Raising a teenage boy today is anxiety-provoking for many parents. The teen years are a period of intense growth -- physically, emotionally and socially. With testosterone flowing through their bodies, boys are growing taller, getting more aggressive, and wanting to spend a lot less time with their parents. This is all a normal part of growing up. As parents, it's your job to guide your teenage son through these often tumultuous years and help them become an independent and responsible adult -- hopefully with a smile on your face. Remember, you were once a teenager, too.
Here are the top 10 rules for parenting teenage boys.
It's probably been a long time since you've experienced acne or mood swings. While parents should first and foremost trust their own instincts when it comes to raising their son, reading books on raising teenagers can help them better understand the challenges that their son will face as he grows into manhood.
Even though your teenage son’s conversations may be limited to words like “what” and “yeah,” it’s important to keep an open line of communication with him. If he wants to talk, drop whatever you are doing and listen. Avoid lectures or long conversations. With teenage boys, brevity is the name of the game. It's wise to discuss tough subjects like sex, drugs and alcohol use before your son encounters these situations. This will increase the chance that he’ll act responsibly when the time comes. Share your family’s values and expectations about alcohol and drug use, and empower him to make good choices.
Respect Their Space
The teenage years are a constant push-pull, as your teen tries to establish his autonomy from you, yet still craves your love and protection. Clinical psychologist and author Anthony E. Wolf says that "Once adolescence begins, teenage boys go to their rooms, close the doors, turn on the stereo, and come out four years later." Parents should make it clear that they are there for their son, but also give him the space he needs. Don't take it personally if your teenager doesn't want to talk with you every day. This has nothing to do with how much he loves you. It's just part of growing up.
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
The teenage years are a time of experimentation. You may not like the clothes your son is wearing, or the way he cuts his hair. Parents need to decide what issues are worth fighting about. If it's not putting your child at risk, give your son the freedom to make age-appropriate decisions and learn from the consequences of his choices. “A lot of parents don't want growing up to involve any pain, disappointment, or failure,” says Robert Evans, EdD, author of "Family Matters: How Schools Can Cope with the Crisis in Child Rearing." But keeping your son sheltered from the realities of life prevents him from growing up and learning from his mistakes.
Setting good boundaries is one of the best ways to reduce conflict and build trust in your relationship with your teenager. Although your son may never admit it, he needs -- even wants -- boundaries set for him. "Teens have enough change to deal with in their lives," explains author and professional youth worker Chris Hudson. "Having parents clearly define the playing field provides a vital degree of certainty and stability." Of course, parents should be willing to change the boundaries as teenagers mature and show their parents that they can handle more responsibility.
Meet Your Son's Friends (and Their Parents, Too)
It's a good idea for parents to know who their teenage son is hanging out with. Parents can collect contact information (address, cell phone numbers, email addresses) for their son’s friends and even try to connect with the parents, as well. Regular communication between parents can go a long way toward creating a safe environment for all teens in a peer group.
Give Your Son an "Exit Strategy"
It is a good idea to set a “no consequences” policy if your son needs your help or a way to remove himself from a situation where he feels uncomfortable or at risk. Brainstorm with him ideas about how he can handle uncomfortable or potentially unsafe situations. Some teens will pick out a code word they can use with their parents to extricate themselves from a risky situation, without having to “lose face” with their friends.
Monitor Cell Phone and Internet Use
With the Internet, cell phones and TV, teens have access to an overload of information these days. You should be aware of the technology that your son is using and the websites he visits. If possible, keep the computer in a common area of your home, and don't be afraid to set limits on the amount of "screen" time your son spends each day. If you are concerned about your child's cell phone or Internet usage, programs such as TextGuard and My Mobile Watchdog allow you to see all of your child’s incoming and outgoing phone calls, text messages, e-mails and Web browsing history.
Find a Male Role Model
Studies show that teenage boys benefit from a strong relationship with a male role model. Yet over 40 percent of American boys are growing up without a father in the house. If your son falls into this category, remember that male role models can include other trustworthy adults, such as an uncle, a coach or a religious leader. Local churches and community groups like the YMCA offer mentor programs that are run by screened adults. A positive male role model will pass on his wisdom about relationships, work and life with your teenage son, as well as guide him in making good choices during the complicated teen years.
Look for Warning Signs
A certain amount of change may be normal during the teen years, but it’s important to watch for signs that may indicate real trouble -- the kind that requires professional help. If your A/B student suddenly starts failing, or your normally outgoing kid suddenly becomes withdrawn or depressed, this could be a sign that something is wrong. "Teenage boys are one of the groups at the greatest risk for suicide," explains parenting expert and writer Brad Munson. "It's important that parents keep an eye out for self-destructive behavior." Some warning signs to be on the lookout for include extreme weight gain or loss, skipping school, signs of drug or alcohol use, falling grades, and sleep problems. If you suspect a problem, a doctor or a school counselor can help your teen get the treatment he needs.