The behavior also stems from the awkwardness of puberty. "These kids are suddenly having lots of sexual thoughts and feelings, so not only can hugs from mom feel dangerous, but even verbal affection can seem threatening," says James Windell, M.A., a clinical psychologist in Oakland, Michigan, and coauthor of The Fatherstyle Advantage: Surefire Techniques Every Parent Can Use to Raise Confident, Caring Kids (Stewart, Tabori & Chang). Few teens manage this push-me/pull-you stage gracefully, and parents, especially moms, wind up feeling hurt. (I remember my son once asking me to sit five rows behind him in the movie theater and sulking while I watched Johnny Depp.) So we get too adamant about that goodbye kiss, setting up power struggles. Or we withdraw, rejecting kids in ways that can hurt and confuse them. Finding a middle ground gets harder and harder.
But it's important to keep in touch, and not just physically. Parents need to ask kids about their friends, listen when they wail about school, and make lasagna or shoot hoops when they're down in the dumps -- all those gestures that psychologists lump under a big umbrella called parental warmth. Without that daily shelter, teens have a much tougher time learning social skills and building self-esteem. Moms and dads also need those close moments with their teens to avoid getting overly focused on all the daily hassles and skirmishes, whether it's insisting they can't wear cutoffs to school or don't have dibs on the car radio. Following, some expert advice on smart ways to show affection to your oh-so-aloof kids. And not to worry -- before you know it, your 18-year-old will navigate his way to independence and make a beeline back to you.