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Raising Cain: Being Able To Understand Your Teenage Son

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

If you thought men where hard to understand, just try figuring out teenage boys. At least with daughter’s you can rely on PMS as an excuse for attitude and mood swings, but how can you justify your son’s behavior. Well, according to experts, boys are no stranger to deviations in disposition. In fact, they note that your son and his behavior will be a mystery to you. That once shy little boy with the Oedipus complex will now simply be a seemingly aloof, detached, and dispassionate young man who is simply complex.

While professionals point out that it’s imperative to be “extra” sensitive to him and toward his “new” nature, they also assure parents that this tantamount transition (that usually occurs in early adolescence and lasts until about high school graduation) is quite normal.

While this phase may last longer than you’d like and may send you in search of prayers and perhaps have you contemplating some prescribed medication, what’s important to remember is that’s it’s only a phase, and if you understand it, you’ll be better prepared and able to handle it correctly, perhaps shorten it’s duration and gently and successfully guide your son through.

Understanding Junior:

1. Brain Drain: Just as his hormone levels and body begin to change, most likely so will his thoughts. His focus will (most probably) shift from friends, videos, and games, to girls and yes, the dreaded s-word, sex. No wonder he seems like he can’t have a coherent thought or correctly communicate. How many adults do you know who can effectively express themselves when ruminating over sex?

According to experts with testosterone levels escalating to about 20 times more than the level found in females of the same age, his whole world is being shaken and his entire being is subject to significant and substantial changes. They recommend not only acknowledging the changes but being instrumental in making him feel confident and less awkward about these drastic (and often “frightening” and “confusing” experiences and developments. Speak to your son openly and honestly about your own “reality” (at his age) and let him know that he is normal and even his sexual thoughts are normal and a very natural and beautiful part of growing up. Remember, reinforcement and reassurance and continued explanation are extremely valuable, powerful, and essential tools.

2. Becoming A Poster Child For America’s Most Wanting: As your child begins to discover himself, he’ll also begin to discover “the world” and all the wonderful things it has to offer. And, most of those things will have a hefty price tag attached.

Professionals point out that while you don’t want to discourage your son or deprive him of life’s finest (perhaps even from things you never got to enjoy), it’s imperative to use his yearnings to teach him a lesson about being ambitious, an achiever and the value of his earnings.

Experts recommend placing your own price to the goodies he craves. Encourage extracurricular activities but not without setting financial and “societal” confines. Let him know that in order for you to contribute to his “interests”, he too has to make a contribution. One of these should be keeping his grades up, meeting his obligations around the house (and that includes quality time and an exchange of ideas with the family), and of course “earning” his keep, either via chores (around the house or neighborhood), or by securing a job once he’s old enough. Experts also assert the necessity to teach him the financial basics at this point. Include him in financial decisions (especially those concerning him), and establish both a bank account and a line of credit for him, but don’t forget to thoroughly explain the privilege, the responsibility, and the consequences for abuse.

3. I’m A Wild And Crazy Guy: While some people never grow up, most boys simply go through a phase where the only thing they fear is fear itself. In fact, danger becomes their middle name.

Boys seem to intrinsically possess “survival” instincts and are drawn to competition. While most adventurous outlets are healthy and advisable, experts point out the need to effectively discern between xtreme sports (snow boarding, dirt biking, competitive and creative skateboarding, etc.) and xtreme stupidity.

Professionals suggest encouraging your son to be daring (if he’s responsible about it), but not dangerous. Certain “activities” are simply unsafe, such as exceeding the speed limit (a common practice among inexperienced, and “fearless” teens), driving without a seatbelt, and/or substance abuse and driving under the influence. Although mountain biking down a flight of stairs may seem “perilous”, statistics show that the risk factor is “negligible” (especially if your child is properly padded and protected) compared to that of vehicle related accidents. In fact, studies show that young male drivers are almost one and a half times more likely to drive “recklessly” and unbelted, and twice as likely to be in a car collision due to their driving practices.

