Does it feel like your child turned into a different being once adolescence hit? Well, they very well may have. The good news is that there was not an alien take over, the bad news is that this is unfortunately very common and you, as the parent, feel the brunt of it. Understanding it does not completely change it, however, it can make it better and it does seem to help parents better manage their own emotional responses to the behaviors of their teenagers. The information I am sharing does not describe every teen boy or may not describe your teenager 100%, however, it is meant to offer some feelings of normalcy about what you may be experiencing with your teenager as well as an understanding of why some of these behaviors are typical of teen boys.
Do you lack communication with your teen son? Do you feel like they live in their room and you hardly see them let alone know anything that is going on in their life? Are they constantly out with friends yet you have no idea who thesefriend are, who their families are or what they do when they spend time together? Do they decline your offers to spend time doing family things? If any or all of these scenarios apply to your son, you have a pretty typical teenage boy.
So what is going on? The first and strongest reason for boys behaving in this way is that they are working towards achieving independence and in order to do this, they need to separate from you, who they have depended on for so many years of their life. They do not know how to do this thoughtfully or gracefully (or may not even really realize they are doing it) so they just isolate from you as a way of not feeling so dependent on you. It kind of makes sense if you think about it in this way, although it does not make it any less frustrating or concerning when you are on the receiving end of it. Secondly, it is normal for boys to be embarrassed about changes going on as their bodies mature. Boys also experience an increase in sexualized feelings which can be overwhelming and not something they want to discuss with their parents. Finally, it is very normal during adolescence for friends to become more important than parents or other family members. This is not a negative reflection on the family but rather a shift from seeing the family as the center of the world to really wanting to discover the larger world that is out there as a way of establishing independence.
Often times mothers feel this pulling back more than fathers do. This is because mothers are generally seen as the nurturers and the caretakers (although not always) and therefore sons need to push their mothers away in order to begin to create their independence. This is obviously very concerning for a mother who may try harder to reach out to her son in an effort to increase communication and to remain actively involved in his life. This, however, is actually not helpful and can create and increase in opposition, isolation or family discord. Understanding the reason for the behavior can be helpful for mothers so that they do not take this pulling back personally and can allow their son some space to begin to develop independence. Sometimes this pulling back is not so obvious with fathers, however, it still exists. Sons may connect with their fathers around other things (playing sports, a game on the TV, a project in the house) while maintaining an emotional distance during this time of developing independence.
Boys more often than girls will isolate and avoid confrontation when possible. However, that is not to say that boys do not display strong, negative emotions towards their parents which can be scary and very problematic. Yelling by adolescent males can be very aggressive and threatening in nature and at times the anger turns physical which can result in their throwing things, breaking things and at times even lashing out physically at a parent. As is already stated, this can be very scary – for both the adolescent who has likely grown in size and strength and for the parent. It is never acceptable for children to break things or cause harm to others in the household. It is also never acceptable for parents to become physically aggressive with their children (it is illegal for starters) which can leave parents feeling like they are ineffective and helpless. In such situations, the use of outside support may be necessary in order to prevent further aggressive outbursts and to keep everyone in the home (including the individual who was demonstrating the aggression) feeling safe. Sometimes (although every situation is certainly different) giving your teenage boy a little bit of space and alone time when they are feeling upset is helpful in preventing such an outburst. This does not mean that you do not ask them to follow through with certain expectations or that you avoid having difficult conversations with them…it just means that you do it at a time where they are more in control of their emotions which ultimately leads to a more productive interaction for both you and your son.
There is certainly much more information related to what makes teenage boys tick, however, this overview is meant to help you, as the parent, gain an understanding about what may be going on for your child which will help you make decisions that are best for you and your family regarding how to deal with your teenage son effectively. I do want to stress that while most boys go through this process of isolation or distancing safely, there are others who experience significant difficulties during this difficult period of transition. Some adolescent boys begin to use drugs and/or alcohol as a way of gaining confidence in social situations or for managing their confusing emotions. Others become involved in negative peer groups and succumb to the peer pressures associated with criminal activity. As is stated above, some become emotionally out of control and become aggressive and violent. If you have real concerns about such behaviors, you should consult with an expert who can help you determine if additional support or help is needed.
As the parent, you know your teen the best. Trust your instincts while allowing yourself to be open to understanding what might be going on for them. And, one of the most important things to remember while enduring the stress that can be associated with parenting a teenager while dealing with everything else in your life, is that you need to take time for yourself, do the things you enjoy and practice good self-care on a regular basis.