I lead seminars throughout the country and without fail, I get a number of similar questions that are always asked. Here are few that seem to always come up.
My son has been displaying a lot of anger toward us lately. Even the littlest thing seems to set him off. How can we find out what’s causing these outbursts and if it’s as serious as it seems?
Anger is an emotional response to not getting what one wants. And chances are your son feels frustrated about something that you are doing or saying. Young boys want to grow up and become young men, and that process is many times hampered by parents who don’t give freedom soon enough, allow choices to be made early, or treat their son like he “was” rather than who he wants “to be”. Giving more freedom and learning to nag less, gives a young man the opportunity to make choices thus assuming responsibility for his actions, thus develop maturity in the process. That anger you speak of will then be self-directed, motivating him to make better decisions in the future.
Another reason teen boys express frustration and anger about their position in life is that they don’t feel prepared to face the world in which they are to live. This happens when parents spend more time teaching and less time training as a child walks through their adolescent years. They know “what” to do; they just don’t know “how” to do it. So, moms and dads, spend more time giving your son opportunities to make decisions and choices so he can flex his decision-making muscle and be prepared when to handle the “heavier” stuff the older he gets.
Adolescence is a time when teens search for their identity and begin to apply all of who they are to their world. They find that some of their stuff works, and some doesn’t. Frustration increases as they experiment and learn to apply their knowledge to their world. As Alison Gopnick reminds us, “If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today’s adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer or brake.”
So as they traverse the new teen highway and hit curbs, brake too quick, and accelerate way to fast, a few bumps in the road might make this new road a bit more challenging than the path of their earlier years. But as they make this transition, Moms and Dads can help them learn to make the drive a little smoother by not always correcting, telling them how they can do it better, and what they should have done different. No one likes a back seat driver. So buckle up and sit next to them and help them, not discourage them. They’re having a tough enough time already to have people they admire become critical.
My daughter has gotten into a rut regarding her friends. We are trying to get her involved with activities at church or school, but she always responds with “I don’t want to do it unless my friends are doing it.” I know relationships are important to teens, but how can we help her see that she can’t plan her life around her friends?
Friends are important to any teen and the desire to “belong” or “fit in” are strong motivating factors, more so when they are younger than older. And if you have a daughter that is more of a follower than a leader, you’ll find that you’ll have more of a chance to get her involved in activities by encouraging and enticing her participation through rewards and enticements. It’s saying, “if you will do “this”, we will do “this” to make it worth your while. In time, their involvement in these activities you’ve “encouraged” them to participate in will teach them of their ability to develop new friends, thus eliminating the “friend factor” in planning their activities.
Here’s the transition we have to make about our teen’s desire to be more concerned about their friends than about most other things. While we don’t want them to plan her life around friends, teens do. It’s a fact. They’re trying to find their place and create some protection around them through their wall of relationships. Friends are important. And they’re more important to our teens today than ever before because of the vast “disconnect” happening among adolescents. Teens today spend more time in the shallow end of the “relationships pool” than the deep end. So in the shallow end of that pool, teens will have more people surrounding them, in hopes of finding like-minded peers who will venture into the deeper end of spectrum.
So help them in their adolescent journey. Help them socialize and develop more and more social collateral so that these friends can go deeper and sharpen your child, just as iron sharpens iron. They need relationships around them who will help them get to the “deep end of the pool”. So help them and don’t restrict them so much that they will never have the opportunity to put into practice the way you’ve taught them to swim.
My son seems reluctant to try new things. Sometimes, I wonder if he’s just being lazy and doesn’t want to bother himself with getting outside his comfortable “bubble.” But I also wonder if he’s suffering from low self-esteem and a fear of failure. How can I know what’s going on with him and help him gain the confidence to branch out?
It’s sometimes hard to motivate a teen once they’ve found their “comfort zone” and I’m sure that laziness, low self-esteem, and the fear of failure all come to play in trying to get them to move elsewhere. Have a heart-to-heart talk about how you desire to do something together with him. Find something you both like to do and make it a habit to do it together, even requiring it if needed, and encouraging his participation with reward. Discussions are best with young men side-by-side, rather than face-to-face. When you do something together, then have the discussions you desire to teach him about the need to always live life outside one’s comfort zone.
What kid wouldn’t want to “stay put” when faced with a culture that you and I have said, “We’re glad we don’t have to grow up in this culture!” Well they do. So when you see these signs of not being motivated to move into new arenas of social interaction, you might have to help make it happen… in a gentle way. It may mean that you have to eliminate some of those comforts at home to help push them out of the nest, but I would encourage you do so in a way that helps your child make the transition into their new world.
Be intentional about engaging about the deeper things in his life by learning to ask questions and giving him opportunity to respond. And when he does respond, don’t share your opinion unless he asks. Remember, he’s not wanting more information… he’s wanting wisdom. And he’s wanting it from you. Help him understand this world and be the one that he can come to when he finds frustration entering into it. Fear keeps most teens from venturing to places they want to go. So be that parent that helps them get there; not one that ridicules them for not trying.
If you have questions that you’d like for me to answer, please send them our way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.
His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.