Focus on the Family Broadcast

Speaking Your Teen’s Love Language (Part 1 of 2)

Speaking Your Teen’s Love Language (Part 1 of 2)

Dr. Gary Chapman offers parents helpful insight and practical guidelines found in his bestselling book The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers: The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively. (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date: January 30, 2014



Gary Chapman: We observe the physical changes, you know, that are taking place in the body. But we don’t always observe and not always aware of the changes that are taking place in the mind, because they’re beginning to think logically and they’re changing emotionally. Which it – they’re up and down, you know. In the morning, they might be very wonderful and loving. The afternoon – totally different. So they’re going through all these changes, you know, and I think as parents, if we don’t become conscious of those and recognize these as normal changes, then we can be in conflict with our teenager.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Maybe you have a teen in your family who has surprised you with an emotional outburst, or you found yourself in an unexpected debate over something that really makes no sense at all. That is living with a teenager and if you have pre-teens, watch out. It’s coming.

Today on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly, we’re gonna hear a lot more about parenting your teenager. Advice and insight from Dr. Gary Chapman and as I said, Jim Daly is your host. I’m John Fuller. 

Jim Daly: John, I think most families live in this spot. We certainly do with teen boys. I mean, there’s times where you have these pretty tough interactions. And I think it’s completely normal for those households with teens. Our young men and women are growing up and becoming their own persons. They’re wanting to express themselves, have their own ideas, et cetera, often with very different ideas and attitudes than we want them to have. But as parents, we have to adjust how we treat and connect with these emerging adults so we can maintain, really, that love and respect that we need for each other. We need to understand them better. And I’m so glad we have Gary here today to help us walk through the parent-teen relationship.

John: Yeah, Dr. Chapman is so well-known as an author and speaker. He’s been on this broadcast multiple times, and he’s probably most famous for the landmark book, The 5 Love Languages. And he has expanded that concept into a series of books for men, children, singles, and teenagers. And he’s gonna help you embrace this season with your teen. It really can be a remarkable time of life, and I should mention the title of the book is The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers. Here’s Gary Chapman now, on Focus on the Family.

Jim: Gary, it’s great to have you back here at Focus on the Family. 


Gary: Thank you, Jim. Great to be back.

Jim: It is a lot of fun to look at this and you know, it’s good as a parent to become a student of your children, uh, because it’s important to know how God has wired them, isn’t it?

Gary: Well, it really is because I think, you know, when – when our teenagers came along, which is a few years ago, I had no idea what teenagers were going through. And what I’m sharing here is what I learned after…

Jim: Oh!

Gary: …I went through it myself.


Jim: That’s good, though. You’ve had the experience. That’s good.

Gary: Yeah, yeah. So uh, yeah, I think – and it’s not only the changes I mentioned earlier, but also uh, you know, it’s the social changes that are taking place. Uh, they’re moving toward independence, which we should see as a good thing. But that means they don’t want to sleep in the room with their brother anymore. They’d rather have a bed underneath the stairwell or something, you know. And they…

Jim: You know it well.

Gary: …they don’t want you walk into the shopping mall with ‘em. “Let me out, you know, three blocks away. I’ll walk in by myself.” Uh, and you know, and parents can begin to feel, “Wait a minute. What’s going on? Don’t they like us?” I mean, you – but it’s just normal. They’re moving toward independence and that means social independence. And sometimes they will not want to go with you on family outings. And this hurts the parents, you know, “Wait a minute, you know. Go with us.” And they’d rather be with their friends. So all of these things are going on inside the teenager, which really have a positive foundation if parents can see that and learn how to cooperate with that.

Jim: Uh, Gary, you are touching on something so important because as that child begins that desire for independence it can – it can create a lot of conflict in the family. And parents need to better understand how to manage that. Um, what advice do you have for the parent that is, rather than thinking it through, they’re jumping into the fight?

Gary: Yeah, well I think we have to recognize that if we’re gonna fight our teenagers, the teenagers are going to win.

