The Truth About Parenting Teen Boys

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Are all fourteen year old boys assholes?

That’s the question a friend posed to me lately. She’s not the first to ask a version of that question, and I doubt she’ll be the last because something happens to our boys between the ages of 10 and 14. Those tween years aren’t easy; our formerly cuddly little boys become mercurial, independent, sassy and sarcastic. By age 14, the little boy you knew is all but gone. You may still see traces of him, particularly if you happen to get a glimpse of his face while he’s asleep. But during waking hours, he’s something else entirely. He’s a slightly gawky human in a body that’s simultaneously too big and too small for him, a human with limited life experience who nonetheless is sure he has all the answers — and that you, dear parent, absolutely do not. By the time your son is 14, your intelligence quotient and coolness factor will have gone down considerably, at least in his eyes. He’s likely withdrawn a bit from the family, and is far more likely to be found holed up in his bedroom than happily playing with his siblings. When it comes to communication, you may find he has two channels: silence, and sarcasm. In short: yes, 14-year-old boys can be assholes.

There’s something liberating about knowing that, about acknowledging that fact. You see, when my first son hit that age and started to have some pretty drastic mood swings, I assumed I’d done something wrong. I’d bought into the idea that the relationship between parents and teens does not have to be adversarial. I guess I assumed that if I did a good job parenting my son, he’d continue to be a pretty pleasant, mostly reasonable human being.

I was wrong. My teen did not remain pleasant or reasonable throughout his teen years. In fact, much of the time, he was downright impossible. I ended up crying in frustration more times than I care to admit.

But here’s the thing: it didn’t last! By his senior year of high school, my son was suddenly a joy to have around again. We could — and did — have pleasant conversations. Every interaction wasn’t a battle, and he seemed more at ease in his own skin, in the world. And that’s when I realized that the hell we’d experienced over the last years was just a stage. (I got further proof when Boy #2 entered his teen years. Now, #2 is 17 is starting to slide into the “pleasant to be around again” stage. Meanwhile, Boy #3 is 14…and showing flashes of assholeyness.)

Here are 6 truths about parenting teen boys:

1. It’s stressful. Life with a teen is unpredictable. Their moods fluctuate with their hormones and social lives, and because most teen boys aren’t exactly talkative, you won’t know what to expect from your teen from one moment to the next. Add to that the fact that the stakes are higher when your kids are bigger. When your boys were little, you worried about things like skinned knees. Now, you worry about things like car accidents, drinking, drugs and sexual activity.

Parenting a teen is tough work, so it’s important to take care of yourself. Prioritize rest. Set boundaries. Do things that bring you joy. And, perhaps most importantly, have a network of friends you can talk to and brainstorm with. (Wanna connect with some awesome parents of boys? Check out our private Facebook group, BuildngBoys.)

2. They’ll screw up. So will you. Your son will not make it through his teen years without doing something he’s not supposed to. He’ll get a bad grade (or fail a class or three). He’ll crash the car, get caught in a lie, come home drunk…the list of possibilities is endless. It’ll be up to you to enforce consequences, but please remember that no human is perfect. Boys, especially, learn via trial and error, and sometime they have to screw up — and experience the consequences of their mistake — to learn the “right” way to do things.

You’re bound to mess up too. You may go off on your son. Respond reflexively, rather than compassionately. Say something you regret. We all do it. The good news is that our kids are resilient. They can handle less-than-perfect responses. When you screw up, go back later and talk things over with your son. Apologize, if necessary. Don’t expect your son to respond with heartfelt emotion or a hug. (You might get that, but you might not, and it’s better to not set yourself up for disappointment!). He might only shrug, or barely acknowledge your words. That’s OK. Your actions will show him that you love him — and you’ll be teaching him, by example, how to behave when he screws up.

3. They can be downright nasty. Teenagers’ job, psychologically-speaking, is to separate from their parents and families. Perhaps that’s why teens are so mean and surly sometimes. (It’s easier to walk away from something you view as stupid and pointless.)

You do not have to tolerate disrespect. On the contrary: when your boys are disrespectful to you or others, they need to be called on their behavior.

4. They’re hungry for love and acceptance. Boys’ deepest need is to know that they’re ok. So much of the posturing and silly (and sometimes harmful) behavior you see in teenage boys is really a bid to belong. Keep that in mind as you see your guy navigate the challenges of his world.

