This post: 10 Ultimate Truths About Parenting Teen Boys
Although the years between the ages of 13 and 19 might be considered the most tumultuous, scary, and challenging years for parents of teen boys, they also happen to be the most rewarding and (dare I say) fun.
Changes are happening in our boys so fast, it’s nearly impossible to keep up. One minute we’re looking down at them and the next they’re towering over us and we’re standing on our tippy-toes just to get eye level with them.
Suddenly, they’re not quite so little anymore with their crackling voices, stubbly chins, sweaty (and smelly) armpits, and size 11 shoes.
Sure, hormones are raging and moods are swinging, (we can all admit there are plenty of challenging days along the way), but somewhere on their crazy, unpredictable journey to adulthood, our boys become amazing men and that makes it all worthwhile.
With my son on the tail end of his teen years, I’ve learned a few “ultimate truths” about parenting teen boys – teen boy “isms” if you will, that seem to hold true with nearly all teen boys (not all, of course). Things no one talks about, things teen boys often keep to themselves, and things that can help us better understand our boys and become better parents.
Here are 10 ultimate truths about parenting teen boys.
10 Ultimate Truths About Parenting Teen Boys
#1 They Don’t Talk a Whole Lot
Like clockwork, our boys’ once expansive vocabulary has whittled down to a mere handful of words and phrases including, “nah,” “I dunno,” “whatever,” and “there’s nothing to eat.” When we ask about their day, try to strike up a conversation, or ask them what they want for dinner, they act as though they’re part of the CIA and if they offer up too much information they’ll have to kill us.
Some experts say it’s because they’re fearful of exposing their vulnerabilities. Others say it has far more to do with the fact that their bodies and brains are undergoing massive construction which makes them less interested in engaging in conversation.
Either way, I’ve learned that this phase of our boys’ development isn’t something that needs to be “fixed.” It’s a normal part of our boys’ growth (unless, of course, it becomes extreme) and rather than trying to pull them into long, meaningful conversations that they have no interest in, we need to focus less on getting them to talk and more on building a connection by grabbing a few precious minutes a day with them, doing things with them they love to do, buying them little surprises and finding ways to let them know we love them – unconditionally.
#2 They’re Far More Sensitive Than They’d Ever Admit
Teen boys are notorious for putting up a tough front, pretending they have things under control, and acting like things “are no big deal.”
Society, peer pressure, and even unintentional subtle hints dropped by parents gently whisper in his ear that those raw emotions he’s feeling need to be boxed up and put on a shelf for safekeeping. And, by the time they become teenagers, they’ve become pretty good at keeping all those emotions in check.
But, still waters run deep. There’s a river of emotion that lies beneath that stoic surface. Given the right opportunity (and a whole lot of love) your “I’ve got everything under control” boy might just surprise you and let you “in,” show his emotions and maybe even break free from the “big boys don’t cry” attitude and shed a tear in front of you.
#3 They Need Their Mamas
It goes without saying that teen boys need their dads. But, the relationship between teen boys and their mothers is a precious and unique one.
Yet, when boys are close to their moms, it’s so often viewed with criticism. If our boys expose their vulnerability and adoration for us (especially publicly), they’re often labeled as a mama’s boy, a sissy, a pansy, or weak.
But, warm, loving, and close relationships between moms and sons should be celebrated, not criticized.
Block out the naysayers… building a solid mother and son bond not only makes our sons stronger, it also makes them more independent and better equipped to venture into the world on their own.
#4 They Won’t Outwardly Ask For It, But They Need Our Physical Touch
When my son was young, I could wrap my arms around him several times a day and he willingly accepted my affection. Now that he’s a teenager, he avoids my physical touch like the plague. Every once in a while, he’ll plop on the couch next to me and ask for a back rub or I’ll be lucky enough to sneak in a quick hug. His lanky arms wrap around me for a few seconds and I’ll catch a slight grin on his face – a reminder to me how much he needs my touch.
One thing I’ve learned about teen boys is that they silently crave our physical touch. They’re just way too cool to ask for it. Don’t cave into your son’s false belief that any parental touch or show of affection is a sign of childish weakness.
There will never be an adequate substitute for a mother or father’s touch, so keep trying. Avoid taking your son’s “offish” behavior personally and look for creative ways to stay physically (and emotionally) connected to him. Whether it’s a back rub, a fist bump, a hug, or a hive five – the power of your touch reaches far beyond the obvious.
#5 Boys Compare and Compete.
“I’m not cool like that kid.” “I’ll never be that popular.” “If I was good-looking like him I might have a girlfriend.”