Jim: Oh, now wait a minute!

Gary: You know…


Jim: A lot of parents don’t want to hear that.

John: “Oh, no they won’t. I’m gonna win this one!”

Gary: But it’s a reality. And what I mean by that is you know, even if you win the argument with a teenager and you tell them, “Well this is the way it is because I’m your parent and you’re gonna respect me,” and we go through that routine – the teenager walks away with a sense of rebellion inside. And so they’ve won the argument, you know. And so I think we have to become listeners when they get to be teenagers. When they’re…

Jim: That’s so tough for parents to do. Why is it hard for us to recognize that our teens need that level of respect?

Gary: Well I think, you know, when they’re children, we have to tell them what to do. We have to set the boundaries for our children as they grow up. And we have to see that they follow those boundaries. And it doesn’t mean you remove the boundaries when they get to be teenagers. I mean, there are still boundaries there. But when they get to be teenagers, they are now thinking also and they are thinking logically. And that’s when they come back and say, “Well, you know, what you’re saying is not right.” And one of the places, Jim, that parents really struggle is when this gets into religious area, and the child starts talking differently than what they’ve been raised. You know, and they’re bringing up different issues and say, “Well, I have this friend who’s a Buddhist and dah, dah, dah, dah,” you know. And the parents just freak out. “Wait a minute. What’s happening to my teenager?” Well, the reality is they have to come to own the faith for themselves.

Jim: It’s a very scary thing though…

Gary: It is.

Jim: …uh, as we want to parent to perfection. I mean, especially in the Christian community, we have very high expectations for our children and when they become teenagers particularly. And it can be behavior. It can be friends. They’re raising questions that are different from what the household is used to doing. How does a parent relax and actually invite that child into a deep discussion, rather than sow the seeds of rebellion by being so forceful or so harsh that they actually block the love that’s between them?

Gary: Yeah. You know, Jim, I remember when my son said to me after we had had a rather, you know, heated argument. He said, “Dad, I’m going to do what you want me to do, but I just want you to listen to me.”

Jim: Wow. Powerful moment.

Gary: And it hit me very deeply, you know. He respected my authority as a parent. He ultimately would do whatever I came down to say, you know, this is it, you know. But he wanted to be heard.

Jim: Yeah.

Gary: And I think this is important for parents to recognize. They want to be heard. They want to have the sense that we recognize them as an individual.

From our perspective as Christians, they’re made in the image of God. They’re highly intelligent, and they’re gonna go out to do somethin’ good, we hope. So let’s foster that thought – that intellectual thought. And when they say something that you disagree with, rather than giving them the answer and say, “Know what the Bible says?” you say, “Tell me more about that.” You know, “What led you to think that way?” And ask them questions so that you find out where they’re coming from, how they developed those ideas. And then you can say, “That’s an interesting perspective. Now let me share my perspective.” And because you’ve listened to them, they will now likely listen to you.

Jim: That is great advice. It’s hard to do for some reason, but you have really uh, I think, cracked a code with the love languages. And some listening may not remember or may not be familiar with the love language concept that you uh, put together in your original book, The 5 Love Languages. Tell us about those five love languages, briefly. And then let’s explore each one. But it really becomes the glue. Something I believe, Gary, that’s so true is as you parent through difficulty, you need to maintain that tether of love.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: Because if that is severed, then you’ve lost so much ground. And in your instruction and in your parenting, you’ve got to make sure you’re expressing to your child that you love ‘em. And you have cracked this code about how all human beings, whether you’re an adult or a child, you communicate in a certain way when it comes to love. Tell us about it.

Gary: Yeah. Well, you know, Jim, you’re right. I think almost all parents love their teenagers.

Jim: I would hope so.

Gary: But I can tell you, a lot of teenagers do not feel loved. So we have to be more than sincere. We have to learn how to communicate love so that your teenager, that specific teenager, feels loved. Because one size does not fit all. So the five love languages, which I discovered years and years ago, number one is words of affirmation. For some children, this is really what makes them feel loved – words of affirmation. And sometimes you find it hard to give words of affirmation to teenagers.

