During adolescence boys are searching for their identity, focused outside the family on friends and school and wanting more say in the rules they live by at home. Curfews, technology usage, choice of friends, dating, sexual practices, alcohol and drug use are all open questions.
The commonplace expectation that teenage boys always rebel is not necessarily true especially when there have been good father-son relationships during the earlier years. Then collaboration about rules and wise guidance are accepted by boys because they know they come with good care and love.
However, this is not always the case. Some father-son relationships are raw around the edges from early on. Then when the burst of hormonal changes and strong wishes for more autonomy come into play, the relationships get difficult to manage. Some mothers try to intervene trying to smooth things over and others stay away. Here are some tips for both mothers and fathers during these unsettling times.
Tips for Fathers to Create Strong Bonds with Their Teenage Sons
1. If your relationship with your son has been rough around the edges, begin to listen to them more closely. Begin to understand their minds as you understand their development. Encourage conversations about topics that are not controversial in a personal way. Discuss movies, the latest technology, the music they like and any other subjects that interest them.
2. As best as you can you converse without being judgmental. This is difficult but it's worth your profound concentration on your son rather than your own agenda. Stepping back and evaluating what your child is saying before you react is paramount. Show a strong curiosity for their points of view by asking open ended questions that lead to more detail and understanding about what they enjoy pursuing.
3. Once you're talking regularly, open the question of rules for teens in and outside the house. Hear their viewpoints on limits that seem reasonable. Avoid arguments by giving each other plenty of space for agreements and disagreements. Really hear each other out so you don't get anywhere near raising voices.
4. With regard to at-home-rules, ask your son how he feels about privacy in his room. Understand that's his space and he may like a closed door and a gentle knock when you want to visit. Agree to where he wants his study space to be and respect it. Also ask which chores he prefers including him in the care of the community spaces around the house.
5. With regard to away-from-home rules, discuss various curfew options (some kids don't need curfews), driving habits when he gets his license, and when to check in so parents know where he is periodically when not in school.
Tips for Mothers When Fathers and Son's Clash
1. If there are heated arguments, mothers may fall into a pattern of trying to lower tensions by intervening in many ways. Each has its consequences.
2. If you feel your son's father is too heavy handed with his own agenda and voices are raised to a high pitch, the feeling of wanting to defend your son may rise up in you. Unfortunately telling your spouse to cool down may have an opposite effect. He may feel his words are being undercut and feel diminished. Then he begins to argue with you. Then the father-son talk is transformed into a marital argument. This may in fact be an unresolved long -standing problem from when the boy was young.
3. If you feel your son is not respecting his father in the way he is talking to him (sarcasm, rolling his eyes, walking away), you may feel the urge to tell your son to listen to what his father has to say without a shouting battle. Your son may then feel ganged up on which only escalates the shouting match. This may also be a pattern where the son feels further that his parents favor other sibs and then the arguments have completely changed direction. Even if you are upset with the way your son is behaving to his father, don't react in the moment.
4. Marital and parental arguments need to stay separate. It is best when the mother doesn't like the way the father is handling things with their son, that they have private discussions about the various topics on the front line. Review together their son's growing up years and how he is changing and what they hope for him in the future. Try and listen to each other's viewpoints in a thorough way without interruptions and judgments. You will not only get to know your son better, you will get to know each other better.
There is a strong relationship between marital and parental relationships. When the former is going well, the latter follows suit. Each parent has their own relationship with their teenage son based on their history together and the openness with which they share their goals. They can advise each other on how to strengthen their individual and joint bonds with their son as he prepares for his future. This is optimal and worth working toward.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Familius and wherever books are sold.