Adolescence is a critically important part of healthy human development, but it is rarely simple. Teens have to make sense of several conflicting needs. They want to remain connected to parents and family (although they may not want to admit it). They want adult privileges and opportunities. They may feel anxious about their approaching independence. And they want to fit in with friends, to experiment with new behavior, and to learn things for themselves. It can all feel overwhelming.
It is inescapable; during adolescence, your little boy turns into something completely new. He grows taller, his muscles thicken, and his voice deepens. Hair appears in unexpected places—or doesn't, which is equally as confusing. His genitals grow and develop, and he begins to experience new urges and needs. These changes often make a boy uncomfortable with parents—especially with Mom—and lead to an increased desire for privacy.
2000 study conducted by the YMCA found that most teens (78 percent) say they turn to their parents in times of need. Boys are actually more likely than girls to ask parents for advice and help. Boys rely on parents' help most when they are around thirteen; they ask parents for help less often after the age of fifteen.
These outward changes happen at the same time as an important internal change: Your son must begin his journey from childhood to adulthood. This transition is called individuation, and it is not always a simple process. Your son must discover his own identity and begin to consider how to live his adult life. He wants to have fun, which may lead him toward risky behavior; his friends have become extremely important in his life. Boys especially may feel pressure to decide on a career path and to be seen as competent and capable. Your son must discover how to separate himself from you, which is why so many formerly compliant children suddenly become allergic to everything their parents believe.
Supporting Your Son in Adolescence
Wise parents can be a tremendous help to boys in navigating the turbulent waters of adolescence. Your relationship with your son will change during these years, but it need not become distant or difficult. Here are some suggestions to consider:
- Stay connected. Even if your son claims that he doesn't care if you come to his sports events or school activities, make time to show up. Just knowing you're present in his life can make a huge difference.
- Remain an active parent. Your son needs limits and respectful follow-through while he learns how to make good decisions on his own. Educate yourself about his school and his friends. Set reasonable limits and follow through.
- Recognize that your son' priorities are different than yours. You may be concerned about curfew, grades, and household chores; your son is more likely to be concerned with the zit on his forehead and the girl who sits next to him in math.
- Accept that you cannot control your son. You can guide, teach, support, and encourage your adolescent son; occasionally, you will have to follow through with an agreement. But you cannot control your son's thoughts, feelings, or actions. He must learn to do that himself.
- Let go when it is appropriate. Your son needs room to practice adult skills and attitudes. He will certainly make mistakes, but he can learn a great deal from them if you allow him to. Parents who cling too tightly usually find that their son pushes them away.
Through all of this adolescent change, get to know the man your son is becoming. Change can be difficult for parents and for teens, but change is inevitable when you raise a son. He cannot remain your little boy, but he will welcome your presence in his life when it is offered with love and respect.