Another is acts of service – doing things for them, particularly things they cannot do for themselves. But also in the teenage years, teaching them how to do things for themselves, teaching them how to change a tire on a car, for example. That’s an act of service. And for some teenagers, this is really important. They want to learn these things. And when you take time to teach them how to do these things, they feel loved by you.

Another is quality time – giving them undivided attention. And this is not simply being in the same room with them. It’s focusing on them. It’s having conversations with them. It’s listening to them. It’s doing things together that they like to do – quality time.

And then there’s giving gifts, and some parents say, “Well that would be the language of all teenagers, would it not?”


No, not really. Some teenagers, however, the gift really speaks deeply to them.

Jim: And that’s receiving a gift?

John: “My parents love me.”

Gary: That’s right, receiving the gift.

Jim: Yeah.

Gary: Doesn’t have to be expensive and we certainly don’t do everything – give ‘em everything they ask for, but giving gifts is important for some children.

And then there’s physical touch. We’ve long known the power of physical touch. And with teenagers, there are some of those where physical touch is what really makes them feel loved. So each teenager has a primary love language. You want to give heavy doses of that, then sprinkle in the other four.

Jim: ‘Cause a human being – we don’t want to project that everybody’s painted into a corner. You operate with all five at different times, I would think. I mean, John, you enjoy receiving gifts.

John: I do.


It’s been a long time, by the way.

Jim: It may not be your primary – that’s a reminder right there.

Gary: And I think that’s important, Jim, because you know, some parents will read the book and say, “Well I’ll just give this one language because that’s their primary.” No, we want the teenager to learn how to receive love in all five languages and how to give love in all five languages. That’s the healthiest adult. And so we give heavy doses of the primary, then we sprinkle in the other four.

Jim: Gary, before we delve into the five, let me ask you a general question, ‘cause some people uh, they think of even the discipline of psychology as somewhat non-biblical or anti-biblical. But it is how God has wired us and what you’re describing here is uh, the way the Creator has created us emotionally. That’s what you’re driving at here and that’s really what you’ve discovered in the five love languages, isn’t it?

Gary: It is, Jim. And if you look in the Scriptures, you find God speaks all five of these languages.

Jim: Well, that’s interesting. Jesus addressed people differently.

Gary: Yes, absolutely. So these are simply ways that God has expressed His love to us and because we’re made in God’s image, we also express love to each other in these same languages.

Jim: Well, let’s talk about that, when you get to words of affirmation, especially with teenagers, which we’re talking about today – sometimes that can become very strained, because they’ve heard for a decade, “Thattaboy! You’re awesome! You’re great! I’m so proud of you.” Maybe you’ve done a lot to serve up those kind of accolades. And then you get to the teen years, 13, 14 and definitely probably around 15, 16. If it’s empty, it doesn’t mean much to them and they’re not – they’re gonna now know Dad’s just or Mom’s just, you know, shoveling it my way.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: It’s not sincere. How do you make sure as a parent that those words of affirmation are true?

Gary: Well, I think that is important, Jim, because teenagers can read it. If you’re just tryin’ to snow them, they know it, you know? And I think what parents have to do is look for not just things that the teenagers are doing, because that – you know, that’s one dialect of the language is praise – praising them for something, accomplishments they’ve done. Now there’s a place for that and almost all teenagers do something right, you know. So you look for that and you can praise them. But also, look for things about their character that you like. You know, to say to a teenager, “You know, one of the things I really like about you is your integrity. I know you’re gonna tell me the truth even if it gets you in trouble. And I really appreciate that about you.” Now obviously, you have to believe that to be true, you know, if you’re gonna say that to a teenager. But things about their personality. You know, to say to a teenager, “One of the things I like about you is you smile. I love your smile. I mean, you just light up the room when you smile.” That teenager’s gonna walk away and feel, “Man, you know, my parents recognize that in me.”

