PARENTING

Tips for keeping our teenage boys close

Easton will be 16 this year, and Quin will soon turn 14. Two teenage boys, both incredibly different. What I’ve learned so far in parenting teen boys is that each child’s needs are different, and how I am with one isn’t necessarily the same approach I take with the other. But really, what matters most is that they feel loved and supported, even when they make it difficult to love and support them. That has been my biggest take-away.

One of my boys is very straightforward and his emotional state is usually obvious — if he’s angry, you know it, if he’s upset, you know it, if he’s proud of himself, you know it. The other one is much more quiet and sensitive and emotionally complex; I don’t always know how he’s feeling or what he needs. One of my boys has a large presence in a room, the other is more reclusive and quiet. Both of them, however, require the same love and affection, just delivered in different ways.

I have recently listened to a few podcasts that I found wonderfully helpful. The first is an ABC Conversations interview with Maggie Dent on Helping Teenage Boys Grow into Good Men. If you aren’t already familiar with Maggie Dent, I can’t recommend her work highly enough. She is a gem! Her newest book, From Boys to Men is filled with wonderful wisdom and relatable experience of raising boys.  The second podcast is a Goop Podcast interview with author Cara Natterson: How to Have Awkward Conversations with our Kids, which talks about puberty and the importance of talking to our kids about their bodies and the changes they will experience. (She also speaks about parenting in a digital age and how we need to talk to our boys about porn! That segment left me shocked!) Lastly, I read Daniel J. Siegel’s book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain years ago when we lived in London, and I have recently come back to this book and have spent some time watching his YouTube videos where he breaks down the science of the teenage brain. It’s fascinating!

I wanted to share a few tips that work for us in trying to keep our teenage boys close. Please feel free to share your tips in the comments below:

  • Keep hugging them: If you stop hugging them regularly, the hugs start to feel weird. Don’t let them feel weird. (Boys might act like they don’t like your hugs, but deep down inside they do.) If hugging feels awkward, you can try other ways to keep physical contact. Maggie Dent tells a story of how she used to plop herself down on top of her boys on the sofa or step on their toes in the hallway in a funny, joking way, just to stay physically connected to her boys. I love this! She also suggests head ruffles, play punches on the arm, high fives, etc.
  • Talk to them about everything, even the embarrassing or uncomfortable things: We have always had a very open and honest relationship with our children around the topic of sex, but obviously as our children get older, there are new topics to talk with them about: porn, masturbation, sexual harassment, rape, respectful sex, sexual orientation, etc. We have found that the more comfortable we are when talking to our boys about these topics, the more comfortable they are talking to us and asking us questions. I want nothing more than for my children to feel like they can talk to me about anything, which is why I try to make it as comfortable as it can be.
  • Seize opportunities to talk one-on-one without distractions: One of my favourite opportunities to talk to my boys is when we are in the car together. There’s no backing away or slinking into your bedroom or finding excuses not to chat when you are in the car. It also feels more spontaneous than, for example, walking into their bedroom for a chat, which can sometimes make them seize up.
  • Find a shared hobby: We are lucky we have surfing as a shared family passion. I love that we all enjoy this activity, but what I especially love is that the boys are often asking Michael or me if we’ll take them for an early morning or late afternoon surf. This is time together, away from the rest of the family, doing something we both love. It’s not your typical sort of bonding, but there is closeness in being out in the ocean together (and I think it secretly fills them with pride to see us out being active like that).
  • Eat together as a family: Family dinners are a non-negotiable in our house, and they always have been. We sit down every evening to eat together, and we stay put until we’re all finished and all the kids have been excused. This is a time to reflect on the day, to ask questions, to hear what they learned at school or to discuss cultural topics as a family.
  • Inject humour to make light of situations: Sometimes when one of our boys says something rude or snippy, instead of immediately getting angry or escalating the situation, we’ll just make a joke or do something silly to lighten the mood. (Obviously, if they continue to be rude, we may have to get more serious, but sometimes using humour is a good first response.)
  • Resist the urge to challenge back: Remember this post from a few years ago?  I still often remind myself that when my boys challenge me or argue with me, I don’t always have to bite back or respond to their challenge. In many cases, it’s best to diffuse the argument than to win it.
  • Tell them you love them: I took note the other day of how many times I say ‘I love you’ to our toddler compared to how many times I say it to our teenagers. You can imagine the difference! It is so important for our teenagers to know we love them, because they are already dealing with so many issues of self-doubt and insecurities, and the more they feel loved, the easier it is for them to navigate these awkward times. We always check in with our kids at bedtime to properly say goodnight and tell them we love them. But it’s also good to say it at times when it’s not routine.

 

I’m sure there are lots of other really wonderful tips I’m missing, but these are what sprang to mind first. Please share your tips, as I’d love to hear.

