We 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!
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