10 Tips to Help Your Teen Boy Express His Emotions

Teen Boys are Notorious for Keeping Their Feelings Bottled Up

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: 10 Tips to Help Your Teen Boy Express His Emotions

My son walked in the door after school, tossed his backpack on the floor, swung open the pantry door and started grumbling under his breath.

I didn’t get my typical “Hey mom, I’m home,” or “Did you buy any good snacks? I’m starving!” or “Guess what happened in school today?”

Clearly, something went down at school, and it was eating away at him.

“I can see something is wrong – do you feel like talking about it?” I said.

“No… I don’t want to talk about it (as he avoided making eye contact with me). I just want to go to my room,” he said.

After a few (gentle) attempts to pry it out of him, it became painfully clear to me that my son was struggling yet he was determined to handle it on his own. Just a few years ago, he would have poured out his feelings and emotions and shared every nitty-gritty detail with me without hesitation.

But he was a teenager now…

Despite the fact that my husband and I have always tried to model healthy emotional expression, my son was convinced it was no longer cool or acceptable to lay your emotions on the table or, worse, show vulnerability or sensitivity. In his eyes, it was a sign of weakness.

What’s challenging, is that society is quietly teaching our boys to put their emotions in a box. They’re told to “man up,” “suck it up,” and “be strong.” God forbid they shed a tear, get overly sappy or reveal what they’re really feeling in their heart – it might be reason enough to relinquish their “man card.”

One study showed that as boys move toward adolescence, they’re more likely to embrace hyper-masculine stereotypes and become less emotionally available. Another study showed that boys are even more expressive than girls as infants, but that changes as boys grow up – likely because boys are taught to be less expressive.

But that doesn’t mean those feelings go away. And refusing to accept and acknowledge them isn’t doing our boys any good.

The fact is, our boys’ emotional disconnection, both with themselves and others, isn’t good for their mental health. It’s making them feel confused, unhappy, isolated and ill-equipped to foster connection with others in a deep, meaningful way.

To prepare them for adulthood, we need to dust off our son’s box of emotions that’s tucked neatly away on a shelf, toss out old, masculine definitions and empower them with the support they need to fully express themselves so they can enjoy rich relationships moving forward.

The bottom line is, we need to raise our boys differently… 

10 Tips to Help Your Teen Boy Express His Emotions


#1 Allow Him to Freely Express a Wide Range of Emotions – Even Tears

Create a safe and protected environment for him to share and express his feelings and emotions – even if that means he breaks down and sheds a few tears. The more freedom your boy is given to feel and speak from the heart, the more emotionally connected he’ll feel to you and the more confident he’ll be carrying over his emotional side to other relationships in his life.

According to Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson, co-authors of Raising Cane: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, many boys have difficulty expressing their emotions. As a coping mechanism, they’ll downplay their true feelings using “shields of various forms to keep others away, including irritability, sarcasm, nonchalance, stoicism, and others.”

#2 Help Him Redefine Masculinity

Teach him that he can be strong and sensitive, tough and tender, fearless and frightened. Having a broad range of feelings and emotions isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength and confidence, courage, and self-awareness. It’s called being human. Our boys will one day be men. If we can help them learn to embrace and express their range of emotions in a healthy manner, they’ll be more likely to one day teach their own sons to do the same.

#3 Nurture Your Boy with Love

Interestingly, one study showed that boys who had a close relationship with their mothers throughout middle school were more likely to resist typical “tough guy” stereotypes which predicted better mental health in the long run. It might seem hard to believe, based on your teen’s “offish” behavior, but deep down inside, teen boys crave emotional connection with their parents. They simply don’t admit it and they don’t know how to go about it.

#4 Keep Your Touch Alive and Well

Wrap your arms around your boy and give him a warm hug (if he’s accepting). Even a quick high-five or knuckle bump can be just the type of physical and emotional expression he needs to feel safe and connected to you.

My son plops himself down on the couch next to me nearly every night looking for a backrub. (Honestly, I’m not sure he really wants a backrub or to feel his mom’s loving, reassuring touch at the end of a long day.)

#5 Listen Without Judgement

Dig deep into your son’s heart. Ask him what he’s feeling, what worries him and what his hopes and dreams are. Ask open-ended questions about his friends, school, sports, activities. Let him openly share his world with you with the comfort of knowing that his feelings will be validated and that he won’t be criticized, corrected or judged. Even if you disagree with him, honor his feelings, opinions and perspective.

#6 Encourage Steady & Strong Guy (and Girl) Friendships

When our boys hit the teen years, quite often their friends take center stage. Having a close group of friends your son can connect with, hang out with or talk to about his problems, life at home or struggles at school can prove invaluable.

The secrets they keep and the camaraderie and connection they share with one another opens the door for authentic relationships and a chance for your son to be vulnerable and open with guy (or girl) friends he trusts.

#7 Respect His Privacy

It can take a lot for a teen boy to open up about what he’s feeling. When he does, show him the respect he deserves by keeping it to yourself. Never break your teen’s trust by sharing private information with others (unless you do so discreetly). You’ll betray his trust and he’ll think twice about sharing anything with you in the future.

#8 Be Ready to Drop Everything When He Comes to You

When your son wants to talk, (try to) drop everything and listen. My son isn’t the chatterbox he once was. In fact, I’m lucky if I get a few words out of him before school or when he gets home from practice (sometimes, they sound more like grunts). But I’m still able to carve out moments to connect – when we’re alone in the car, when I go into his bedroom late at night to say goodnight, and sometimes, when he willingly grabs a quick lunch with me on the weekends. Every once in a while, he’ll even surprise me and show up at my bedroom door at 11 p.m (when I’m exhausted) eager to chat, which, of course, I always seize the moment.

#9 Be a Role Model

Of course, the power and influence moms have on their sons is undeniable. But when it comes to teaching our sons how to express themselves, a male role model is crucial. A father who shows his sappy side and isn’t afraid to say what he’s really feeling or an uncle who puts his arm around his nephew and says, “You can always talk to me, I’m here for you,” can do wonders for a teen boy who desperately wants to express himself, but isn’t sure others will be accepting or how to go about it.

#10 Be Patient

Getting in touch with his feelings and working toward emotional transparency takes time. But the safer your son feels expressing himself, the more in tune he’ll become with his own emotions and the better equipped he’ll become cultivating strong, emotionally healthy relationships with others.

Research has found that boys can connect emotionally with others – including close friends – on a very deep level. We just have to reinforce the idea that it’s okay, teach them how and make it safe for them to do so.

If you enjoyed, “10 Tips to Help Your Teen Boy Express His Emotions,” you might also enjoy reading: 

8 Things Your Teen Son Desperately Needs You to Teach Him

Boys: The Communication Barrier

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