Four Important Conversations you Need to Have with your Teen Son
Raising a child is no easy task. Parenthood is a journey full of ups and downs, moments of joy and, every now and then, moments of wanting to pull out your hair. However, the more your child ages, the more the challenges that come up will change as well, and with every new period of change in your child’s life you as a parent have to adapt as well in order to successfully overcome whatever crisis may arrive and to properly help your child manage the changes that happen around them or the changes about them.
Once the teenager age hits, your growing teen (albeit they will always be your baby) will have new challenges to face throughout their maturing, as their body starts to go through various shifts. A common misconception is that being the parent of a daughter is the most difficult task, only because they have more things to worry about, such as getting their period, learning how to avoid hormonal imbalances and pregnancy scares and how to deal with the inevitable new attention they start getting which might be desired or unwelcomed in the first place.
However, raising a son is no piece of cake either, you’re still shaping the way they will grow up into an adult, regardless of their gender identity. The biggest differences come from each teen’s will to listen and communicate openly with their parent, not necessarily from the topics you should bring to their attention. Still, there are at least four important conversations you must have with your teen son, regardless of the fact that they were born as such or if they are in the process of transitioning.
Emotions: expressing and managing them, as well as how words and actions can affect them and everyone else around them.
Talk to your son about the importance of being able to recognize the feelings he is experiencing and the importance of actually putting in the necessary effort to track down the source of whatever emotions might be bothering him. Tell him that there is nothing wrong with expressing his emotions and coming to you to talk about them and that it doesn’t make him any less of a man. If anything, being able to discuss emotions and figure out ways to deal with them is a more mature thing that he might initially think.
Teach him about the weight words can carry, and exemplify the way others use compliments or insults to affect a person in positive or negative ways. The same way his feelings might have been hurt before by others, through comments or actions coming from bullies is the same way his own words or actions can hurt another person. Similarly, if another person made him feel confident or appreciated or anything positive, then he should take that as an example of what he can do when interacting with others in order to forge positive, friendly relationships and have an enjoyable time around others.
Mental health: asking for help and managing their social life
Another very important talk you should have with your son is a conversation about mental health. There are so many means of socializing and staying connected nowadays, in the form of plenty of social media websites, applications and other platforms and clubs among teens, be those within their school as activity clubs or completely unrelated and only there during their free time (like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook), that it is very easy to lose yourself in them and start tipping the online versus real life balance. Teens seek social validation more than anything, and it can come in the form of being accepted in a certain circle of people or so-called “friends”, or it can mean gaining Likes on social media sites that lead to popularity among their peers. However, because of that, it means that many teens value these online interactions very much, sometimes even too much, and that can lead to them taking things to heart when they should really just ignore various mean comments instead.
So talk to your son about how there is no shame in telling you if someone is being mean to them or harassing them because it can be a sign of bullying. And bullying can lead to many mental health issues that you should try to help prevent rather than allow to settle in and decide to try to deal with them once they’re already established and making your teen struggle.
It’s okay for them to make friends online and want to interact with their colleagues like that, and even seek validation and attention there to some degree, but once it gets out of hand and starts affecting your son, you should try to find what the root of the issue is, or who it is, and offer help for them. Don’t take their phone or other means of socializing away, since you will be punishing them for something that is someone else’s fault (ie: a bully taking on your child will not drop their act if you make your teen miserable and forbid them from being able to talk to their actual, supportive friends as well), but instead talk to them about what is causing their distress and try to work out a way to fix it together.
Let your teen know that regardless of how big or how small they may feel their issues to be, to you they are all just as important and deserve to be dealt with before they grow bigger and bigger and affect them more. Stay reachable for them and make it known that you’re there to listen to them whenever they need it and don’t belittle or mock them for whatever is upsetting them. You have to teach them that nurturing their mental health is in no way something to be embarrassed by, nor does it make them less manly if that’s what they’re concerned about. A healthy teen needs both a healthy body and a healthy mind to function properly. If you or they ever feel like professional advice is needed as well, don’t be afraid to reach out to a counselor or a therapist for them to talk with, and don’t make a big deal out of it. Plenty of teens and adults alike go to therapists in order to learn how to manage their emotions and to become aware of whatever aspects about themselves might be dragging them down and how to deal with those.
Every parent knows what “the talk” means and, believe it or not, chances are that your teen will already know too. However, assuming that just because your teen has reached a specific age, they automatically learn about sex, is not such a good idea. They may or may not already know about it, either from other kids their age or just from the internet, you never know for sure. What you can and should make sure of, however, is that they are aware of all contraception methods available and the dangers of not staying safe when starting that part of their love life. Providing education on the topic will serve them much better than avoiding the subject and hoping for the best – the talk can be awkward for you both, but it’s not really something that should be omitted if you don’t want them to have any issues in this department. It’s easy to be tempted to let things play out according to luck when getting with your partner for the first time, but they should know that temporary enjoyment will absolutely not be worth it if it’s followed by a pregnancy scare or trips to the doctor if they decided to not use protection once.
Something even more important than contraception methods is consent, and you should put enough emphasis on it to make sure they understand the importance of it. This is something all teens should know about and should respect regardless of who they are with. Sex doesn’t have to be something to be ashamed of or something to run away from and given that it doesn’t require many rules to be followed, it would be a shame if they couldn’t get to treat it as just another aspect of life and as an enjoyable thing. Teach them what to do if their understanding with their partner is not respected anymore (refusal for protection or lacking consent at any point) and how to handle the situation properly and without suffering from consequences of poor judgment later on.
Puberty: their changing body
Teenagehood, as fun as it can turn out to be, can also be greatly inconvenient at times or bring with it periods of struggle among the ones going through it. The hormonal changes bring imbalances to every teen’s body, and it can manifest through mood swings, sudden growth spurts, increased pilosity and lots of social conflicts sometimes, but that doesn’t necessarily apply to all teens.
Still, you have to let your teen know that such changes will start happening and that there is nothing abnormal to them. You have gone through puberty too, their favorite celebrities and role models have gone through puberty too so it’s not something the world has suddenly decided to throw on him and him alone. Be there as moral support when needed, as having your parent as a trusted confidant is the most any teen could ask for in such a period – especially if your son is going through the process of transitioning, as other kids and adults tend to be particularly nasty in such situations still. But alas, it’s 2019, so here’s hoping for change.
All in all, make sure your teen son is aware of all the changes that are going to happen, from getting taller in the blink of an eye, all the way to getting used to their deeper voice and the old ladies’ gushing over the said development. Make sure to teach them how to shave properly and safely in order to avoid ingrown hairs, infections, and cuts and how to be able to manage on their own later on as well.