“No one knows his true character until he has run out of gas, purchased something on an installment plan and raised an adolescent.” – humorist Marcelene Cox
People often say, “Girls are SO much harder to raise than the boys.” I have not found this to be the case. Through my own experience and in interviewing hundreds of mothers over the years, I have realized that there is nothing easy about raising teenagers in general. Now that I have sent my oldest daughter to college, the teenage boy is next in line, and I must admit, raising a teenage boy has thrown me lots and lots of unforeseen curve balls. One mother explains it like this, “Just when you think you have it down with your son, a teenage alien inserts himself into your son’s body and replaces your mamma-loving, sweet boy with a disgruntled, distracted boy/man who retracts into a universe of which you are no longer the center."
This can be a difficult process for moms.
The following is a list of the do's and don’ts of mothering your teenage son that I have gathered from my interviews with more than 400 moms and from my own experience. I hope you find them helpful. And please feel free to add your own insights in the comments section! I would love to hear from you!
- Continue to say, “I love you,” even when he stops saying it back (and yes, this hurts like hell but hopefully it is just a temporary hiatus for him).
- Love him unconditionally even when you don’t like him. He is testing out new behaviors/personas, many of which will be abhorrent to you (and you can tell him this gently), but remind yourself and him that beneath the behaviors resulting from his raging hormones, is a boy who you love dearly.
- Give him physical space. Really. He really does need to go into his room and shut his door and be left alone. And this does not mean that there is something “wrong” with him. (However, DO trust your instincts and if you feel that he is completely withdrawing from family and friends, then you may need to intervene.)
- Give him emotional space. EXPECT him to pull away from you! He must separate from you for all sorts of very important reasons relating to his transference from boy to man. Let. Him. Go. He will circle back eventually, but this is a crucial step to for him to establish himself as a young man.
- Ask questions (but not incessantly).
- Hold him accountable for his actions.
- Listen to him but hold firm to your beliefs.
- Maintain a united front with your partner! This is a MUST!
- Encourage and model self-care: good eating habits, exercise and adequate rest.
- Trust him until he proves otherwise. If he does mess up (and he probably will), then tighten the reigns until you feel that you can slowly start to loosen them again.
- Having said this, it is essential that you set clear boundaries, expectations and limits: Establish curfews, house and car rules, and give him responsibilities in your house or have him get a job. Make sure he understands what kinds of behaviors will and won’t be tolerated (respect is a biggie), and what the consequences will be if he crosses the line (taking a 16-year-old’s cell phone away is equivalent to sending him to San Quentin).
- Keep the lines of communication open. Even when your son gives you the message that you are the last person on earth that he would want to talk to about anything, continue to let him know you are there to listen. And continue to give him messages about what is important. Even when he seems to be tuning you out, he is quite often hearing you.
- Celebrate the ways in which he does let you into his life: the little things he chooses to share with you. He will continue to give you little nuggets that show that he still needs you and wants to be connected with you, but they may be few and far between.
- Maintain your calm to the best of your ability, even during tumultuous times with your son.
- Have a sense of humor. Look for opportunities to laugh with your son.
- Remind yourself that you are on the home stretch with raising this child. Make sure you are equipping him with the skills he needs to survive on his own.
- Take what he says personally. Grow 17 extra layers of skin (figuratively, not literally). Understand that he may lash out, say things he doesn’t mean, take his frustrations out on you, and be hyper-critical of you. You can (and need to) talk to him about how he must be respectful of you, but try not to personalize the things he says when he is feeling stressed or confused.
- Think that you need to know everything. You really don’t. This is another area in which our generation of hovering parents needs to chill. (Remember as a kid how our parents didn’t expect us home until dark, or on weekends didn’t call other parents to check on our whereabouts, and when we came home they barely asked where we were or what we did. O.k, well, we knew what we were doing and maybe that is what scares us, but we need to allow our children to feel some of that sense of freedom. It is a right of passage.)
- Compare your son with others.
- Over-praise or over-criticize him.
- Be afraid to let him make mistakes.
- Allow your son to hold you hostage—YOU are in charge.