Jim: Now again, everyone will respond to that, but you’re saying you know you have a child whose primary love language is words of affirmation when they light up…

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: …when you do it. Um, if your child doesn’t have that, they may smile back at you, but it’s not gonna feel as good to them, is it? Is that how…

Gary: Well it’s gonna mean more to the child whose language is words of affirmation. Conversely, when you give them critical, harsh words, it’s gonna…

Jim: It’ll go deeper.

Gary: …hurt them more deeply than it would the other. I remember a 13-year-old boy who said to me – he was in the hospital with stomach ulcers. And in my efforts to try to find out what was going on, I said to him, “How do you and your father get along?” And he said, “I don’t ever please my father.”

Jim: Wow.

Gary: And I said, “Can you give me an example?” He said, “If I get a B on my report card, my father will say, ‘You shoulda made an A, boy. You’re smarter than that.’”

Jim: Wow.

Gary: He said, “If I get a double playing ball, my father will say, ‘You shoulda made a triple out of that. You need to learn how to run, boy.’” Understand?

Jim: Oh, yeah.

Gary: His father was tryin’ to motivate him to do his best, but what the teenager was feeling was condemnation.

Jim: Let me ask you a practical question. Let’s go back to that example, which is a good one. If you’re that dad and you read The 5 Love Languages of a Teenager and you’ve been harpin’ on that poor kid in the way that you’ve described, how do you dial it back? How do you reset the relationship?

Gary: I think, first of all, Jim, we have to apologize. We have to say to that teenager, “You know, I realize that I need to learn a lot of things about parenting. And there’s an area in which I realize I have really been hurting you. And I want you to know, I’m aware of it and I feel badly about it. And I hope you can forgive me and I want to learn a new way to share things with you. I’m your dad and I want to correct you. I want to help you. When I think you can do better, I want to try to challenge you to do better. But I want to learn how to do it in a way that’s helpful to you and not hurtful to you.”

Jim: Wow.

Gary: It’s that kind of apology that opens the heart of that teenager and I don’t know – I’ve never met a teenager that wouldn’t respond positively to a parent’s apology to them.

John: Well, that’s a – that’s a really insightful thought from Dr. Gary Chapman. I appreciate that, Gary. He’s written the book, The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers: The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively. And boy, I think you’re right, Jim. There’s a code here that Dr. Chapman has cracked. By the way, the book is available to you for a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family here today. And you can call us or make that donation at

And Gary, there are ramifications here uh, for our teens as they become adults. I was just talking to a woman who really was rebellious as a teenager. And her parents gave her a lot of criticism and I’m thinking of her right now because I know whenever she gets together with them, she’s in tears. She just can’t seem to please them. So we’ve gotta get this right or it can follow our kids well into adulthood.

Gary: It does; it does. And that’s why, John, it’s so important that parents learn what the love language is of that individual child. If you have three children, there’s a good chance each of ‘em has a different love language. And you treat them all the same and only one of ‘em gets the message emotionally. The other two don’t feel it.

Jim: Let’s talk about that. How do we as a parent uh, do the “ID-ing” of the love language? How do – I have two boys. My youngest, Troy, he is obviously a person who likes physical touch. He’ll run – he’ll be the first one to run to me when I get home to give me a big bear hug. So I think I’m smart enough to figure that one out. Uh, my other son, he’s more introverted, more the scientist. He’s – when I hug him, even though I’ve asked him, “Do you like when I hug you?” “Oh, Dad, I do.” But it’s like hugging a pole.


He’s – there’s just, you know, there’s just…

John: He just stands there rigid, right?

Jim: I have to say – in fact, I have to sometimes say, “You can use your arms.” “Oh, okay.”


But it’s not – he’s not upset, he just…

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: It’s not natural for him.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: Am I reading those clues right?