That “not good enough” self-talk isn’t merely reserved for teen girls. Teen boys, like girls, often compare themselves to other boys – they simply don’t admit it. While girls will often chat with friends more openly about their feelings and insecurities, boys keep all that pent-up emotion and feelings buried.
Not only do boys quietly compare themselves with other guys, but they also take it a step further and compete. When testosterone is combined with a drive to test themselves, our boys are bound to enter into competition. Whether it’s physically battling it out on the field, showing academic supremacy in the classroom, or contending for the affection of a girl, (or romantic interest) boys are hard-wired to prove their dominance and one-up each other.
#6 They’re Vulnerable When It Comes to Girls (Romantic Relationships)
First crush, first kiss, first date, first relationship, first heartbreak – we often think girls are the ones who agonize over relationships and dating in their teen years, but our boys have a huge sense of vulnerability in that area, too.
They worry about girls (or their love interest) liking them, if they’ll find them attractive (both physically and intellectually), if they’ll be considered a good kisser, how and when to make the first move (and how to react when the girl moves in first), how to be a good boyfriend, handling rejection and (something most parents would rather not admit), having sex.
Even if you think your son is going to cringe at the mere idea of talking with you about girls, dating, relationships, and sex, don’t let it stop you. My son blushed and rolled his eyes the first time I brought up a few subjects, but he’s slowly developing a comfort level of discussing at least some topics with my husband and me.
Also, don’t underestimate the value of older siblings in this area. Having “been there, done that,” older sisters and brothers can offer mounds of real-life advice about dating in today’s world (which, let’s face it, is far different than when we were young).
#7 Boys Take Longer to Process Information
Ever wonder why your son seems to completely shut down when you pound him with questions after school or nag him about everything he forgot to do?
It might be that he’s outright ignoring you, (one study did find that teen brains literally shut down when they’re being nagged). The more likely answer is that he’s trying to process all that information.
Generally speaking, boys don’t process information as quickly as girls. One study even found that it takes boys, on average, seven hours longer to process “hard emotive data.”
Boys need time to sort everything out and break away from stimulation which is why they often lock themselves in their bedrooms after school with a plateful of Oreos and a glass of milk – it’s their way of “taking it all in.” It also explains why at 10 o’clock at night (approximately seven hours after school has ended) our boys come to us ready to talk about their day. (Of course, when they do, we hang on their every word while desperately trying to stay awake.)
#8 Your Best Conversations Will Happen in the Car
If I want to know what’s happening in my son’s life, I ask (okay, sometimes bribe) him to take a drive. Whether we’re heading out to run a few errands, venturing out to lunch at his favorite restaurant, or going for a drive just because, the floodgates always seem to open when we’re in the car.
Maybe it’s the fact that he doesn’t have to look me in the eye. Maybe it’s because we’ve left all the distractions at home. Maybe it’s because he feels he has my undivided attention. Or, maybe it’s because he secretly wants to tell me about his life and he’s just been waiting for the right opportunity to open up. Either way, when it comes to teen boys, there’s a certain magic that happens when you’re alone with them in the car staring straight ahead at the road.
#9 They Don’t Admit When They’re Wrong
Teen boys are funny that way… if you prove them wrong, they’ll never fess up and accept “defeat.”
My son and I were recently in a heated debate about something and, after he swore on his great auntie’s grave that he was right and I was wrong – I eventually proved him wrong. Instead of him fessing up, admitting his error, and apologizing for so profusely (and somewhat arrogantly) shouting from the mountaintops that he was right, he merely grunted and walked away.
Bottom line, don’t expect a heartfelt apology from your boy – it’s just not “in” them… yet. They haven’t quite mastered the art of humility – something only a few hard knocks in life will teach them. For now, just go with the glory that you were right, know he’s paying attention (even if he acts like he isn’t), and give him time to grow up a bit. One day, when you least expect it, you’ll get that earnest apology you’re looking for.
#10 They Need Room to Make Mistakes
As parents, we all make mistakes. We’ve said things to our kids we shouldn’t have. We overreact, yell and fly off the handle. We’re human. That being said, while we’re busy helping our boys avert mistakes in their lives, it’s important to remember that we’re just as prone to making mistakes as they are.
The truth is, we need to stop preventing our boys from making (at least some) mistakes and let them mess up from time to time. By doing, trying, failing, and eventually learning and succeeding, it fosters resilience, confidence, and grit in our boys.
Another upside of allowing our boys to mess up every now and then is that once our boys begin to feel that we respect their decisions, they’ll become more mature and responsible. With every decision they make, (and us allowing them to face the consequences of those decisions – good or bad), they’ll slowly begin to embrace the idea that their decisions are truly their own.