4. Walking The Walk, After Talking The Talk: Finding his own identity may have your son identifying with all the “wrong” sorts of people. Let’s think about all those “coming of age” movies. Most centered around wine (or at least alcohol of some sorts), women (sex) and song, not to mention, lewd, lascivious, and often, ludicrous behavior.

This unacceptable behavior may no doubt be acknowledged as such by your son (based on all you taught him) but at this stage in his life, it’s more important that he’s (thought of) as cool, then correct.

Beyond entertaining certain thoughts, he’s now at a point where he’s acting on them. Remember, curiosity is said to have killed the cat, and without close monitoring it can do the same to your son, at least morally.

He may start to seek out groups of kids who are already doing the things he’s been thinking about, or his perceived “vulnerability” may entice them to seek him out. He may start to explore various kinds of music (which may encourage a certain, “unacceptable” view of life and lifestyle….and while you may not be affected by the same lyrics, remember you are listening or viewing with a mature mind, he is NOT), he may experiment with smoking or drugs (which may lead to a decline in energy and scholastic performance), and he may begin to explore his sexuality via magazines and Internet options. According to recent research more than 70 percent of young adolescent males frequently frequent pornographic web sites. More shockingly, nine out of every ten youngsters (aged 8 to 16) have explored pornography online, mostly while doing their homework.

Professionals stress the importance of not only being extra conscious of YOUR friends, activities, and behaviors, but also making thorough observations of your child’s friends and insisting on meeting them and Not fearing expressing and disapproval or concerns. They also note, that it’s imperative to literally keep an open-door policy. Ask your son to keep the door to his room open at all times (or at least until you have acquired the confidence that he in NOT up to anything “illicit”. Should your son close his door, request (require) that it remain unlocked so that you can easily stroll in at will? NEVER allow your son to make excuses for a locked and shut door (to any room in the house, perhaps except for the bathroom, and then make sure to take note how often and how long he is in there for). Explain to junior that it’s not that you distrust “him” but that those are simply the rules of the house, and set the example by keeping your space easily and readily accessible.

Another suggestion experts make, especially with regard to inappropriate Internet and magazine content, is first and foremost, exemplifying a healthy relationship; explain to him that pornography is merely a distorted depiction of a natural and beautiful experience with a special member of the opposite sex. Encourage him to take interest in girls, even offer to have those of interest come over, as long as they abide by boundaries and rules you are comfortable with and set. Remember to NOT be afraid or ashamed to discuss sex, and/or contraception. Let him know that all sexual acts, not ONLY intercourse, are in fact sex, not to mention risky, potentially dangerous, and equally unsuitable and un-necessary (even within the context of a truly enjoyable adolescent relationship). Give him respect for himself, the girls he likes, and about such an intimate act, making it something to look forward to, like having a family, under the right circumstances.

5. Survival Of The Foulest: Your son may start to display some passive aggressive, but mostly insidious aggressive behavior. From rude manners to rude language and a disregard for other’s feelings, experts suggest it’s all part of his (bodily), “chemical/hormonal imbalance”.

Experts emphasize that in an effort to asset his masculinity, manhood, authority, and dominance, he may feel like he has to “trample” on those who are standing or getting in his way.

Much like the lyrics of a popular song that states: “What we want is only what we want until it’s ours”, professionals point out the importance of embracing your sons journey toward adulthood. Welcome him into his new “role” by explaining that with “manhood” comes additional responsibilities, and then enforce his obligation to carry some (you have designated) out. What’s important, according to experts is giving him a healthy outlet for his frustrations and allowing him to live up the societal expectations that accompany being a “man”. Begin some projects such as mowing the lawn, changing the oil on the car, cleaning out the garage, etc….make a “big deal” out of his accomplishments and how essential they are to your family life…and let that be “his thing” and among the many things that make him feel “grown up”.

6. Pressure Sensitive: As your son labors through his identity crisis, he is going to look for others (yes, other than you, that comes later in life) to identify with. He is at a stage in his development where not only is he trying things he maybe shouldn’t and that he might even be opposed to, but in the process of discovering what others have to offer and how that relates to how you’ve raised him, what he’s been exposed to and taught, and how HE sees himself and wants to (or thinks he wants to) live his life.

