Parenting teenage boys is a challenge. And an opportunity.
In some ways, says child and adolescent psychologist Lee Bare, parenting a teenage boy is like parenting a newborn. “You have to be prepared for anything and you never know what kind of mood they’re going to wake up in,” says Lee, who is also the mother of three teenage sons. The angst and worry that parents experience during the boys’ teenage years also recalls the frantic worries and sleepless nights of the newborn stage.
Just as in parenting newborns, it can be helpful to put some of your own expectations to the side and focus instead of meeting your son “where he is,” Lee says.
Dealing with Adolescent Separation
It is completely normal for teen boys to pull way from their parents. Your son may not talk to you (or want to hang out with you) as much when he’s a teen as he did when he’s younger. That’s OK and developmentally appropriate.
It’s also OK for parents to grieve the loss of closeness with their sons. But instead of focusing your energy on what you’ve lost, concentrate on the kind of relationship you’d like to have with your son when he’s older. Work on building that relationship. “I want them to want to spend time with me when they’re adults,” Lee says. (Pro tip: Nagging your son about the time he spends with his friends or alone in his room won’t likely lead to that desired result.)
Adapting Your Parenting for Teenage Boys
Your parenting has to evolve and grow as your boys do. When your son starts pushing back on things like bedtime and curfew, it may be time to revisit (and renegotiate) your expectations. Boys crave more control over their lives as they get older, and they need opportunities to manage their own time and make independent choices (and mistakes).
During your boys’ teen years, you can adapt traditional parenting practices to your family’s needs. You may not be able to have dinner together every night — or even most nights. “We have kind of an open, revolving door dinner,” Lee says. “Dinner is ready and then people kind of rotate in and out.” Where and what you eat doesn’t matter; what’s powerful about “family dinner” is communication, and you can maintain communication in all sorts of non-traditional ways.
When you are concerned about your son’s behavior, ask yourself if it’s a big deal in the bigger picture. (Long term, does it really matter if he doesn’t turn in his math homework?) “Look at what’s important for your family to place value on, and what’s OK to let go,” Lee says, “because you don’t have time to respond to every single thing.”
It’s also helpful to try to put yourself in your son’s shoes. Think about what matters to him, what he likes, and what makes him feel safe and loved. (Hint: it might not be a big hug or kiss from mom)
“Teenage boys want connection,” Lee says. “They just don’t necessarily connect the same way we do.”
In this episode, Jen, Janet, & Lee discuss:
- How parenting teenage boys is like parenting a newborn
- Dealing with adolescent separation
- Finding time for family dinners when your boys have busy extra curricular schedules
- Maintaining connection with teen boys
- Differentiating normal vs. “not normal” (or concerning) teen boy behavior (Hint: look at past behavior)
- Letting go
- Teen boys & school
- Supporting parents of teens
- Coping with our feelings of isolation and shame when our boys do something dumb or damaging
- Boys who “don’t want to do anything”
- Helping teen boys navigate friendships
- How to support teenage boys
- Self-care for parents of teens
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:
Boys Will Be Boys — Lee’s Psychology Today column
The Truth About Parenting Teen Boys — classic Building Boys post
Need help with your boys?
Join Janet Allison’s real-time, monthly group coaching program, Decoding Your Boy