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WHAT YOUR SON ISN'T TELLING YOUUnlocking the Secret World of Teen Boys
By MICHAEL ROSS SUSIE SHELLENBERGER
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2010 Michael Ross and Susie Shellenberger
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHOW A BOY'S WORLD LOOKS AND FEELS
Jeanna Smith wasn't about to give up on her teenage son, Nick.
Despite a big fight they'd had earlier-and some hurtful things he'd said-Nick was a good kid. Jeanna knew he was going through some hard times right now: He was rejected by a girl he liked, he was being picked on by some guys at school, and he hadn't made the basketball team.
"Honey, you haven't touched your spaghetti," she said to her son during dinner. "You've got to eat-otherwise you'll get sick."
Nick shot a hurt look at Jeanna. "Too late, Mother," the sixteen-year-old snapped. "I'm already sick-sick of all the crud I deal with every day. Totally SICK of my life!"
"Then you don't have to eat," Jeanna said. "Let's talk. I'll listen. Tell me what's going on inside-"
"Where's Dad?" Nick asked.
"He's working late-"
"Again!" Nick snapped, interrupting Jeanna. "He's never around. It's just you and me. We're not a real family. Everything is so messed up. I just can't take it anymore."
Before Jeanna could utter another word, Nick stood up and threw his fork on the table. "Look, I don't want to talk-to anyone." With that he stormed out of the kitchen.
Jeanna slumped back in her chair and pushed her food away. Lately it seemed as if Nick was on an emotional roller coaster. He was even pulling away from Jeanna's attempts to reach out. The weary mom was scared, confused, and desperate. Most of all, she was starting to lose her patience.
As she sat at the kitchen table, she began to think about a promise she had read earlier in the Bible:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1b-3a)
Jeanna rubbed her eyes and took a deep breath. I'm barely treading water, yet I know I've got to trust. I realize I have to stay strong and not let this get the best of me.
Later that evening, Jeanna stood quietly by her son's room and poured out her heart in prayer: Lord, I know Nick doesn't mean to act this way. And I know that I need to be a source of strength-and reach out now more than ever. Please be my source of strength. Give me the right words and actions. Most of all, don't let me lose him.
Jeanna tapped on the door. "Nick, can I come in?"
Jeanna pushed open the door. "I just wanted to say good-night ... and maybe get a hug."
Nick just blinked.
Jeanna sat down on the edge of the bed and embraced her son.
Postcards From the Edge
Here's some good news for weary moms: You can improve communication with your son, guide him through all those jumbled emotions inside, and even nurture better parent/teen connections on the home front. How? You and your husband must clue in to the unique, boy-specific ways in which teen guys think and feel ... and take an interest in how their world looks.
Here's a snapshot:
He must survive a climate that in one moment is playful and child-like, then suddenly changes to harsh, overwhelming, and cruel. Popularity is measured by how well he does with the opposite sex. Rejection is a fate worse than death. His drive for independence is as strong as his drive for food. He is fascinated by those strange creatures known as "the opposite sex." He can't even control his own emotions from minute to minute.
You're probably thinking, Hey, this describes my teenage years! (Some things never change.) But while there are core issues common to every generation, boys are coming of age in a high-tech world that's vastly different from the one you and I had to navigate. His world is more connected and much more complex.
Computer technology has exploded, making it much easier for guys to interface with others anywhere in the world. What's more, families have taken a beating. Divorce rates are at record levels, even among Christian households. And in this day and age of high-tech toys and low-tech values, sin is packaged, downloaded, and made accessible to the masses as never before.
With this in mind, let's examine some key issues facing boys at each stage of development, along with ideas on how you can steer him through the challenges of adolescence.
TWEEN (Ages 10-13): Prepare for the Journey
* I love music and sports and have plastered the walls of my room with all the people I love. My mom thinks I'm obsessing ... but I think it's cool!-Tanner, 12 * Girls call and text me all the time. I love it, but my parents are kinda freaking out. They've given me "the talk" again, which totally grosses me out.-Chad, 12 * I admit I'm sort of addicted to video games. I think they're awesome. Mom and dad, on the other hand, seem worried and always lecture me about going outside and getting exercise and stuff.-Jonathan, 11
Sometime on or before his thirteenth birthday, the average male transforms from an enthusiastic, wide-eyed elementary kid to an emotionally unpredictable, uncommunicative alien-otherwise known as a teenager. One word best describes his life during this phase of life: change.
