Until now, you always assumed the caricature of the couch-bound, eternally-hungry teen-aged boy depicted in comic strips, television shows and movies was just that, a caricature. Now? Now you’re living with a real-live teen-aged boy and you’re probably seeing the truth in those caricatures. In real life, having a giant, often-stinky, hairy man-child leaving a trail of food, clothing and lethargy throughout your house is not as funny as it is on television. What’s a mom to do? Before you panic and resign yourself to having this creature living in your basement eating Cheeto’s forever, let’s look at a couple of facts.
As a mom, you have only your own experiences as a teenager to compare to your son’s. You might have been getting straight A’s and been able to focus intently on your schoolwork by seventh grade and you find yourself wondering why your son can’t do the same in tenth grade. This feeling might be further exacerbated if you also have a daughter close in age to your son.
Relax. A 2010 study by the National Institute of Health revealed that there really is a difference between girl’s and boy’s brains! On average, a young woman’s brain reaches full maturity at 20-22. A young man’s brain is not fully developed until about age 30!
This is not to say woman are smarter than men, just that they mature far more quickly. Your son may be six feet tall at 14 but he’s still got a lot of growing to do! You will save yourself a lot of grief if you recognize that your experiences and abilities as a teenage girl will be far different than what you are seeing in your son. Knowing this, you can move forward and help your son get off the couch and get moving while keeping your expectations reasonable.
Around The House
Some of your teen’s attitude toward helping around the house will be based on the expectations you have had of him thus far in his life. If you have always insisted that your son perform daily chores with no back talk, odds are chores are so routine that he simply does what you ask. However, if you have always done the bulk of the work around the house, suddenly expecting your son to do chores can bring about negative reactions.
Your teen may question why he has to do dishes or cut the grass all of a sudden or he might insist that he does not care if he has to wade through a foot of dirty clothes to get to his bed. Rather than arguing back and forth or giving the standard “Because I say so!” answer, use this opportunity to discuss the fact that in a few short years he will be living on his own. (Here, have a tissue.) Explain that he needs to know basic skills – laundry, dishes, yard work, sewing on a button, basic car maintenance, how to iron a shirt, etc.
If he knows there is a real reason for doing the things you are asking him to do he is far more likely to do them. This is also a good time to give him some control over his chores. Sit down and make a weekly list of things you expect him to do without you asking. Put him in charge of his own laundry. Be willing to give on a few things! Is it absolutely necessary that he make his bed every morning? Is it really important to you that he run the vacuum at 8:00 a.m. instead of after lunch?
Increase his responsibilities as he gets older. Thank him as you would thank anyone who folded the towels in the dryer. Do not nitpick. If your son is putting in a true effort to a job, do not point out that he did not do it exactly as you would. Lastly, have reasonable consequences for undone chores. If he fails to unload the dishwasher, have him fold a load of laundry, don’t ground him for two weeks!
It is not uncommon for boys’ schoolwork to suffer at some point in their teens. If you see this happening, set aside a time when you are both calm and go for a drive. You do the driving. For some reason, sitting side-by-side, both of you looking ahead is more likely to get your teen opening up to you far more than he would if you were sitting across from each other at a table.
Ask him what he sees as the problem. Do not accept “It’s stupid” for an answer. Often, especially with younger teens, they need help organizing and prioritizing their work. Though many schools provide students with planners, many boys forget to write down instructions or things to remember. Brainstorm together to figure out a way for him to keep track of his work. Look into apps for smartphones (if he has one) that will help him track his work.
Talk about what he wants to do in the future – college, travel, work? Explain how the work he is doing now will be important to his future no matter what he does. His school records will demonstrate to colleges and future employers that he is willing to stick with something and finish it. Point out that he must do the required subjects in high school but in college he will have more freedom to follow his own interests.
Provide him the tools he needs to organize himself but make school his responsibility. You already went to high school. Congratulations! However, rewriting your son’s essay or doing his science project is not helping him nor is it preparing for the future. Let him fail when he has it coming. It will make his successes that much more meaningful. When he does fail, discuss together what he plans to do to avoid those mistakes. Build him up and encourage him, but let him own it.
The Rest of It
- Be prepared for some rebellion. It’s normal and it will subside as your son matures.
- Gradually increase your son’s freedom. If he screws up, back up a few steps until you are comfortable restoring his freedom.
- Centralize computers and televisions. Your son is far less likely to do or watch inappropriate things if he knows you could be behind him at any minute.
- Make certain your child has strong male role models in his life.
- Emphasize a healthy diet and regular meals eaten together as a family. Save soda, chips and junky cereal for special occasions.
- Teenage boys need activity! Lots and lots of activity! If they are not involved in an organized sport, encourage him to ride his bike, take up running or join the local Y. Don’t forget to include physical labor around the house – cleaning gutters, cutting grass, stacking wood, etc. A boy who is working hard physically everyday is more likely to use what energy he has left arguing.
Throughout these years make “We will get through this!” Your mantra. Learn to appreciate the fun times and your son’s good qualities. The moodiness will subside and your son will grow up and become the man you know he can be with your help.