While admitting that others will have more of an influence at this juncture in his venture may be a bitter pill to swallow, it remains the reality, and avoiding it won’t make it better or go away.

Experts assert NOT assuming that you’ve done your job, and that he’s a big boy, capable of making his own decisions. If he could do that successfully, he wouldn’t be hanging out with some of the people he now calls friends, which you may not even know about.

Professionals recommend making YOUR home a welcoming hub of activity so that you can “scrutinize” your son’s friends and acquaintances. Get involved in his school, mix and mingle (even if you don’t want to) and attempt to meet and establish friendships with the parents of those he associates with to gain a better understanding of your son’s friends and their backgrounds. Be especially mindful of adverse peer pressure, primarily acquaintances with obvious troubles or who are trying to make your child into who they are or want him to be as opposed to allowing him develop his own sense of identity. Also be mindful of those with inappropriate habits, language, grades etc. Remember, bad company corrupts good character.

7. Ashamed of Love: You said: “you didn’t think he was ready for a serious relationship and certainly way too young for sex”. He Heard: We still think of you as a little boy and all your thoughts and emotions about love and sex are simply silly. Shame on you!

Remember, during this time your son will experience lots of firsts, and often time those firsts are wrought with confusion, anxiety and even pain. From his first crush to his first rejection and through his first break up, he will have his world and his emotions torn apart. What may seem like inconsequential to you (after all he’s only in his teens or younger) may be catastrophic for him.

According to experts, the worst thing you could do is dismissing his feelings, even those he’s not making known. Instead put yourself in his shoes (remember how things felt when you were that age), empathize, and be understanding. Professionals point out it’s imperative to offer him acceptable and accepting alternatives. Encourage him to pursue his love interest. Perhaps even be instrumental in helping him do it. Allow him to have boy-girl friends, parties, and phone conversations. Help him pick out gifts and cards, even maybe help him with writing something nice. What’s important, according to the experts, is being excited about what and whom HE is excited about and NEVER dismissing his feelings and what’s important to him.

8. I’m Not Good Enough: From his looks to his grades, and his dream job, your son probably already has inadequacies about his abilities, even if he excels at almost everything he attempts. Especially with the advent of reality television, the cold, harsh truth of the “real world” has been more than adequately conveyed. As your son begins to understand himself, his likes, dislikes, various abilities and interests, it’s imperative that you entertain, encourage and help him explore his options. Emphasize that certain trades may be “risky” of lack financial stability but use the opportunity to explore potentially alternatives within that realm and help him to nurture his curiosity, excitement, and enthusiasm. Remember, it’s best to refrain from living vicariously through him and pointing him in a direction you want him to go or have always dreamed of going yourself. There’s nothing wrong with exposing him to the option, but you need to challenge him to follow his own dreams and give him the confidence that, even if it seems “difficult” or “unattainable”, there’s nothing wrong with trying, and letting him know that hard work and dedication can pay off and that he IS good enough.

9. Home Sweet Home: After a hard day out “exploring” your son secretly wants a safe place to lay his head and his feelings. It’s your job to make your home that place….and not give him a reason to wonder.

Be ready, willing and able to listen, share your past, and past experiences and offer sound and suitable advice. Also make your home a fun, happening place with lots of “action” and “interaction”. Give him the freedom to not only be himself, the kid that he is, but also an “adult” member of the family. Besides certain outlined obligations and responsibilities, allow him to help with family projects, activities, ask for his opinion of family decisions, even make him part of the vacation process and tell him that if he helps save up to it, you can consider (if affordable, and practical) going to somewhere he would like. As he gets older, honor his maturity by offering coffee after dinner of a glass of wine or beer starting with special meals…this way you can also monitor his maturity. Show love, affection, enthusiasm and understanding to each other, as well as him, and give him good reason to want to head your wisdom and advice and be part of your home and lifestyle.

Long Island Family Life & Parenting Articles > Raising Cain: Being Able To Understand Your Teenage Son

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