Make sure your son know that he’s awesome just the way he is. In your parenting and conversations, be sure to separate the behavior from the person. For instance, you might not be happy with his failing grades and lack of effort, but please don’t imply, via your words or actions, that he’s not any good because his grades arena’t good. Comment on and appreciate your son’s positive characteristics and actions, and look for ways to build on his strengths. Don’t forget to hug your boys too. Even teen boys need hugs.

5. They need space to make decisions and test their skills. Think of the teenage years as a training ground. It’s a time for boys to develop the skills they’ll need to live independently — and a time for parents to gradually release the reins. As adults, your sons will be responsible for their own sleep habits, hygiene and time management. Stop micromanaging your son’s life. Gradually back off and give him a bit more control. Let him experience the consequences of his decisions and learn from them.

If you want your son to succeed in college and in life, let him struggle, and give him room to take risks.

6. The foundation you laid when they are young matters a lot. For me, one of the most difficult things about the teen years has been the lack of control. When my kids were little, I could quite literally pick them up and place them in their bedrooms when they misbehaved. I can’t do that with a 16-year-old boy who is taller and stronger than I am. Parenting a teen means coming to the realization that there is so little you can control. (Let’s face it: If a teen wants to do something, he’ll figure out a way, no matter what rules, consequences and restrictions you’ve established.)

But have faith in the years of work you’ve already poured into your boy. The time you spent teaching him manners and respect is not for naught; all of that teaching has become a part of him, and whether or not he behaves consistently and politely now, it’s still there. He’s heard your words and absorbed your teaching and example. The hours you spent playing with him, reading with him, and taking him places — that’s all still in him too. On some level, he knows you’re still in his corner. Those hours of devotion and parenting created and cemented the bond between you and your boy, and I guarantee you: that bond is strong enough to survive his teen years.


The Building Boys Bulletin

The Building Boys Bulletin Newsletter gives you the facts, encouragement, and inspiration you need to help boys thrive. Written by Jennifer L.W. Fink, mom of four sons and author of Building Boys: Raising Great Guys in a World That Misunderstands Males, Building Boys Bulletin includes:

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“I learned a lot about helping boys thrive over the past 20+ years — most of it the hard way! I’m eager to share what I’ve learned to make your path a little easier.”   – Jennifer

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16 Responses

  1. All true Jennifer. It’s like all teenagers are taken out from the same mold. But the upside…(I hope)…all will pass. It’s like potty training, just when you are about to give up that’s when they start doing it the right way. Like what you said, all the time spent teaching teens manners and respect is not for naught. And the bond you’re talking about, that’s special for mother and son. To all moms who have survived this parenting teen challenge…KUDOS!!!

  2. Someone shared this with me after me telling her about my horrific fight with my 15 year old grandson… was a heartbreaking evening for me. I raised 2 amazing daughters, the oldest has 3 teeneage boys, the youngest had a 4 year old girl! I am 54 and pretty tolerant of A LOT!!!! Needless to say, I reached the point of no return when I lost control of my mouth with amsaid 15 yr old, and we both said some pretty rotten things. As a mom and grandma, it crushed my heart and 2 days later I’m still aching from the “word fight” we had. His dad(who is out of town and I’m helping Mom) assures me that “shit happens” and it will be ok, the 15 yr old is just exercising his boundaries and I’ve never seen it, so I didn’t know how to handle it. I called it a “whole new kind of crazy” and I was out of my element.
    This article really helped me to know that there is hope for my once sweet little loving grandson to one day love hanging out with me again. He was my “buddy” and now, I’m just a nagging Old lady to him ?

    1. I have 2 daighters, 17 and 19 who have been “easy peasy.” I thought I was a pretty good parent. My third child is a boy, now 14. What a difference! I have had to change my tolerance and parenting style completely. It’s beginning to improve, but I still hear, “don’t tell me what to do,” “you don’t know because you’re old,” and “that’s stupid.” I don’t react, because he wants to get a “rise” out of me. He needs me to listen to him, validate his interests and love him unconditionally. I’m getting better at that.

