After parenting for more than a decade, you might find your son suddenly slipping away from you. This is normal for teen boys, and it’s normal for moms to worry. Preventing your son from withdrawing too much from you is not the same as halting your son’s development. Rather, it is a way of complementing your son’s growth with an appropriate style of monitoring and communication.
1. Focus on the Present
Both moms and sons worry about the future. For moms, the worry is focused on who her young man is growing up to be. Will he succeed in society? Will his grades be good enough for a college admission? But for sons, the worry is focused on finding oneself. Teen boys are in a phase in which they still don’t have much idea about what they want to do in the future, mainly because they still don’t know themselves well. A mom who sees her teen boy slipping away is actually seeing a mismatch of goals: the mom wanting her son to succeed in adulthood and a son who wants to find his own way in the world. Many times, you can re-establish and strengthen the mother-son bond through understanding how precious these last few years together really are. Focus on the present and enjoy your time with your son. Avoid bringing up future plans that might stress your son and ruin the tenor of your time together.
2. Stay Informed
Teen boys will want to find themselves by themselves, without help from mom. While you should respect your son’s privacy, this does not mean you should go about it with a laissez-faire attitude. Stay up to date on your son’s life. This means knowing about his interests, hobbies and friends. Just by staying informed and monitoring your teen son’s goings-on, you can prevent your son from engaging in the risky behavior male teens are predisposed to, the behavior that keeps moms up at night worrying. Researcher T.W. Boyer, author of the journal article “The Development of Risk-Taking,” found that parents who check in on their teens’ lives raise more obedient teens, teens less likely to rebel against their parents’ wishes or who engage in irrational risk-taking. So stay informed about your teen; enjoy your heart-to-heart conversations, but do it with a purpose: to learn about your son.
3. Moderate Your Son’s Environment
Knowledge goes a long way, but sometimes a mom has to step in and stop her teen boy from slipping into bad habits. Once you know about your son’s environment, such as who he hangs with, what he and his friends do together and how he spends his free time alone, evaluate his decision-making. Teens are typically poor at making smart decisions and often need some outside influence. A mom does have the final say on who her son can hang out with and what her son can do. Don’t feel guilty to use this power. For example, a teen who is spending all his free time playing online games is likely missing out on social opportunities and family time. As a mom, you can consider setting restrictions on such a habit, to help bring your son back into the family.
4. Joint Decision-Making
Many of the actions that cause a mom to think her son is slipping away are actions a teen boy chooses without much thinking. For example, a teen boy might find himself bullying his peers as a way to show off or impress a crush. Teen boys, flowing with hormones, tend to act before thinking. As a mom, you can help your teen with his decision-making, showing him how to reach his goals without his normally impulsive and sometimes misguided actions. Talk through decisions together, guiding your son’s line of thinking but giving him the final decision. As a mom, you provide the logic while your son provides the goal and context. Developmental psychologist John Gottman, in his book “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child,” mentions that when teens and parents work together to solve problems, teens are more likely to think about their future actions and less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as illegal activity and substance use.
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