What Do Teen Boys Need from Parents? Let’s Ask One

teen boy in his bedroomWe hear so much about how to support teen girls emotionally during this turbulent early-life stage, but what about raising teen boys? After having a conversation with my own 13-year-old son, I decided I would follow his lead and let him be my teacher. We have both just now entered his teenage world, him as my son and me as his mother. Although we are off to a good start, I know that I could always use more guidance, so I figured I would go directly to the source and hear what it’s like to be an emerging young man—and what helps a teen boy thrive.

As his mother, I am acutely aware that the cuddly little boy stage where Mama is front and center has passed us by. Although I mourn the loss of that time, I welcome and embrace the new stage (which also includes ample hugs while watching a movie together and lots of pats on the back, sprinkled with “I love yous”). I still feel as close as ever to my firstborn, but in a new and deeper way. I am beginning to learn who he is as a young man in the making. What an honor to be his mother, and I am so thankful he has let me in emotionally to his vision quest.

I interviewed my son—denoted simply as “B” below—about what teen boys need from their parents to thrive emotionally, and he gave me permission to quote him. I think he’s quite perceptive and mature beyond his years, although I am a little biased.

Me: What do you think is helpful in terms of discipline for a teen boy?

B: You can’t let a kid get away with something that’s wrong or inappropriate—like be fair to all siblings, or else they will think it’s unfair that you are going to consequent one more than the other. … If you don’t set boundaries and be firm, that makes the kid think they can be disrespectful.

Sounds like the theme is consistency across the board for all individuals; the same house rules apply. Also, appropriate consequences for different ages (i.e., a privilege earned might be use of a cell phone or playing a video game). Hmm, I think I get that one right most of the time.

Me: What do teen boys need in order to feel respected by their parents?

B: Don’t rush your teen son—if you are not in an immediate need of something, don’t rush people because maybe they are doing something important to them. … Let your son sleep in, especially if you don’t need them to do anything.

I am hearing that honoring one’s space, in terms of timing for beginning/completion of tasks, might be a growth area for me. I recently read a blog post by Rosalind Wiseman, author of the seminal work Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World, in which she addresses the concern that boys need to go about their tasks at their own pace, as long as they complete the tasks within a specified, mutually agreed-upon time range. In other words, taking the trash out the night before the garbage trucks pick it up is probably a better option than hauling your son out of bed at 6:30 on a summer morning when you hear the roar of the trucks approaching. Also, sometimes boys just need space in their rooms without interruption to contemplate the world and life in general.

Me: What do teen boys need from their parents in order to feel emotionally supported?

B: Every teen boy in the whole wide world processes their emotions differently, so there is no one-size-fits-all way of expressing yourself. … It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, if I am feeling like I will want to process a stressful thing at the end of day, I will. Don’t try to get a teen to talk about things too quickly. He’ll let you know when he’s ready.

I think that speaks for itself. Respect his timing for verbal expression of a challenging situation, and be ready to listen. Also, it’s true: many boys (though not all) are fantastic at expressing emotion and really just need validation and a listening ear. Other teen boys may need help in understanding the stressful circumstance and determining an action plan to reduce stress. Boys have vast treasure troves of emotional intelligence and empathy, vital life skills for work and love relationships. We must support teen boys in honoring their emotional intelligence and trusting their instincts to effectively problem-solve in safe and non-violent ways.

Me: What do teen boys need differently from their mother and father (if both are involved in the child’s life)?

B: Usually if you have a boy child, then you are going to be doing hobbies with the father if it involves parents (like getting help with directions for a remote-control helicopter, mainly electronic things, and things that go “boom”). The reason you don’t see a boy doing hobbies with his mom is because, I am just saying, women don’t usually dig the same thing that boys do. For both parents: Help him with his homework, telling him about your experience when you were his age so he can have kind of a base(line) and to have goals for a profession or simply what problem to do on homework or how to understand friends and girls. … You need the dad to give you life lessons and teach you stuff that boys do, like sports, hobbies. What he needs from his mom is having your back and just kind of supporting every decision you make and helping you with your homework.

I definitely see the shift in my son’s aligning with his father in terms of his emerging identity as a young man. It becomes increasingly important for teen boys to have supportive male and female role models who demonstrate the yin and yang of healthy emotional development. Empathy building, increasing confidence and assertion, respectful communication, healthy conflict resolution, reciprocity, and consistent nurturing are all building blocks of emotionally healthy young men.

B then added: “Parents can give life lessons about mistakes. We all know that every human on earth makes mistakes or we wouldn’t be human. You basically learn from their mistakes.”