Pastor and youth expert Gary Hunt says, "Regardless of whether or not physical puberty has arrived, the middle school mentality has led them from childhood to adolescence, from an end to a beginning. As adolescence is the bridge between childhood and adulthood, so the middle-school years are the bridge between childhood and adolescence."
Parents of "tweenage" boys must prepare their sons for the journey ahead. Here are three key things you should do before puberty hits:
Alleviate his fears. Tell him this: "Sometime soon your hormones will kick into gear, and you'll begin the transformation from boy to man."
Explain that his growth into manhood is hereditary. He'll develop at a similar rate as his father. So Dad may want to sit down with his son and answer a few questions: how old he was when he began to grow taller, how old he was when puberty hit, how he handled all the "scary" body changes.
Constantly remind him of God's plan. Despite all the different body shapes and sizes he sees at school or in the locker room, he can rest assured that he's normal! He is created by the one and only God Almighty, the God of the universe, and He never makes mistakes. His timing is perfect.
Five Tweenage Extremes to Note
Extreme hero worship Extreme avoidance of parents Extreme crushes Extreme humor Extreme energy
EARLY TEEN (Ages 13-15): The Incredible Morphing Kid
* I don't have any hair down there. In fact, my face and body still look like those of an elementary school kid, not a young man. Am I okay?-Jonah, 15 * I get erections all the time-usually at the wrong times, like when a girl walks up to me and says, "hi!" it's totally embarrassing. I feel like some kind of sex freak.-Andre, 14 * I hate my body. Other guys my age have muscles and stuff. I'm way too skinny and short-and I have a face full of zits. Life stinks!-Braden, 15
Time magazine reporter Nancy Gibbs described the early teen years as "the age of childhood leaning forward and adulthood holding back, when the world gets suddenly closer, the colors more vivid, the rules subject to never ending argument."
Boys this age have bodies that are chemical laboratories, exploding with all kinds of new activity. And with all these changes going on inside (and outside), your early teen can't help asking himself, Is this normal? Am I normal?
Maybe he has sprouted three inches above everyone else his age. Or maybe his peers did the growing, and he feels abnormal. It's important that you continue to alleviate his fears, assuring him that his development is a normal part of growing up.
Tell him this: "Your body is changing and you're getting a new look. Occasionally you'll wish you could hide behind a sign that says 'Stay Away-Under Construction!' But try to be patient, because when the manhood-morphing process is over, you're going to like the new you."
Your son will also probably change some part of his identity. "He will shuck off the identity you have given him as easily as he discards the clothes you buy him," Gary Hunt points out. "Some of these passing phases will be incorporated into the person he will ultimately become; others will fade away."
During the early teen years, it's essential that you help your boy make sense of another change in his life-his sexual awakening. By now he has probably noticed a strong appetite for sex. Sadly, though, much of what he'll learn about this wondrous part of his life will come from his peers, including misinformation about girls. What's more, your teenager is being bombarded almost constantly with sexual messages from the media. Parents must set the record straight and communicate the truth about sex.
"Sexual energy," notes author Bill Beausay in his book Teenage Boys, "especially in someone as hormonally charged as your teenage son, is a wildly strong and surprising force. It begins in your son's life during these years, peaks at 18, and won't burn out for a long, long time."
MIDTEEN (Ages 16-17): The Drive for Independence
* I wish my parents would start trusting me more and stop treating me like a little kid who still wears Pampers. I'm growing up. I can take care of myself.-Chad, 16 * I guess you could call me the more sensitive type. I'm not really into sports or the outdoors, and I prefer stuff like reading, writing, and art. But some guys make fun of me and call me a sissy. Is it okay if a guy doesn't act real macho?-Thomas, 16 * I'm almost a man, and I've never kissed a girl. I haven't even had a girlfriend. I feel creepy, like maybe i repulse females or something.-Nathan, 17
Driving, dating, a part-time job-like it or not, your little boy (who maybe now towers over you) is definitely growing up. And during this stage of development you're well aware that an "emotional war" between you and your son is in full swing. It's a perfectly normal part of growing up that psychologists describe as the "war of independence." With each step young people take on the path to adulthood, they become more and more independent of their mothers and fathers.
But in the meantime, how can you survive the daily storms on the home front? And when it comes to the specific needs of your teenage boy, what can you do to cool down the hot spots and even improve your relationship with him?
