“Teens, not confident, capable adults, are the ones who should overreact, sulk, withdraw or blame. If you find yourself resorting to this behaviour, it is time to reset your parenting methods, as teenagers need centred adults to guide them.”
In her new book, ‘How to Raise a Man’, psychologist and parenting expert, Megan de Beyer guides modern mothers on how to parent their teenage sons. Here is a short extract.
Being the adult in the room
Emotional maturity requires an ability to identify your emotions and to regulate them: you feel the emotion but take a moment to pause and be sensible. As emotionally mature adults, we should be able to control our emotions and reactions.
The first thing you need to do is regulate your emotions – and this is a skill your son also needs to learn. It is important that he learns to calm himself when his emotions are triggered. You know the techniques. When we were your son’s age, our grannies told us to count to ten, take a deep breath, step away for a moment… we know what technique works, but we don’t apply it anymore. Think of what your intention is here: even though you want a good relationship with your son, you also want to get your point across. You want your son to listen to you with attention and respect… isn’t that what he wants from you, too? If you’re both shouting at each other, no one is listening, no one is showing respect, and no one is getting their point across.
When a situation arises and you feel yourself reacting emotionally, say to yourself, ‘This is not about me. Let me just widen my view and change my perspective. I’m going to pause, breathe, and try to see this from my son’s point of view for a moment.’
Remember, your son will mirror the environment around him. So, if you give a heightened reaction to his statement, you’re going to get a heightened reaction right back. If you project calm, he’s more likely to reflect calm back. You can then get to the bottom of the issue and tell him how you feel, and you can learn how he feels, and why. You’ve skipped the confrontation and moved to intentional dialogue. Great! But, just as important, you’re also teaching him the correct response in this type of situation.
Try this technique to help you get to a calm place, where your observation is curious, non-judgemental and very present.
If you feel your anxiety or stress levels rise when he challenges you, visualise breathing down into the earth (out), and back up into your belly. Feel yourself solidly, feet on the floor, there and present. Try to clear your mind and, no matter what he says or how he says it, soften our heart.
What’s the one sure way you can do that? Think of him at age five, six or seven, on his first day of school, or fast asleep on your lap or in your arms – just hold that picture in your mind and you’ll find that your heart will completely soften all over again. And you need a soft heart to move from ping-ping opinion debates to empathic communication.
What if he is downright rude?
Sometimes, because of his agenda, your son will be downright rude. I am not suggesting that you accept that. but it doesn’t mean that you should slip back into reaction mode either. Calm yourself down, bring your curiosity and, instead of criticising, ask, ‘How do you feel about what you just did? Do you feel proud of yourself right now?’
“When your ask him to think about something, I promise you that he does. You may never hear back, or it might come out a month or a year later, but he will think about it. We must stop trying to provide the answers and let him come to them himself.”
Remember, we’re not saying this in a sarcastic or critical way – we’re simply curious. You’re giving responsibility back to him, so that he makes his own reference around what a fine young man really is. It’s how you ask the question that is important: with genuine curiosity, not knowing the answer in your head. See what comes from him.
Most times he won’t be able to answer, so what is the next thing you say? ‘You know what, why don’t you take some time and think about it? I’m not going to give you the answer, because my answer is not your answer.’ You hand it over and that makes him feel more empowered.
And he will think about it. One thing I can tell you about your son is that when you ask him to think about something, I promise you that he does. You may never hear back, or it might come out a month or a year later, but he will think about it. We must stop trying to provide the answers and let him come to them himself.