      1. I have a 19-yo daughter, a 14-yo son and an 11-yo son. Boys are assholes. I don’t know where girls got the reputation for being moody, drama queenish brats, they are much, much easier than boys. Boys are awful. I love mine to bits and raise Hell to help and support them if they need it, but OMG. Boys are truly something else!

  3. I needed to hear all of this so very bad right now. My 19 year old daughter was so simple and with my 15 year old son, I feel as though I am a complete failure as a parent. I don’t even trust the decisions that I make anymore. Does this boy not understand how much I love him? Part of my job as a parent is to help him make good decisions and lead him, but he is so strong willed and determined, it may kill me before we get through.

  4. I can’t tell you how much I needed to hear this. I thought I had screwed up somewhere and in the process failed him. He’s my oldest, and my only boy, so it has been a difficult road but I am so very happy to hear that overall he’s doing good. His teachers love him, he is respectful even if he often forgets to turn in his work, every now and then we have a tiff but he opens up to me, he wants to spend time with me (even if it’s just kicking my butt I’m super smash brothers) and he’s being better towards his sister. He’s only 13, I’m sure once he starts high school next year it will be worse, but overall, I see now that he really is a good kid. Thank you!

  5. Am encouragement by the testimonies my teenage boy 19yrs almost broke me but after going the comments I got hope I felt love for him a gain may the lord walk with me through this journey

  6. This is a great article. So true. I thought I had lost my son, at 13 he suddenly started hating me. I would catch him snarling when I walked into the room! I asked him repeatedly, What have I done?? He would feign confusion, and say, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
    It lasted until he was over 17, then I started telling him that his time was almost up! I wouldn’t have to put up with this crap much longer. Hope he had his ducks in a row, cause life was about to happen to him.
    Trust me, he was a jerk to me at EVERY opportunity. Then…
    Suddenly, he changed.
    Now, he is the first to defend me. He wrote cards at holidays, telling me that he appreciates all that I do for the family. That he realizes how hard I work for everyone.
    Is he playing me? I don’t care.
    As long as he pretends to care, I will return the favor

    1. Thank you for sharing! Stories like this are SO helpful to parents in the midst.
      My 22 yr old was home over the holidays; he brought his 2 cats with him (he asked, I said OK). At one point, he was getting ready to go somewhere and I asked him to clean their litter box first and he said, “That’s reasonable” and did it. 🙂 Another time I asked all my boys to do some pick up/clean up while I was making supper, and my 22 yr old again said, “That’s reasonable.” Trust me: this kid did NOT say “that’s reasonable” when he was a teen & living here! 🙂 It’s so great to see them grow up and mature. (and even better when they role model “that’s reasonable” for their younger, teenage brothers!)

    2. I’m super stressed out. I’m having to deal with this now with my kids (2 of them, out if the 4 sons I’ve raised) in their 20’s, because they are developmentally delayed (special needs). It’s one thing when they are still physically kids, quite another thing to deal with when your “kids” are grown men physically but not mentally. I wish I had some significant respite. 😓

  7. My heart is breaking and my frustration is turning into anger. My son, almost 18, has gone so far down hill in 2020, especially the last few months. He’s getting high, belligerent, demanding things he doesn’t deserve, refusing to follow curfew, and has now stopped going to school. We set very few, very clear rules and have given consequences… lost car, no friends can come over. He’s refused my calm and repeated offers for “someone for him to talk to” (therapy). Has anyone else seen big changes in their sons since Covid started? Wondering if the pandemic is bringing out the worst in others as well.

    1. Yes. Covid has been brutal on our nearly 19 year old son. It’s a delicate time of transition as it is, and to have it disrupted so radically is really hard. I can’t offer a solution as we are in the same boat. Having connections to friends and school help. Maybe older male friends or relatives can help your son, as generally kids this age need peer support (not parents because they are naturally in the process of breaking away and becoming independent).

  8. My teenager is a downright asshole! I’m a StepDad, so I’m not as important to him as his Mom & divorced Dad is. I have tried everything under the sun to bond with him and he’s just not having it, so I’ve given up! I honestly don’t care anymore and it’s all too bad. My Stepson and I are missing out on a potentially great relationship, but I’m not going to keep giving without receiving some love back. His Mom doesn’t see anything wrong, which concerns me as well.

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