You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘First, do no harm.’ It’s a phrase medical doctors and health care professionals hold close to their hearts. The company once known as Google had a similar idea close to its core: “Don’t be evil.”
Well, I think we parents need to have a similar big reminder. Perhaps “don’t make it worse” could be a good start?
Try as I might, I can’t seem to keep the positive or patient ‘thing’ going with our boys. I’d like to think it shouldn’t be that hard. I’m a lot older with a lot more experience. I love the heck of each of them as they are.
But, man…. I just lose it sometimes. And, what’s worse, even when I’m trying to be helpful and supportive, he more often than not misreads my intentions.
That concerned, focused look I give him sets him on the defensive. The simple questions after school drive him batty. The 45-minute escape routine he practices in his room – what’s going on in there?
I was bound to not know because, whatever I was doing, only seemed to make the situation worse. Thankfully, I met a researcher who, in 30 informative minutes, set me straight.
“First thing first,” she said, “you needed a lobotomy.”
Yes, a lobotomy. The reason has to do with difference between his frontal lobe and my own. Let me try to explain with a bit of science reporting….
Research to the Rescue
Back in the early 2000’s, researchers at Temple University wanted to test the difference in facial recognition between adults and teenagers. When shown pictures of people’s faces, adults were able to describe the underlying feelings of the subjects with nearly 100% accuracy.
When the teenagers looked at the same faces, they batted .500 – an enormous difference.
Turns out, the lack of a developed frontal lobe is the culprit. Teenagers literally cannot determine a person’s emotion based on what they see. Until they reach their mid 20’s, our young men are battling from a big deficiency in this realm.
The implication of this info is huge – your son really has no idea what you are feeling. And it’s not his fault! God has set him up that way for a reason.
This is why we need to approach conversations with our teenagers with can be called ‘the lobotomy face.’ No emotion, no reactions – just a passive acceptance of what is being said.
Approaching the conversations in this manner give you the best chance of keeping it longer than a few grunts and shrugs.
I know what you are thinking. “C’mon, man… I expect more than that from my son. The amount of time I put into his life, the least he can do is have a conversation about his day with me.”
Ok… I get it. I want that, too. However, before we go further on that train of thought, let’s look at ‘eye opening data point’ #2.
The Battle With-In
The second huge piece of info I learned was the battle our teenagers wage within themselves each day.
Specifically, they spend each and every day at school focused on being ‘normal.’ This is the beginning and ending for them – just be normal.
But, have you seen middle school lately? What the heck is normal? We parents don’t know and the kids don’t know either.
And, the fear of not being ‘normal’ is crushing them. They compare themselves to everyone all day. When they get home, they are quite literally exhausted from the experience.
And, due to the computers in their pockets, the comparisons only continue at home in their ‘downtime.’
I don’t know about you, but when my teenager is exhausted, the last thing he wants to do is talk. Since the language centers in his brain aren’t truly connected, it’s tough for him to communicate anyway.
At the end of a school day, having battled those ‘please just be normal but what the heck does that even mean’ feelings, his communicative abilities are even worse.
What To Do?
All this may be well in good, but what do we do with it? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Give him some space, especially after school. We guys are single-focus creatures and need time to just chill when we’ve become stressed.
So, for the dads reading this, tap into your middle and early high school memories, learn, and let him be for a bit.
Moms, I know you mean well and I’m so happy my bride is able to get our young men to think in different ways than I can. However, give him a break, especially after school.
Set some parameters. You can say, “I know school can be tiring in lots of different ways and I need you to plug in here at home. So, how long do you think it reasonable for you to spend alone time before getting going here?”
Work on a compromise that fits you both.
2. Practice the lobotomy face. This may seem ridiculous but, it’s important. Remember, guys are much more likely to pick up on visual clues rather than emotional ones. We are visual creatures, after all.
Combine that with test results above and we’ve got a problem. Anything that could possibly/maybe a threat will be taken as one.
So, don’t react. Just ask the question with as little facial and body communication as you can and see how it goes.
3. Ask different questions. This was something my bride starting doing a few years ago with very interesting results. Rather than the standard ‘how was your day?’, Kate began asking the following:
“Who were you kind to today?” (It’s always followed with ‘How…’)
“What was the funniest thing you saw or heard?”
“What was the most interesting thing you learned today?”
These questions got our guys to think differently about their experience. They also let them know what we, as parents, value most.
4. Pray with him. One of the biggest challenges our boys face is the constant comparisons they put themselves through. Having him begin to realize that God and you are there for him will make a difference.
In order to help your sons through the throes of adolescence, you may need to change up how you do things. Remember, they aren’t tiny adults walking along with you. They are growing, developing humans who are struggling with all the connections and hormones their bodies are producing.
They need your guidance, patience, and example. You can do it, even if you have do it differently than in the past. But, they are worth the effort.
Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash