The teen years can be daunting for both teens and us parents. We're both trying to navigate these new hormonal developments with the different behavioural changes that come with them. To think that we've all been there and yet we grapple with our teens just proves that we are all different and our experiences are different. The teens now experience added societal pressures, unlike the generations before them.
The good news is, it's not all that bad. We are riding this haywire journey with them on their way to being amazing young men, and that, in my opinion, makes it all worthwhile.
My son is three-quarters through his teen years, and I've learned a thing or two during this time. I know that not everyone's journey is the same and sometimes, finding the right balance whilst trying to maintain sanity takes a lot of trial and error.
As they become teenagers, their actions seem as if they're pushing us away. We feel as if we're constantly walking on eggshells, and no matter what we say or how kind we act, it's almost always met with resistance, which often leads to frustration.
The truth is we shouldn't give up no matter how difficult it gets. What we do have to change is our own mindset. They are not the little boys that we once knew, though we do see that little boy in them every day.
Here are 7 tips that you might find helpful in navigating the teen years with your sons.
1- SHOW INTEREST IN HIS LIFE
When our teens were young, we always went the extra mile to be there for them every step of the way, but as these children grow into teenagers, sometimes our attendance in their lives wavers due to many things.
It's important to keep up a certain level of interest in their lives - genuine interest. The activities he enjoys, school projects and the friends he keeps are all important to him, and we should learn to appreciate their importance in his life.
When we show our boys our genuine interest in their passions and what they like, it opens up the communication lines between your boy and you.
I knew nothing about football but knowing that my son lives and breathes football made me want to know all about it. He still thinks I'm clueless on the subject, but he sees my effort, and I think I have proved that I know a thing or two to make him want to have a conversation with me about the upcoming games or the game he watched the night before. There are times, which are rare, that he asks me to watch a game with him and there times he'd prefer to watch it with his friends - and that's okay.
The same goes with his friends. Because I've made an effort to know them, welcome them into our home, and I made a lot of effort to know their parents, he'll share with me what he wants to share about what's happening in their circle.
Whether they want to admit it or not, they do rely on us for support, and they need to see that, no matter how hard they try to deny and brush it away. They think we don't understand, but with persistence (without overstepping their boundaries), they will realise that we are truly genuine, so don't give up.
We do need to realise the fine line with showing our interest without violating our sons' need for privacy. We definitely don't want to be overbearing, which will only lead us to just pushing them further away.
2 - UNDERSTAND THAT HE NEEDS HIS SPACE AND PRIVACY
We've all heard this one before, and it is so true.
Giving our teens some space and privacy are important for their development. It helps them become more independent, and it helps them build self-confidence.
It's only natural for us to want to know everything that our son does. After all, we just want them to be safe and not be steered into a direction that would be detrimental to them. But we must try our hardest to take a step back and give them that space that they so crave.
We need to be able to find a healthy balance between knowing what he does, trusting him to keep some parts of his life private, and knowing when to step in. I know that it's easier said than done, but we all know how hard parenting can be.
The key is to know what you absolutely have to know as a parent and the things you can allow your teen to keep private.
3 - LET THEM MAKE MISTAKES
We ALL make mistakes.
For all of our sons' lives, we've protected them from everything, even themselves. We don't want them to get hurt, make mistakes, or have any regrets.
Whilst we're busy trying to avert them from making mistakes, we shouldn't forget that we are just as prone to making mistakes as they are.
Unfortunately, we are conditioned early in life not to make or avoid mistakes, only to learn later that making mistakes is essential for our growth. We learn from our mistakes. It has made us stronger, and more resilient, and these mistakes that we have made have taught us so many life lessons.
As a parent, standing by and letting my son find his own solutions to problems has given me more anxiety than needed. And as much as I've wanted to go in, help him solve all his troubles and give him a shortcut to everything, I had to learn to let go and let him do it on his own. I do attempt to guide him without him realising I'm guiding him, and I definitely stay away from trying to take control of a specific situation. Crazily enough, I do want my son to make mistakes. I don't want him to have to fear making mistakes. I don't know him to fear failure.