Oh, wow. Thanks, B. Thanks for loving me as the perfectly imperfect mom that I am. I am the luckiest mom on the planet to be gifted as the mother of you and your brother. Thanks to you and your brother for being the greatest teachers for this incredibly amazing, demanding, rewarding, transcending, and, most importantly, fulfilling role I will ever have in this lifetime.

I love you!

Mama Bear

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea Schneider, LCSW, therapist in Pleasant Hill, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Bowen

    Bowen

    July 7th, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    There is so much pressure on these guys to grow up and be men yet there are so many who do not have the resources in their lives who can teach them how to do that.
    I think that it is so important to have great role models in their lives that they can look up to and who will support them no matter what.
    We want them to be these well rounded individuals but there are very few who are actually showing them the patience and perseverance that it takes to become like this.
    Stand with them, be there for them when they need you, and be that support that they need when they may not even know that they need it.

  • Jonah

    Jonah

    July 7th, 2014 at 2:23 PM

    I love it that you took this opportunity to talk to your own son to not only use what he had to say to listen as a parent but to also utilize it as a way to help out the rest of us! We always think about the help that our young women need along the way, and don’t get me wrong, they do, but what boys need is so different than what the girls need. I think that in many ways you have to build the girls up while taking the boys down a notch or two, just because I think that many of them get these outsize egos and they use it to hurt others. It’s not that they mean to it’s just that they don’t really know how to rein it all in quite yet. They are unsure of what they are thinking and feeling so many of them over act just to get attention and feed what they think is missing.

  • Pnina

    Pnina

    July 8th, 2014 at 3:04 PM

    What a novel concept- we are actually talking to our kids!
    I always love it how most parents, myself included think that we have the insight into kids today and the things that they are experiencing, and all of this based on the things that we went through.
    Whta we fail to understand is that life is so much different now than it was when we were growing up. The pressures are different and the temptations are different.
    It is nice to hear the voice of a young man who is actually going through some of this telling us the things that we need to loomk out for and what they need to feel safe.
    Personally I am going to try to trake a lot of what I have read here and incorporate it into my own family life at home.

  • Charlotte

    Charlotte

    July 9th, 2014 at 4:25 AM

    many parents have come to think that what their children need are friends, and while this is true, what they need from their parents is a strong example and discipline
    they have friends and don’t need you to fulfill that role
    what they need is for you to show them how to behave with others and how to become a strong and giving person
    i am not a parent yet but i think that a huge problem is that so many parents have sort of lost sight of what it really means to be a great parent in their kids’ lives

  • trey

    trey

    July 10th, 2014 at 4:53 PM

    We know what they need and that is s strong make role model in their lives.

  • Colton

    Colton

    July 11th, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    I see a lot of parents trying to push onto their chuldren what they would like to see them experience and not necessarily what the child is interested in. It would be nice if we could all remember being that age and how much we wanted something and how it felt to have parents trying to steer us in a different direction.
    I know that most of the time we only have their best interests at heart but we don’t want to stifle who they are just to see them attain something that actually we are the ones who wnat it, and not them.

  • dottie r

    dottie r

    July 12th, 2014 at 7:39 PM

    I am actually having a hard time. Agree we must listen to what our children want. In my case I have sole custody of my 16 year old. Even though I have sole custody I have tried to include his father. I got full custody and the judge wrote because he had “need to control” now my son wants to live him him but my cnern is m oldest son live with his dad in high school and he dropped out. Now smokes pot and his step son has a poss of drug paraphinilia and alcohol charge! My son has a 3.68 GPA participates in football and lits of friends . my son is angry at me because I won’t sign paper and his dad won’t send him home and now he is being disrespectful. His dad has not contacted me to talk or anything . he even convinced our son to sneak around and not go to football and lie to me how can I keep from pushing my son away with out giving in to what I feel is not in his best interest?

  • momof4

    momof4

    July 14th, 2014 at 2:04 PM

    This is awesome! cool idea ‘B’ sounds like a smart young man to me!

  • Kat

    Kat

    July 14th, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    I raised my two sons alone, they are 2.5 years apart. I have 12 siblings and I am the oldest, 7 boys, 6 girls. I love sports and actively participated all through my life so I was glad that I had two boys so I could do things with them. I pay attention to people and truly listen to their unspoken words. If I saw or heard interest expressed in a certain area, I softly nudged or encouraged their participation. When my youngest son was in middle/high school, he told me that I didn’t push him harder! UGH lol. I didn’t want to push, that’s his job. I love my sons and am blessed to have the relationship that I do. Now I have a grandson too and an adopted granddaughter. Yes, just listen to your kids, give them the time and space they need and plenty of love and encouragement!

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