Gary: You – you are. It’s two different languages. The one is physical touch. And a lot of times you can simply observe the teenager just as you did. If they’re reaching out to you and hugging you and hitting you on the shoulder and those kind of things, you can assume that would be very meaningful to them. That’s probably their language. But if they don’t do that, like another teenager might say, “Dad, come into my room. I want to show you something.” You see, they’re asking for quality time, not touch, but they want your undivided attention. They want you to be there with them. They want to show you something and see you interact with them. So if you observe their behavior, you can often see a teenager’s love language.

Jim: What would be some of the other clues for the other before we move on? Let’s say…

Gary: One would what they complain about. If they say, “You love Sally more than you love me…”

Jim: Right.

Gary: …you need to look and see what you’re doing for Sally. Because what you’re doing for Sally may be what they want and they’re not getting that.

Jim: So you’re saying the observation that that 13- or 14-year-old is making is valid, not to shrug it off as a parent…

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: …that they’re seeing something you’re not seeing…

Gary: That’s right.

Jim: …and to look first at what’s happening there.

Gary: Yeah. You see, the teenager who said to me, “I don’t ever please my father” – that’s a complaint. “I can’t ever please my father.” He’s telling me his language is words of affirmation. So listen to the complaints of your teenager. It will likely show you what their language is.

Jim: John, I’ll direct this one to you and Gary…

Gary: Uh-oh!

Jim: …can – can chime in here. But you’ve had teenage daughters. When you look at physical touch, especially for a father, but I would think it would work for a mom and a teenage boy, there can be awkward times, because you don’t know what to do. Did you experience that, John?

John: Well, I did, yeah. And it is a little bit on the awkward side because as they mature, you want to be careful that you’re not doing anything inappropriate. But I still give full-on hugs to my girls. They’re used to it and my feeling is it’s all quarters in the bank. I mean, I want to give them non-sexualized physical touch.

Gary: Yeah.

John: One of them, that’s very clearly a primary love language, the other two not so much. But I still just look at ‘em and say, “Hey, don’t go to bed without saying goodnight and giving me a hug. I need it.”

Jim: That sounds healthy, Gary. What – what would be an awkward state? Where does a dad say, okay – I’m thinking of my wife, Jean, because she said early when she was uh, her daddy’s little girl, early on he stopped any kind of physical touch at about 10, 11-years-old and she didn’t understand it. Maybe now she would understand it better. But she missed it and she didn’t understand why. I mean, your daughter…

John: Yeah.

Jim: …there’s nothing odd about giving me a hug.

Gary: That’s a common mistake of fathers. And I think because in our society, you know, inappropriate touches have been so highlighted that many fathers are drawing back from those preadolescent girls. And I say to that father, “If you don’t continue to hug her and touch her in appropriate ways, in two years, she’ll find a boy who’s two years older than her who will give her touches.”

Jim: Especially uh, a teenage girl that craves physical touch because that’s her love language.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: And if she’s not getting that within the home…

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: …she may seek it elsewhere. Gary, let me ask you this. We received a note from a – a woman named Becky. And I think this sums up a little of our apprehensions, as well. She said, “My son is 12 and my daughter is 11. I’ve been reading books about teenagers and I’m scared. It seems like all teenagers are having sex, using drugs and carrying guns to school. Is it really that bad?” I think for a lot of parents because of the news and because of what we see going on with the friends and the high schools and junior highs, we can be filled with fear and that can come through the relationship. How do we as Christian parents calm down?

Gary: Well I think, Jim, we have to first of all recognize that it is true, that things are not good in our society when it comes to teenage culture. And parents have a right to be concerned. On the other hand, we’ve had years to work with these children and to teach them the principles of Christ. And if they have seen those principles in us, we can be assured that we’re gonna continue to impact them. In fact, all research indicates that teenagers are impacted by their parents far more than by their peers.

Jim: Now it doesn’t feel that way so often when you’re parenting teenagers. It feels like you’re pushin’ water uphill.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: Um, how do we have that confidence that even though we have done hopefully, the right job and yet, the music culture, the media culture keeps grabbing and gnawing at them? How do you keep that confidence?