The truth is we need to stop preventing our boys from making mistakes, some mistakes, at least. Only then can they grow, learn and succeed.
Here are some of the many lessons our boys can learn from their mistakes.
They learn how to take responsibility for their actions
They learn coping skills
They learn to adapt
They learn not to fear failure
They learn how to deal with disappointment
They learn to be more resilient
Another advantage of allowing our boys to make their own decisions and mess up a bit is they learn to be accountable for those decisions, whether good or bad. They'll slowly begin to realise that their decisions are truly their own. The consequences of their decisions are something they would have to face and no one else.
4 - AVOID JUDGEMENT AND CRITICISM
With my son, I always listen to him intently, ask questions and give my own views when I know it's safe to. I don't judge and don't try to hammer my opinions down his throat. Sometimes we agree on specific issues, and sometimes we agree to disagree, and that's totally okay. I can actually hear the liberation and confidence growing in his voice when he's able to voice his opinions without someone trying to 'set him straight' or put him down.
I realised quickly that it's okay that his thoughts and opinions differ from mine. I encourage it, and I respect his opinions. After all, we're all entitled to our own opinions. That includes teenagers.
I must admit that I was guilty of quickly jumping to conclusions or judgements initially, but my son was also quick to catch me and would explain to me that I should listen and hear him out first before I resorted to these conclusions.
Now, I'm not so impulsive in my reactions or response. I do have conversations in my head with myself, but he doesn't hear it, so there are no arguments.
They will have to learn to take criticism gracefully eventually, and it's something that we would have to let them be exposed to. Having to be graceful when you really want to punch someone in the throat is an art in itself and takes lots of practice! Like it or not, our teens need to realise that everybody has their own opinions, everybody is also a critic, and most often than not, people are just judgemental.
5 - RESPECT THEM THE WAY WE WANT TO BE RESPECTED
As much as we want them to respect us as parents, we have to respect them as well.
Here are some of the many ways we can show our teens respect.
Don't embarrass him
Know there's a difference between his behaviour and character - you can address and correct poor behaviour.
His character is who he is and who he's finding out more of - do not attack it.
ALWAYS be honest with him
Admit when he's right, and you're wrong
Try and put yourself in his shoes - empathise and be compassionate
Respect his privacy
6 - SHOW THEM THAT YOU TRUST THEM
This is a hard one for me.
As teen boys grow up, they want you to trust them. They want to be seen as more mature and to be given the independence they feel they deserve.
As parents, we find this difficult because we know they're not there yet, and we hesitate. But we can't know that for sure if we don't let them prove that they are maturing, can take responsibility and are independent to some degree. It's a chicken and egg thing, from how I see it.
I know I go crazy when my son goes out with his friends, and I don't hear from him for hours, and my mind is filled with all the things that could've or would've gone wrong. I don't call him because I want him to know that I trust him, but at the same time, I want him to be responsible enough to let me know what's happening - I might be expecting a little too much if I'm asking him to give me hourly reports!
In the end, he does come home when he told me he would, didn't get in trouble with the law or got hurt in a gang fight (not that there's any reason for him to be in a gang fight, but who knows!)
To be able to trust them, we need to set ground rules and boundaries for our boys to adhere to and follow. Only when they can consistently follow these rules does the ability to trust falls into place. Our boys need to know this.
One truth is - teenagers are bound to break some rules and boundaries to exert their independence, so don't take it personally. If there are rules set, then it will be easier to navigate the times when rules are broken. The ability to trust and be trusted is a process in itself. We both have to work towards that.
Also, as parents, we need to trust our instincts - usually, they're true!
7 - LET THEM KNOW THAT THEY ARE LOVED
Every teen boy or teenager, for that matter of fact, wants to be seen, heard, and loved.
They are more vulnerable and sensitive than what our boys lead us to believe.
It is important to show him that you love him. They need to know that you do, no matter how bad it gets. Things do get better. During these teenage years, I find that it's not the amount of time spent that is important, it's the quality. A great deal of effort needs to be put in to understand them and empathize with them.