Do we dare delve into the mind of a teenage boy? Let's take a deep breath and find out — with the help of a few experts — what your teenage son really wants you to know.
"Don't leave me alone even though I act like you don't matter"
You have to be persistent with teenage boys. If you want to spend time with them, it will take effort. "Go with their interests; follow their lead," suggested child and family behavioral specialist Jennifer Freed, Ph.D. "If they love an activity you don’t love, do it with them anyhow so you have common experiences and a place to connect. Don’t force or push. Get good at asking open-ended questions and being open to any answer. Go with 'Yes, and…' instead of disagreeing or arguing."
"Fight for time with me and don't let me slip into machines"
When a teenage boy is acting contemptuously, it's very tempting to just shut the door on him and his screen of choice. But it's important to get him off those devices now and then. "Get into nature," said Freed, who is also co-founder of AHA! (Attitude. Harmony. Achievement), a youth-focused nonprofit that works to end bullying, improve self-esteem and empower teens through emotional learning and creative expression. "Boys open up best side by side, not with a direct frontal confrontation. Share your stories and ask them their input on things. Let them know that you are really uninformed about teen boys these days and ask what they think is different than when you were growing up and what things are the same." Jackson, 15, agrees that this is a key point. "I'm much more receptive to my parents when they seem interested in learning," he said. "If I think they're preaching, I just switch off."
"I have feelings, but social life demands that I act like an action hero"
A teenage boy's rapid brain development includes a fierce desire to be socially accepted by peers, which often leads to "acting up" — rude, moody, disrespectful behavior. "It is perfectly OK for us all to have our feelings and express them in healthy ways, and it is super-important to support every positive way a teen boy does this," said Freed. But rude, disrespectful words shouldn't be tolerated. "Rudeness is a social disease that needs to be treated very strongly in the teen years so it does not spread to others and into adulthood," warned Freed. Having said that, it's crucial not to confuse the behavior with the boy. The behavior is not OK; the boy is. "It’s the teenage boy's job to push away from his parents, and this behavior is one way he does so. Show respect when you want it and respond respectfully with firm boundaries when he acts out," said Freed.
"My body confuses me and sex is so on my mind that I feel like a weird person sometimes"
If there's one thing that's never far from a teenage boy's mind, it's sex. His adolescent brain is pouring out sex hormones; according to The Harvard Health Blog, the production of testosterone increases 10 times in adolescent boys. They want to talk about sex and to be reassured that their feelings are normal — they're just too embarrassed to ask you. A 2011 national online study conducted by the University of Montreal revealed that 45 percent of teens view their parents as their sexual role model, while only 32 percent looked to their friends and 15 percent to celebrities. "Your teenage son is bound to be uncomfortable when you talk to him about sex, but he'll also be relieved," said Freed. Christian, 16, agrees that it helps if parents normalize sexual urges. "It's always awkward when my mom talks to me about sex," he said. "But we both feel more relaxed after it and I think it helps our relationship."
"Duh, of course I look at porn"
Teenage boys like to look at naked bodies. Possibly several times a day. This is perfectly normal. "As a parent, your intent needs to be to instill a healthy view of sex and belief that sexual desire and exploration of sexual thoughts and feelings are healthy," explained psychotherapist Dr. Karen Ruskin. The best thing you can do is accept that your teenage son is going to look at porn. Assure him that is normal to want to look at these sites and perhaps experience sexually arousing feelings. "Dialoguing with your son in a nonjudgmental manner helps you to connect with him and make the point that sexual feelings are normal," said Ruskin.
"I need excellent male role models who you pick out for me and force me to spend quality time with"
"It’s such an awkward time, wrestling with all these discrepancies between boy and man, with such individual rates of development. They need this normalized and to hear our stories, both funny and painful. Guide, mentor and in particular provide male role models; it's extra important for them to see men being awesome, even when it’s not about them or in direct relation to them."
According to Freed, what teenage boys need most of all are parents that take time to do things with them that are active and engaged. "A boy needs to push away to become the man he will be," she said. "However, he does not have to do that at the expense of intimacy with his parents. It is an important dance of supporting his autonomy and staying close to his process."