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Getting Teen Boys To Open Up - Tips for encouraging communication with your son

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Pink is for girls, and blue is for boys. Boys play with trucks, and girls play with dolls. It seems like most of the differences between children of opposite sexes are imposed by society: after all, little boys aren’t born wearing blue diapers! But as children age, parents may realize some real, innate differences between male and female kids and teenagers.

Scientists still aren’t sure whether the differences are due to nature or nurture, but the differences exist. One difference that’s especially noticeable to parents of teenage boys is that it can be tough to convince them to open up in communications with their parents.

If you’re the parent of a son whose door is closed more often than it’s open, don’t despair. By understanding why your son doesn’t feel comfortable discussing his emotions with you and by practicing excellent parent coaching skills, you can encourage more closeness between you and your son and make sure he knows that when he’s ready to talk, he can safely talk to you.

Why Teen Boys Don’t Express Themselves Easily

Teen boys have lives that are just as full and complex as those of teen girls. They may seem more distant, though, making it hard for parents to engage in heart-to-heart conversations with their sons. Parents make a mistake when they assume that their sons either aren’t having any troubles or aren’t interested in discussing what’s on their minds. In reality, many sons would relish a closer emotional relationship, but are held back for the following reasons:

  • A desire for independence. The fierce desire to become independent can seem more pronounced in teenage boys. They may not feel comfortable talking about their personal lives because they want to try to work out their problems and revel in their successes on their own, to feel more independent. Sons may also feel embarrassed about letting their parents in on details about their private lives.
  • A lack of communication skills and confidence. Males of all ages are typically more left-brained than females, and therefore have more trouble communicating effectively. Adolescent boys often feel like they don’t know what to say, and so are hesitant to talk to authority figures, including their parents. Even when teenage boys do know the answer to a problem, they may be reluctant to talk about it for fear of saying the wrong thing. When they don’t know the answer, that fear is compounded.
  • They have different values from their parents: Part of navigating adolescence is experimenting with different belief systems. As teenagers struggle to figure out who they are, they may find that they don’t agree with their parents’ values. They could be reluctant to share their joys and troubles because they feel like their parents might judge or criticize, or because they know that their parents won’t share their opinions about what’s happening in their lives.

Parents whose sons are hesitant to develop a close emotional relationship shouldn’t lose hope. Parents can successfully build a close bond during this time. Collaborative parent coaches have a good chance of getting past these barriers with their sons by constantly re-evaluating their parenting choices.

Encouraging Communication

Even the most skilled parent coaches can’t force their teenage children — of either sex — to communicate openly. What’s important is that parents develop an atmosphere of trust and respect that encourages a feeling of safety, and that once teens do open up, parents use communication skills that encourage, rather than hinder, further discussions.

Parents first should work to build a trusting relationship with their teens. If parents make promises, even ones as simple as promising to be home by a certain time, it’s imperative that they keep those promises. And it’s critically important to honor your son’s rights to privacy. When you show your teenager that you will keep his disclosures to yourself, he’ll trust you to keep his secrets.

It’s also important that parents show teenage sons that they respect their independent thoughts. Teenagers whose parents disagree or argue with any opinions that don’t gel with their own values are less likely to offer up any more opinions. On the other hand, teens whose parents respect their opinions whether or not they agree with them are more likely to share their thoughts again.

Finally, when you talk to your teenage son, remember to let him lead the conversation. Listen to him without interrupting, and don’t give your advice until he asks for it. Refrain from asking him questions that start with “Why did you…” because those types of questions seem like attacks.

A close relationship with a teenage son can feel like a tenuous thing. Parents are most successful when they understand why their sons are reluctant to open up to them and when they work hard to develop an environment in which teens feel like it’s safe to talk.

My best,
Barbara

Author, Coach, Parent/Teen Expert

Barbara McRae, MCC


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