Easton will be 16 this year, and Quin will soon turn 14. Two teenage boys, both incredibly different. What I’ve learned so far in parenting teen boys is that each child’s needs are different, and how I am with one isn’t necessarily the same approach I take with the other. But really, what matters most is that they feel loved and supported, even when they make it difficult to love and support them. That has been my biggest take-away.
One of my boys is very straightforward and his emotional state is usually obvious — if he’s angry, you know it, if he’s upset, you know it, if he’s proud of himself, you know it. The other one is much more quiet and sensitive and emotionally complex; I don’t always know how he’s feeling or what he needs. One of my boys has a large presence in a room, the other is more reclusive and quiet. Both of them, however, require the same love and affection, just delivered in different ways.
I have recently listened to a few podcasts that I found wonderfully helpful. The first is an ABC Conversations interview with Maggie Dent on Helping Teenage Boys Grow into Good Men. If you aren’t already familiar with Maggie Dent, I can’t recommend her work highly enough. She is a gem! Her newest book, From Boys to Men is filled with wonderful wisdom and relatable experience of raising boys. The second podcast is a Goop Podcast interview with author Cara Natterson: How to Have Awkward Conversations with our Kids, which talks about puberty and the importance of talking to our kids about their bodies and the changes they will experience. (She also speaks about parenting in a digital age and how we need to talk to our boys about porn! That segment left me shocked!) Lastly, I read Daniel J. Siegel’s book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain years ago when we lived in London, and I have recently come back to this book and have spent some time watching his YouTube videos where he breaks down the science of the teenage brain. It’s fascinating!
I wanted to share a few tips that work for us in trying to keep our teenage boys close. Please feel free to share your tips in the comments below:
- Keep hugging them: If you stop hugging them regularly, the hugs start to feel weird. Don’t let them feel weird. (Boys might act like they don’t like your hugs, but deep down inside they do.) If hugging feels awkward, you can try other ways to keep physical contact. Maggie Dent tells a story of how she used to plop herself down on top of her boys on the sofa or step on their toes in the hallway in a funny, joking way, just to stay physically connected to her boys. I love this! She also suggests head ruffles, play punches on the arm, high fives, etc.
- Talk to them about everything, even the embarrassing things: We have always had a very open and honest relationship with our children around the topic of sex, but obviously as our children get older, there are new topics to talk with them about: porn, masturbation, sexual harassment, rape, respectful sex, sexual orientation, etc. We have found that the more comfortable we are when talking to our boys about these topics, the more comfortable they are talking to us and asking us questions. I want nothing more than for my children to feel like they can talk to me about anything, which is why I try to make it as comfortable as it can be.
- Seize opportunities to talk one-on-one without distractions: One of my favourite opportunities to talk to my boys is when we are in the car together. There’s no backing away or slinking into your bedroom or finding excuses not to chat when you are in the car. It also feels more spontaneous than, for example, walking into their bedroom for a chat, which can sometimes make them seize up.
- Find a shared hobby: We are lucky we have surfing as a shared family passion. I love that we all enjoy this activity, but what I especially love is that the boys are often asking Michael or me if we’ll take them for an early morning or late afternoon surf. This is time together, away from the rest of the family, doing something we both love. It’s not your typical sort of bonding, but there is closeness in being out in the ocean together (and I think it secretly fills them with pride to see us out being active like that).
- Eat together as a family: Family dinners are a non-negotiable in our house, and they always have been. We sit down every evening to eat together, and we stay put until we’re all finished and all the kids have been excused. This is a time to reflect on the day, to ask questions, to hear what they learned at school or to discuss cultural topics as a family.
- Inject humour to make light of situations: Sometimes when one of our boys says something rude or snippy, instead of immediately getting angry or escalating the situation, we’ll just make a joke or do something silly to lighten the mood. (Obviously, if they continue to be rude, we may have to get more serious, but sometimes using humour is a good first response.)
- Resist the urge to challenge back: Remember this post from a few years ago? I still often remind myself that when my boys challenge me or argue with me, I don’t always have to bite back or respond to their challenge. In many cases, it’s best to diffuse the argument than to win it.
- Tell them you love them: I took note the other day of how many times I say ‘I love you’ to our toddler compared to how many times I say it to our teenagers. You can imagine the difference! It is so important for our teenagers to know we love them, because they are already dealing with so many issues of self-doubt and insecurities, and the more they feel loved, the easier it is for them to navigate these awkward times. We always check in with our kids at bedtime to properly say goodnight and tell them we love them. But it’s also good to say it at times when it’s not routine.
I’m sure there are lots of other really wonderful tips I’m missing, but these are what sprang to mind first. Please share your tips, as I’d love to hear.