Teen girls have been fairly smooth sailing for me. When emotions are big, I feel confident in how to respond and help them. Teen boys, on the other hand, have refined me to my core. I love my son dearly, and connection with him is important to me, but I have been challenged to remain connected to him while he is finding his way. As a mom, I have full awareness that I cannot fully bring him into manhood and learning how to do this dance has been interesting. Parts of this season with him have made me feel so inadequate, weak, and even worried. Yet it has made me all the more dependent upon the Lord in a new and fresh way. I was crying out to God for strategy and help when He told me to tap into the incredible men around us who have more wisdom and knowledge than I do in this area. I was blown away by their insight and surprised by how similar their responses were. Men really do hold keys to a young man’s heart.
This is the text I sent to a handful of men: “Hello! I am asking a couple of men who I trust for some feedback. Hudson is 14 and clearly shifting seasons. I am sensitive to these changes and want to grow in supporting him and become all that God has for him, even if the male brain and wiring are not my norm. Would you be willing to give me insight on the following questions from your perspective as a dad but also from when you were his age? What is something he really NEEDS at this age/stage? What is one of the worst things a mother could do at this age? What could I do as his mom to affirm his need to pull away and become his own individual? Any additional thoughts? I sincerely value hearing and learning how best to parent him! Lisa.”
Here are their responses loaded with empowerment and rich wisdom:
- Taking risks that come with a belief he’s no longer a boy who needs protection (even if it looks completely immature or unnecessary to others). This can manifest by personal style or something as simple as going places without supervision. You might see a potentially bad outcome, but he might have to experience the process to understand where his limits are apart from what you wisely believe (regardless of the outcome). These can be reasonably compromised at times, but if he perceives that what you are always saying is “No, because I as your mother know better for you,” that can actually fuel his desire and become his concrete “I’m surely going to do this now.”
- I remember when I was his age. My mom was somewhat overprotective, but she (and my dad) had laid a good foundation for me. That foundation was a good inner compass for me. Hudson has a good inner compass. He won’t go off the rails. His desire is for good.
- When I was 14, I needed more independence. There were structured activities I found that in, like youth group. There were unstructured activities I chose to do too, hanging out with friends, running & mountain biking etc.
- Boys & men process differently to women. Sitting down and talking about feelings is not natural for us (mostly). It is a learned skill. We tend to process through action. Emotions at this age are at extremes. It’ll pass and normalize.
- Constructive projects were good for me. I worked for my aunt and uncle who owned land. I managed the land, fixed fences, drove tractors, repaired country roads, etc. Directed outdoor physical activity was healthy for me. Sports do the same thing – something physical with concrete results at the end.
- Sometimes I failed. I had a bad group of friends for a short season. My inner compass told me they weren’t good for me, so I eventually drifted away from them. Bad decisions and failure are part of growing up – it’s part of adult life too! But I needed the freedom to choose, to fall and to know that my family would always be there for me when I fell. But, like Proverbs says, I rose again. I rose wiser. Hudson has a good inner compass, he’s loyal; he’s motivated towards compassion. He won’t go far wrong.
- Shaming a boy for things that are out of his control as he navigates the insecurity of becoming a young man who truly thinks he knows what he’s doing. He might not feel embarrassed at all about something until you make it so for him because you are projecting.
- Express how deep your love is that you can choose to believe he will be alright because that is how amazing a person he is. He has the freedom to not be all right (and not worry that it would cause you greater worry if he’s not) because if that happens, you will be there unconditionally to love on him through that too.
- I am where I am today because someone called out the gold in me at a moment I nearly threw my future away at his age (and it’s only in hindsight I realized I would’ve thrown my future away). Pray that no matter where he goes, God will encounter him in somebody if he finds himself in a dark moment where a poor choice seems like the right one.
- Also, he views authority as an obstruction. Part of the discovery is learning how working apart from authority can get him to a far point, and then realizing how authority actually serves as a foundational tool through which he can go much further.
- Lisa, I would say the biggest need that I had at his age is validation. I needed to hear, “You have what it takes to be a man.”
- Celebrate who he is as a young man becoming a man. And how he is wired differently than the girls.
- I see you already know and are doing this “grace in the poor choices/failures.” One thing I do is ask what they learned from the poor choice/failure then I know as a dad they are learning, and it is then easier for me to extend grace.
- Boys really need a voice they admire to affirm their identity. A strong male they look up to who they know is for them and can speak into who they are. Girls seem to need many voices and relationships to feel “validated.” Boys just need one good one that isn’t their dad. Hudson will pick this person without realizing it. What you can do is be praying for this guy and then ask him to accept the responsibility when you figure out who it is.
- Boys Hudson’s age start wrestling with their dads because they need to know how they measure up. It’s partly to see where they fall in the pecking order and it’s partly to satisfy their need to conquer things. As you’re able, find things Hudson can conquer. Camping, building things, ax throwing, whatever. He just needs things he enjoys that he can find success in accomplishing. I think a lot of guys misuse this aspect of being a guy but it’s a God-given feature that guys have. We were designed to accomplish things and to derive satisfaction from overcoming obstacles. And equally important is learning our limitations. It may sound weird but getting your butt kicked teaches you that you can’t do everything. Boys that never learn that turn into tyrants and bullies.
- When I was 14 going into high school, I was very insecure and didn’t know how to feel. I needed a man to impart manhood to me and teach me/show me the process of how to feel. I needed a healthy mentor whom I could share anything with without judgment and could give me honest feedback. I needed questions asked of me as to what I wanted to build my life to be and taught how to be responsible and accountable for my life and given the opportunity to do so. I think it would take multiple fathers to provide these things (teachers, pastors, coaches, etc.). Also, I wish I was pushed to continue sports for the physical outlet and the comradery.
- I needed to be empowered to make decisions and own the outcome no matter what it was, and the worst thing a mother could do is to ignore/micromanage/enable me in that process.
- I think a good thing for a mom to do is to connect emotionally (probably accompanied with an activity of some kind because one-on-one can be difficult at that age). Connect emotionally would look like asking questions with no agenda (seek to understand) and ask how you can help get him where he wants to go. Challenge him to create goals and partner with his goals.
- I think a boy at this age needs to know what it takes to be a man. I think a big part of that is able to accomplish tasks and overcome challenges. Success probably feels like being able to “win,” but I think deeper it’s about being able to prove on the outside that there is actually a “winner” on the inside. If he is eventually meant to be a protector and provider, he needs to be confident in his ability to accomplish. Healthy challenges and help identify needs and navigate disappointments, keeping identity intact when he makes mistakes in stepping out.
- The worst thing a mom could do at this age is to stop comforting and affirming him. He still needs it, but you may need to do it differently. He’ll never stop needing to be fully seen.
- One way to keep connected as he is developing a sense of self-sustainability could be to invite him in to help solve or accomplish tasks that you have. Ask his advice for stuff, create a way for him to accomplish something for you. Let him know the things he has done to meet your emotional and practical needs.
- Do what you can to also have him around healthy men that he can observe and do things with and be affirmed by. Only a man can tell a boy that he’s a real man.