ASK A MOM: Teenaged boys, summer birthdays, and following through with commands
WBTV's Molly Grantham tackles your parenting questions in this ongoing series
Q: I have a 15-year-old son. I love him but don’t know how to handle him. He’s moody, and bigger than me. He has never been physical or threatening, but sometimes I feel overwhelmed by him. My husband has talked to him, and explained respecting his mother and better conversational skills, but I’m not sure it’s working. I feel connected with his younger sisters and know how to naturally parent them but am torn with actions to take and how to talk with my son. Any professional advice?—Anonymous
A: Twice in the last week—TWICE—I had a friend call to vent about their teenaged son. Both just needed an ear. Neither woman knew the other and the two have different parenting techniques, but both are fantastic moms who juggle lots, work outside the home, and love their kids endlessly. I don’t have teenage boys (yet) and couldn’t relate, but listened. They had similar things to say, Ms. Anonymous, and honestly, it’s wild to read this question this month after those two calls. I’m glad you asked because others are certainly feeling the same.
I sent your question to a local male therapist and a female pediatrician.
We’ll begin with Randy Wall, PhD, a licensed psychologist with Charlotte Psychotherapy and Consultation Group.
“In some ways these struggles might be a good sign,” he says. “Teenage boys have to ‘push away’ from their moms, particularly if they’ve had a close, nurturant relationship during childhood and adolescent years. This is sometimes referred to as ‘desatellization.’ The closer (emotionally) that boys have been with their moms, the harder they have to ‘push away’ in their mid-teen years. This can be unnerving for the mothers left wondering what’s happening.”
Randy suggested being patient and recognizing that your son might have to just “go away” from you—relationally-speaking—for a couple of years.
“This does NOT mean you should tolerate any disrespect of misbehavior,” he adds. “Maintaining reasonable behavioral expectations, backed by firm, consistent consequences, is important. You might also want to try meeting on his turf. Ask him to show you how to play one of his favorite video games or offer breakfast out together at his favorite place to eat. Something he would like to do whether it interests you or not. Sometimes just engaging in an activity together, without much talking, can help maintain a level of connection.”
He added that your son’s relationship with his father—and/or some version of a male mentor like a coach or teacher—will also serve to ameliorate the possibility of adjustment problems at this age.
The female pediatrician in Charlotte who answered is also a mom of teenaged sons.
“This is a tough question without me wanting to ask 50 more questions about details,” she says. “Is her son medically depressed? Going through typically surly teenage behavior? Just has a different communication style than his mom?”
Meaning: There can be tons of directions to go and you’re right to wonder and want help, but there might not be a one-size-fits-all-answer.
“I commend the mom for reaching out to ask,” she says. “We all know different kids may need different parenting techniques. I hope she has had an honest, thoughtful conversation with her son to let him know how much she loves and cares for him. And professional counseling from a psychologist to learn how to communicate in a healthy way can be a good way to find understanding.”
Good luck, Mamma. It’s not easy. Nothing is. Hang in there and know, your son is always your son, you’re always his mom, and you’re not alone.
Q: I’m looking for birthday party ideas for 2 summer birthdays, ages 9 and 10 (both boys). Any good options that are outdoors but not at my house?
A: Putt-putt golf. Go Karts. Ropes courses. Batting cages. Camping. Paint ball. Pool party. A tour of a sports stadium or facility. Nerf party at any public outdoor venue.
Those are some ideas from Thrifty Little Mom, a website whose author says her goal is to “create for less and live intentionally.”
If you don’t like any of those options, you could host a big backyard party, only not in your backyard. Consider a public park, where you can organize backyard-type games (think Capture the Flag, etc.) and use a grill for a cookout or have pizza delivered.
Also, I know you said outdoor parties, but my 7-year-old went to a skating rink in Concord a few weeks ago on a Sunday night. Because it was off hours, the hosts were able to have the entire facility privately. There were maybe 20 people total there, few to zero concerns about germs and COVID, and kids had the entire space to themselves. My son had a blast.
Q: We don’t believe in spanking, but I want to know how you get your kids to do something without reminding them 300 times. My kids only respond when I snap and start yelling. I need a strategy that’s not yelling. Any advice?—Paige
A: Common questions, says Elizabeth Pinard, a licensed clinical social worker with Carolinas Interactive Therapy in Charlotte. She says first, please know you’re on track by not believing in spanking.
“Spanking was more acceptable when we were growing up,” she says. “But now there’s a plethora of research that indicates spanking actually increases negative behaviors and damages the parent and child relationship.”
As for solutions, she encourages you to pay extra attention to the words you use when asking your child to do something.
“Parents often ask a child to do something rather than tell them to do it,” Pinard says. “Like, ‘Let’s clean up the toys.’ Which is confusing. Who is cleaning? Is the parent cleaning? Or the child? Or both? The tone is also important. Think about kids in school. Teachers use a neutral tone. Kids listen to a teacher at school when given a command, and the same should be expected at home. I suspect the little one in question here has learned he or she doesn’t have to follow through with an action until yelling begins. That’s not fun for the parent or the child.”
Pinard emphasized staying consistent with your tone, and giving the command once, directly and clearly. If there is no move by the child to follow the command within five seconds (count internally, not out loud), give the command one more time using the same neutral tone. If it’s not followed after a second time, a removal of privileges or time-out would be appropriate.
She gave some specific examples of ways to issue a command:
1) Instead of “Can you put your shoes on?”… say, “Please put your shoes on.”
2) Instead of “Stop running!”… say, “Please walk.”
3) Instead of “Be careful!”… say clearly, “Get down off the chair.”
“If this parent continues to have challenges with their child following through on commands, there are behavior parenting training therapy models which can be effective,” she says. “They might want to look into some of those.” [Molly’s note: Elizabeth Pinard is specially trained in one called PCIT (Parent-Child Interaction Therapy) and her email is firstname.lastname@example.org]
Happy April. Next up? Mother’s Day.
Submit any question you have on Charlotte Parent’s homepage. Scroll down and to the right until you see “Ask A Mom.” Until then, my friends…
MOLLY GRANTHAM is an anchor, author, and mom of three. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram, or catch her on WBTV News at 5:00 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and 11 p.m.