Tuesday, April 15, 2014

5 Helpful Concepts for Raising Teenaged Sons

     They're gross.  They're crass.  They're stinky.  Yep--they're boys.  For those of us who started with daughters and thought we were pretty good at the Mommy thing, they're downright shocking.  But as I watch and play with my two little nephews, ages six and two, I realize something has changed in me.
     I used to think God had tricked me.  You see, He gave me a daughter first.  I thought things were going well because I was such a great mom.  So I followed the daughter up with two sons.  Things got a little out of hand.  More than a little, maybe.  Their noses kept running and they would just lick it off.  And they wouldn't do anything I said without some form of coercion.  Where were all those magical Mommy skills I thought I had?  And why did God give me two sons when I was obviously cut out to be a girl mom?
     Fast forward several years.  My daughter has grown and gone.  I live with my husband and three teenaged boys.  Yep, three.  I went and added another in the form of an exchange student.  My husband and I have over ten years of youth ministry under our belts.  Our house has been filled with teens since before we had any of our own, and we adore them.  Even the boys.  Well, especially the boys lately.  Which leads me to the point of my list:  Here are five helpful concepts that I have learned the hard way, shared with you nice and easy.
      1.  When In Rome (i.e. watch the games they play):  I have watched a tour of one son's "home" on Minecraft, watched a gazillion vines,  appreciated the bass in the car stereo, and learned what FIFA stands for.  For the record, I had zero innate interest in any of those topics.  My interest is in my beloved boys.  Your boys will not feel loved and appreciated until you show appreciation for their interests.  Teens define themselves largely by their interests, and they feel a natural affinity toward those who enjoy the same things.
       2.  Take Them With Lot's Wife (i.e., one grain of salt will not be enough):  Teen boys live to get a rise out of people.  Especially female people.  Moms.  You.  It's your goat they really want to get.  When you lose control, they win the upper hand. This form of power is unhealthy for a teenage boy.  He desperately needs to grasp and accept the structures of authority in our society, so that he can succeed in the work world (sorry if that sounds patently anti-adventure).  Perhaps because their powers of self-control are often underdeveloped, teen boys tend to respect those who seem unaffected by their goading and antics.  You have no idea how many undeclared wars I have won by acting like I don't care; and by convincing the boys that I have successfully navigated my young years, and now they must navigate their own.  They have to live with the consequences they merit (and NOT in my house, see #3).  Remember--a calm demeanor is a display of power in their world.  Keep your cool, Mama!

     3.  Boys Will Be Men (i.e., don't fight their fledgling masculinity):  Some of the most aggravating boy traits:  aggression, stubbornness, contentiousness, recklessness, and self-absorption, among other "masculine" traits, are simply the raw materials that you can use to form a wonderful man--a man characterized by the qualities of assertiveness, perseverance, passion, courage, and confidence.  While your instincts may tell you to break these wild boy-beasts, don't do it!  Instead, train them.  Teach them to channel their out-of-control natures into the self-controlled temperament of a Godly man.  When they get too demanding, remind them that they will be leaving your house soon enough--and mean it.  That creature before you is destined to be a man someday, and it's your job to make sure he's a good one.  Prepare him, even push him, to be independent of you.

Riding in a Haitian tap-tap
     4.  It Helps to be Wonder Woman (i.e., have an alternate persona):  Before you were a mother, you were an interesting person.  You had exciting interests and a romantic relationship with your husband.  Don't surrender this "real you" to the demands of motherhood.  Hang in there!  Teens, with their (hopefully) growing independence, should be allowing you more and more time to yourself.  Use it to remember the wonderful woman that you are.  In case you feel guilty missing a soccer game so you can meet with a friend, remember that teens admire parents who have interesting, rich personal lives. They actually brag to their friends about your adventures.  And there will be plenty of soccer games to attend.  Do attend most games.  Don't miss rare events (like art shows) if you can avoid it.  Just remember that you must have more to your life than serving a teenager.  Holding the upper hand in your life develops arrogance in your son.  Humble confidence is a better trait to develop, and humility (being humble, not embarrassed)  comes from having an honest view of himself.

Henry helps with our Maundy Thursday observance
     5.  Don't Hide Jesus in Your Heart (i.e. help him find his own faith):  One of the hardest things for me to do as a Mom Of A Teen has been to allow my older teens to attend a different (but scriptural) church.  However, let me assure you that a teen must develop his own faith, independent of yours, in order for him to carry that faith into his future.  Most boys prefer to quietly follow Mama and Daddy to church each Sunday, mindlessly awaiting the time when they are old enough to decide not to attend.  Make certain you are having conversations in your home that challenge your son to be a man in his spirit.  Live a vibrant, spirit-filled life before his eyes.  Pursue God with your whole heart and life, and your son will know what Christianity truly is.  A son who decides where he wants to attend church has the advantage of actually wanting to be with a faith family.  However, I am not encouraging you to allow your son to choose whether he attends at all.  We go through so much trouble making certain that our sons brush their teeth.  Why on earth would we give them a choice of whether to care for their eternal souls?  Make certain your son hears the Word of God while you are still in a position to do so.  If nothing else, your son will be able to make an informed decision.

     A home where teen boys thrive is, indeed, a boisterous place.  Fill yours with laughter and love, and firm rules.  Read Christian parenting books which focus on firm boundaries in a home.  The concepts which inspired rule #3 came from Bringing Up Boys, by Dr. James Dobson.  Much of my parenting philosophy is guided by John Rosemond, especially his book Parenting By The Book.  However, my biggest influences are The Bible and parents with children older than mine.  I encourage you to find other parents with whom you can openly share your struggles.  My worst parenting moments have been when I allowed shame to keep me from getting good advice from other parents.  Some of my best occurred when I finally spoke up.  Shockingly, many had been through similar experiences!  They helped me toward some of my best parenting moments.  It really does take a village to raise a son.