I’ve had a few conversations with fathers recently about the challenge of raising teenage boys. Similar to my own past experience, these Christian Dads have been struggling to get their boys to study, to do homework, to respect their mother, and do a few chores around the house. They are easily distracted, often moody, and totally obsessed with digital media. I usually try to share some of the hard-won lessons from my own parenting, most of them learned through many painful failures. These include:
1. The vast majority of teenage boys were not made to sit at desks for hours and hours at a time. It doesn’t matter if it’s homeschool, Christian school, or public school, it’s completely unnatural to confine the primal force of male teenage energy within a few feet of desk space for five, six, seven and more hours a day. Their testosterone-fueled bodies are yelling “Let me out of this cage!” We shouldn’t therefore be surprised at their frustrations. I sometimes think most classrooms and pedagogy were invented by boy-hating women with studious girls in mind!
2. It’s normal to have these parenting struggles. Very few teenage boys transition smoothly from childhood to adulthood. I know of one boy who never gave his parents a moment of trouble in his teens. But he sure made up for it in his twenties! Dads need to know that the same battle is being fought in just about every other Christian home. It would help if we were all a bit more transparent about this, and pastors could help a lot by admitting their own parenting struggles.
3. Dads need to try and get time with their teenage boys. My relationships with my teenage sons always went better when I spent time with them in the evenings, and especially on Saturdays. Ideally we would try to do something physical outside, whether it was working in the yard, going fishing, swimming, playing soccer, cycling, skiing or something like that. Time with them plus physical activity greatly improved our relationships. These were also opportunities to chat with them in a casual, informal, non-threatening way about spiritual and moral issues.
4. Be patient. This is perhaps the greatest challenge to us today. We expect instant results from our teaching and our discipline, but usually the fruit takes many years to even show a little green shoot. In the meantime, impatience, anger, and bad temper can destroy relationships and communication. We might modify their behavior for a time, but we lose their hearts. My “boys” are now young men whom I love and deeply respect. Looking back, I see that I worried way too much because of my impatience.
5. Try to find things to praise. Sometimes it can be really difficult, especially when there is so much to criticize and discipline for. However, our discipline is never going to work if we never identify areas where they are doing well and encourage them for that. The ideal is probably at least two or three praises for every criticism we dish out.
6. Paid work outside the home. This goes back to #1 and all the pent-up energy in the male teenage body. We found that getting our boys out to work a couple of hours a day or a few times a week did them (and us) a world of good. They got out of the house, they did work that tired them out, they felt responsible and “grown-up,” they earned money, they got correction from bosses and co-workers, and we got some quiet time! It doesn’t matter how menial the work is — just get them doing something physical.
7. Clear rules. The two areas that we focused our rules on were technology time and bed time because these were the areas that we found most influential in their lives. When these areas got out of control, so did our boys. The more time they spent on phones, videos, computers, etc., the more nutty they became. The more sleep they got, the happier they were. We had clear rules for how long they were allowed to use any digital media each day and clear rules on bedtimes, with different times for weekdays and weekends. We didn’t just set rules, we followed up with discipline if they were breached.
As anyone who knows us will tell you that we are by no means the perfect parents. I could write a much longer blog on my parenting fails. But, looking back, these were the things I wish someone had told me before getting on this rollercoaster.
Thankfully, next up for me are two young teenage daughters. Somebody tell me it’s going to be easier.