. However, never underestimate the power of parental liking. Consider it this way.

The power of parental love is nurturing attachment on which trust in the lasting power of this unconditional commitment depends. “I know my parents have always loved me and always will.” We are talking about foundational presence here.

The power of parental liking is providing approval from their high authority on which much conditional self-esteem depends. “I think well of myself because my parents have always thought well of me.” We are talking about formative influence here.

Early adolescence and self-dislike

Young adolescents can dislike themselves more than they did as children on two counts: first, when they separate from childhood and second when they enter puberty.

Most young people separate from childhood and start adolescence (around ages 9 to 13) with fewer grounds for liking themselves because they must let go of some traditional enjoyments that kept them feeling good. Growing up is a ruthless process because it requires giving up along the way. So they reject beloved interests, activities, and objects because: “I don’t want kid stuff anymore!” However, it takes a while to replace these supports, and until they are found, the young person can feel beset by that painful state of self-dislike, boredom: “I don’t know what to do with myself! I hate having nothing I like to do!”

When young people enter puberty, coming into sexual maturity can cause physical changes and social self-consciousness that engenders a lot of self-dislike about personal appearance and unpopularity: “I don’t like how I look”; “Not many people like me.” At worst, public teasing can cause the young person to dislike themselves even more: “It just shows what’s wrong with me!” (Parents need to explain: “Teasing is not about anything wrong with you; it just shows what is wrong with teasers – acting mean.”)

With peers, the adolescent is not usually looking to be loved; but she or he is definitely looking to be liked -- to be approved, welcomed, befriended, and popular. Now to be socially liked becomes extremely important, and to be socially disliked can be extremely painful. "No one wants me to sit with them at lunch." To be unliked can lead to isolation. 

The relationship between liking and love

Because love amplifies one’s power of liking – of approval and disapproval – criticism from a loved one can hurt the most. Thus, the angry or defiant teenage statement to upset parents is usually a lie: “I don’t care what you think of me anyway!” In truth, I believe most adolescents want to shine in parental eyes. In consequence, there can be the need not to disappoint, the concern that wrongful actions can harm the relationship, even fear that loss of partial liking may endanger their love.

Thus sometimes in response to an infraction of a significant rule, parental reassurance may need to be given to the anxious offender who wonders if they’ve really “torn the relationship with parents now.” Sensing this insecurity, parents explain, “Just because we don’t like how you acted doesn’t mean we don’t love the person you are.” Then they give a non-evaluative correction to deal with the wrongdoing, with no criticism of character expressed. “We just disagree with the choice you made, this is why, this is what we need to have happen now, and we are ready to hear whatever you have to say.”

Examples of active liking

So how might an adolescent experience active parental liking? Ten examples follow.

  1.  “You enjoy my company.”
  2. “You welcome my friends.”
  3. “You compliment my efforts.”
  4. “You support my goals.”
  5. “You listen with attention.”
  6. “You respect my needs.”
  7. “You appreciate my interests.”
  8. “You value my opinion.”
  9. “You laugh at my humor.”
  10. “You’re glad to see me.”

While parents should be steadfast in loving their adolescents, they should be constant in actively liking this young person, too.