Teenage Boys Need Their Parents
A shocker to parents is that their teenage sons need them. Yea, right, they say. He needs me to chauffeur him, feed him, clean his clothes, and buy him stuff. Other than that, Im useless. He needs me about as much as I need a hole in my head!
I know they tell their parents to shut-up, leave them alone, call them names, give single-syllable answers to questions, and live with their faces in their Game-boys, Play Stations, Nintendos, X-boxes, computers and televisions and their ears in their music headphones. They hang with their friends, or in their rooms, and act like parents are absolutely the last people on Earth they want to be around.
Great routine. Well practiced and executed. Its a lie . . . pure theater . . . an act. Dont believe it.
Reality is, despite all appearances, teenage boys need their parents very very much. All of their antics are dependent on the safety and security of the family: on the reliability and familiarity with their parents (and siblings). Without that security and familiarity, their ballooned egos go thwwwwwp.
Ill tell you a couple of quick stories.
One is about a teenage boy who liked to swear a lot and was the epitome of disrespect to both of his parents. In meetings week after week, hed sound off on their terrible parenting with one complaint after another. There were a lot of emotional upsets in their household and periodic physical encounters.
Now after a number of weeks of the meetings having the same performance, I suggested to the boy he move out, become an emancipated minor, to which he responded with an enthusiastic YEAH! followed by a whole lot of swearing laced with what he was going to do. His father spoke up about his concern about their financial obligations. I said if the boy moves out, the father wont have those financial obligations anymore, which got an OH, of surprise. Immediately, the boy sat up and settled right down. He was no more ready to move out than I am to fly to Jupiter.
The second story involves an 18 year old high school senior living with his father. His complaint was he should be able to do whatever he wanted to because he is 18 after all, and hes old enough to make his own decisions. I asked him why he didnt act on his attitude and move out of his fathers house and go live his life. He immediately changed his position, sitting up and leaning forward and said I dont know how I would support myself . . .
There is basically no social support for the reality that teenage boys need their parents. Just the opposite. First of all, needing is weakness and they hate weakness, and therefore needing. So there is no way in Gods little green acres theyre going to say openly, I need you or what they need, really. In fact, theyre going to do their best to cover it up and confuse their parents. They act like their parents are dorks, and who needs them. Parents too often are mystified and throw up their hands in utter frustration.
Secondly its as common as air for boys to ally with their friends against their parents. Supported by peer pressure and friends, the boys say, I dont need you. I have my friends to talk to and too often the parents cower and back down saying, I tried, but what can I do?
Its not my experience that teenage boys actually talk with their friends about subjects that are personal and important to them other than trouble and complaints about their parents, teachers, or other kids. Their friends are as ignorant as they are.
You may remember what your friends used to tell you and how reliable their information was. I can. What they may get is solace from friends: connection and a sense of belonging which also is often not reliable. What they dont get is reality, a perspective and depth that has wisdom and future.
Thirdly, and very influential and powerful, the marketplace & media, our popular culture, promotes the illusion that teenage boys do not need their parents: theyre depicted as smart, savvy, independent . . . in fact better than adult men are . . . a solid, independent market to sell to.
Its everywhere in popular culture: teenage boys are cool, knowledgeable, and together. Theyre smarter than the grown-ups and they dont need anyone else, accept their tribe. At the same time, the marketplace and media contrasts the cool teenager with the bumbling, foolish, easily duped, emotionally weak, immature grown-up.
The film Ferris Buellers Day Off, marketed as a comedy, captures the image of the independent, albeit outlandish, young teenage male. He fools his parents and outsmarts the bumbling, oafish high school principal.
The popular culture idolizes and markets to youth. It portrays age as weakness, often ridiculing adulthood and maturity. When programming and advertising promote communication between teenage boys and grown-ups, it is to share buying products, talk about something current in teen culture or to poke fun at adulthood. Conversation is steered back toward adolescence, not forward into adulthood.
Given all of this, no wonder its close to impossible for parents to recognize that their sons need them. Unfortunately, when parents buy into the sham that their sons dont need them anymore, its a fire sale. They end up with heartaches and aggravation. Its one fight after another over issues that never resolve because the premise is false and the issues are really red-herrings.
In mythology and tales, dragons are dangerous and speak in riddles. Teenage boys are no different. Theyll threaten you, tempt and test you, and burn you when you fall prey to their antics. Their needs are in code: the clues are in their language and in the patterns of their behavior. Parents and other adults are challenged to decipher the code.
Teenage boys need their parents. It just happens to be that what they need from their folks are different qualities than what they needed when they were little boys. Some of the qualities teenage boys need include mature modeling, boundaries, inspiration, encouragement, solace, strength, kindness, firmness, opportunities, practice, and safety. And most importantly, they need their parents not to believe theyre not needed: to see through the performance to the real need and not be controlled by their act.
Teenage boys are not ready to grow up. Theyre basically ignorant and scared about adult realities. They are not developing confidence in themselves nor a sense that they can handle the future. They need their parents to help make their way into young manhood. It is a necessary skill . . . it is also deeply satisfying.
©2012 Ted Braude
Youth is wholly experimental. - Robert Louis Stevenson