Gary: Don’t condemn it, not just, you know, preaching sermons against it, but listening to something that might be positive. And also listen to the negative, having discussions with them about it. Walk with them through the process. This is where you’re gonna have the greatest impact.

Jim: Let me pose it this way. I think so often, especially again, in Christian parenting, uh, some might say, “Well, that’s capitulating. If I uh, express an interest in it, then I’m kinda giving myself over to it and I should set the example.” What would you say to that dad, for instance?

Gary: I’d say, you know, it doesn’t mean that we agree with everything our teenager gets into. For example, they may get into another religion and study it deeply and come home talking about it. Well rather than just saying, “Well, you know, that’s wrong and the Bible doesn’t teach that,” listen to them. Walk with them through that. Let them tell you what they’re learning. Let them tell you about – and then you start reading about that religion, so you can also interact intelligently with them. Because the reality is most teenagers, particularly older teenagers, are beginning that process and through college, they’ll go into that process of looking at other world religions and trying to ask themselves, “What my folks said, is it really true?” But that’s good, because…

Jim: That’s a natural process.

Gary: That’s a natural process in which they’re internalizing. We hope they’re gonna come to internalize the Christian faith.

Jim: Gary, let’s go to the third one, quality time, ‘cause this is an important one as we wrap up today and we’ll continue next time with the others. But quality time, for adults, for parents this can be so difficult, ‘cause we think just hanging out, “Okay, they got quality time.” But you didn’t talk. You talked about only the Broncos or whatever it might be.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: And I can be guilty of this ‘cause you come home tired and you know, you want to just kind of go into a numb state perhaps. You’ve gotta be careful as a parent. Quality time means something. Define it for us.

Gary: Well, it means giving the child your undivided attention. You can go to a ball game and think that you’ve given quality time to the child. But I remember the teenager who said to me, I was counseling with him and I said to him, “How’d the game go Saturday?” He said, “Oh, it was fine. It was good.” He said, “But uh, my daddy didn’t talk to me. He just watched the game and we – he talked about the game, but he didn’t talk to me.”

Jim: Well, and a lot of fathers would say, “Well, that was quality time.”

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: What should that father have done to make sure it was quality time?

Gary: Fine to talk about the game, no problem talkin’ about the game. But somewhere along the line, halftime or on the way home or on the way going or something, you’re asking questions about the teenager’s life other than the game. The game is not the teenager, you know. The game is some other guys out there. What’s the teenager doing? What did he learn? Did he learn – if he plays sports for example, “What did you learn from watching the game that you think’ll help you, you know, as you play sports?” ‘Cause it’s getting into the life of the teenager, what they’re thinking, what’s going on in their lives, what’s important to them? 


John: Some good questions for parents to consider on this edition of Focus on the Family. And our guest today has been Dr. Gary Chapman. He’s written a number of great books – one called, The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers, and we do hope you order a copy of that along with a CD or download of today’s conversation, and we’ll include what’s up next time as well. And then I should mention we have a free parenting assessment for you at our website, which helps you get a quick overview of how your family’s doing in some key areas. And along the way, we’ll also offer some suggestions on ways to improve those relationships in the home. The starting point for all of this is or simply call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Jim: And John, I really hope moms and dads have been encouraged by what Gary shared with us today. We all need to take to heart his advice about caring for one another and loving each other well. This love language concept is so simple and most importantly, it works. And we’ve heard from so many families over the years who have been helped by these principles.

The last time we aired the program with Gary, a single mom contacted us about the relationship with her 19-year-old son who was transitioning to college. After hearing Gary talk about the five love languages, this mom and son discovered that they both thrive on words of affirmation. And when they began encouraging one another, guess what? Their relationship was transformed. You can experience the same thing in your family and to help you do that, I wanna send you a complimentary copy of Gary’s book when you send a financial gift of any amount to Focus on the Family today. Through your generosity, you’re helping us strengthen and equip par

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The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers

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