First, strive to understand the battle. A teenage boy in particular is very sensitive about personal injustice, self-worth, independence, privacy, and love. And whether or not he admits it, he's actually looking for boundaries. Some of his "testing behavior" is a way of him saying, "Do you care enough about me to keep me from doing this stupid thing? Do I have your attention? Are you concerned about who I am and what I'm doing?"
Second, understand a key that can help you over the barriers to solid conversation. This communication link I'm referring to is called trust. It's fragile and sometimes hard to build, but it's universally important.
Let's take a look at two ways trust can help you invade your high-schooler's world-without invading his space.
Trust earns you the right to be heard. Isn't "your right" already guaranteed simply by the fact that you're his parent? It should be, but in the real world it isn't. Your son is focused on the here and now. He's probably not thinking about all the sacrifices you've made for him through the years (or how much you love him). But he will, almost instantaneously, recall the "injustices" you've caused: your "countless broken promises," the times you blamed him for things he insists he didn't do, those days when you were "too busy." While perfect parenthood should never be your goal, it is important to build trust by earning the right to be heard. How? It starts with the next step.
Your attention builds trust. Teens know that love shown by parents says, "Your life is important, son, and I'm going to give you my time." When you spend time with him, show him you will listen and talk and work things out together. Invade his world ... and let him invade yours.
LATE TEEN (Age 18+): Launching Into the World
* I really want to figure out God's will for my life. Right now I have no idea what I'm going to do after high school. But I want my life to count. I want to make a difference in this world.-Zander, 18 * I'm in love with a girl who has all the qualities I'm looking for-including a strong faith in God. Even though we've only known each other for a month, I'm convinced that I've found my wife. We want to get married, but my parents are putting a stop to it. They say we're way too young to get serious romantically, especially to think about marriage. They want me to go to college first.-Josh, 19 * I'm really struggling with my identity. Who am I? A jock, a musician, a man of God? things were actually pretty easy in high school and youth group. But now the thought of moving out on my own really terrifies me. Yet I can't live with my parents any longer. We fight a lot, and I really need my space.-John Mark, 18
By age eighteen, your son has reached the end of his teen years and has now approached yet another beginning: manhood.
His gaze is on the future and life on his own. But once he's independent of you, will he leave his faith back in high school, or will he strive to become the solid person God calls him to be? Will he fulfill his hopes and dreams, or will he slide toward a life of regrets?
It's a good time to remind him of a blessing-and a curse.
The Blessing: Independence! Those clashes with pesky siblings, constant ten p.m. curfews, and endless "Not while you're living under my roof" lectures become nothing more than murky adolescent memories.
The Curse: Independence! His parents, siblings, and youth minister aren't there to bail him out if he gets into trouble. The support system he once depended upon is now gone! (Or at least in a different state.)
Communicate this: "You-and only you-will be responsible for your actions. Making the right choices, and dealing with the wrong ones, is something you'll have to shoulder all by yourself. So, will you choose to bend the rules from time to time (knowing that you can), or will you commit to an unshakable faith in Christ?"
Now is the time for your son to decide. Like it or not, the days ahead will be filled with all kinds of temptations. But as his parent, you must let go and entrust his future to God.
What's Going on? (The Five Stages of Puberty in Guys)
Your son's journey from boyhood to manhood is nothing short of a miracle. And as you already know, it happens in a hurry. In fact, most of his life you've probably used phrases like growth spurt to describe him: "I can't keep him in clothes and shoes because of his growth spurts."
Look out, because it's going to intensify with the onset of puberty. Some boys grow more than four inches in a single year.
During adolescence, the young man in your life is getting a new body and a new look: muscle growth, new hair scattered all over in some very adult places, not to mention zits. He'll also develop, if he hasn't already, a strong appetite for sex; this is a fact of life that way too many parents would rather avoid or deny. Along with his sexual awakening comes one of the more embarrassing aspects of being a teen guy: frequent erections. FYI-most boys are terrified by the possibility of experiencing an erection in public, especially in locker rooms and at swimming pools.
Bottom line: Your son will be extra sensitive about all these changes going on, so be patient, empathize with his awkward moments and crazy emotions, give him plenty of privacy, and never, ever make fun of the process. If you do, he'll shut down quicker than he can say "I'm outta here!"
Excerpted from WHAT YOUR SON ISN'T TELLING YOU by MICHAEL ROSS SUSIE SHELLENBERGER Copyright © 2010 by Michael Ross and Susie Shellenberger. Excerpted by permission.
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