Courtney x


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Comments (10)

Caro
February 4, 2021

Hi, Im Caro from Germany and maybe my englisch is not very good, because i learnd it longtime ago in school. Thank you very much for sharing your story. It was nice to read and I will use some of your advices.
My boy is 11 but puberty is a big theme here, too.
We share our love for building lego and cooking together. Even the kitchen is sometimes a mess after that I let him do everythink he wants to try and use the time to be on his side.
Building lego is very relaxing for both of us after a long day and we use the time to talk.
What is very important for me, always listen to him and understand his world (which music is in, which book he read, who are his friends….). I even bought a book about star wars to understand all the characters.
Greetings from Germany to Australia and once again sorry for my bad englisch


Jennifer
February 5, 2021

I think your English is very good. I’m impressed that you wrote so well without using it often and having learned it a long time ago. I don’t have teens yet, but will in a few years. Understanding their world and making a point to understand their interests is great advice! Thanks!


Erin
February 4, 2021

Hi Courtney! Great insight and suggestions. I have all girls and two of them are in the teen/preteen stage (soon to be 12 and 14) and honestly many of your suggestions above apply to preteens. Both are my girls are affectionate and perhaps gender plays into that, however, like you say, all children are different and sharing a hobby and talking about sex and their changing bodies is something that applies to both genders. It does test your own boundaries — being really open with your children. And if you go in with an open heart, you grow so much as a parent along with the child. The other advice I always share with parents — is truly and actively listen to your children. Don’t be the one to do all of the talking. Xo Erin


Courtney in Australia
February 5, 2021

Yes, I think much of what I’ve written applies to tween and teen girls as well as boys. And I LOVE your advice for listening — not always being the one doing all the talking. So good. Thanks for your comment. x


Jennifer
February 5, 2021

I completely agree that openness and honesty are so important! I’m not at the teen years yet with our crew, so I haven’t had too many hard questions and topics to dive into quite yet. How do you suggest openly talking about those personal topics about sex that could be uncomfortable? Do you usually bring up a conversation, or do you wait for a prompt from them? Do you and your husband both talk about all topics with your kids? Or are there a couple of topics that just you or he tend to address, depending on which child you’re talking to?


Ally
February 5, 2021

Hi Courtney!
Such a great post for loving our boys. I wanted to ask when you say there might be a case where your son is being rude or snippy you inject humor or make light of the situation. Are you able to expand on how you might do that? I’d love an example!
All the best,
Ally


Alison
February 5, 2021

Really excellent advice Courtney – especially about hugging your sons and telling them you love them. I have two sons and a daughter all late 20s/early 30s so have come out the other side. Yes some very tough times – and very worrying when young men are driving and staying out late. You dread a phone call in the night! But I abided by the advice here – however much I disliked them at times, I always told them how loved they were. and My husband and I now have lovely close relationships with our sons (and daughter). They chose to live close by and despite all my worries over how they were doing at school, have very good well paid jobs. We still go on holidays together (will resume when pandemic is over) and honestly they (and their girlfriends) have become my closest friends – we all love a great analytical conversation and can talk about absolutely everything. They are both over 6ft and I still always hug them and tell them how loved they are!!


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Rebecca
February 5, 2021

Totally comfortable with the sex chat… but how did you approach talking about porn?!


Courtney in Australia
February 5, 2021

If you listen to that Goop podcast interview that I linked to, you’ll feel encouraged to talk about porn! I think she shares a stat like…. 100% of boys have seen porn by the age of 16!! And the porn these days is violent and is giving our boys a very skewed view on sex and sexual relationships.
I simply brought it up in the car one day and asked them if they’ve seen porn. We then had a conversation about the dangers and implications of porn, etc.
Sometimes, if I don’t know how to broach a topic, I will start by saying what I’ve heard or read in an article or podcast and just share the expert’s advice, etc. (Maggie Dent also has an entire chapter in her book about sex and porn and how to talk to our boys about it.)


mandy
February 5, 2021

hi Courtney, thanks so much for these very useful tips! I have twin boys in the age of 12 (plus a 3 yr old) and they are very very different, like your oldest boys. My tip is in line with Erin’s. Really listen, but without giving advice (unless they ask for it of course). I used to tend to give advice when they are angry or upset with a situation. But in years I’ve come to realize that they need to ventilate their thoughts and feelings and they don’t want perse an answer… So now I don’t give advice but reply with questions like ‘how did it make you feel’ or by telling them I totally understand that they are upset. This also gives them the opportunity to reflect on the situation and most of the time they are (a bit) relieved by just telling what they feel and experience. This also really really works with toddlers ;-). My 2nd advice is a family tradition, especially important during lockdowns and to break their (us!) screen addiction. For example (old-fashion) game night like Rummicub or movie night we do with the 4 of us. Love from Amsterdam!


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