How to be a better father to your teenage son
Teenage boys, a dash of manhood, a pinch of hormones, and emotions that range from never wanting to talk to you to cuddling up next to you and falling asleep. I have 3 boys and I have raised two of them through their teenage years. Some days were really easy and some days were a huge challenge.
People often say to me that you sure do have it easy with those boys. When I look at the world around us I think they are right. My boys for the most part were pretty good. But I attribute a lot of that to the work that my wife and I put into raising them.
My boys got good grades. Why? Because I always checked on them to make sure they studied and turned in homework. My boys stayed out of trouble. Why? Because we always checked out who they hung out with and where they were going. I know this doesn’t always work for all boys. But for us, there were some easy steps we could take to make sure our teenage boys had a solid foundation to be successful.
Here are some ways you can be a better father to your teenage son:
Do a one on one trip
I talk about taking a one on one road trip in one of my previous posts. But it doesn’t have to be a long road trip. Maybe there is something local that your teenage son would enjoy and you can spend some quality time together.
I know my kids seem to enjoy escape rooms. They also like to go kayaking and luckily we have a lake nearby that we can go out and kayak together. Whatever you decide to do make sure it is something your teenage son would want to do or it might be a wasted trip.
When on the trip make sure and focus on being present with each other. Have fun and enjoy the moment. Make memories and perhaps take a few pictures. My son still talks about the time just me and him went to an amusement park. I think it made him feel for one day that he was an only child and appreciate everything I do for him.
Set guidelines and discuss them
The word guidelines sound a little stiff. Maybe setting limits is a better word. The idea is to sit down and discuss these limits with your teenage son before they push those limits. Be proactive and not reactive.
Staying up late – Maybe your teenage son likes to stay up late. But on school days he has trouble getting up in the morning. By establishing the limit that they must go to bed by 10:30 pm at night you don’t have to constantly argue about when they should go to bed.
Driving – When they get to the age that they can drive you will want to set limits on where they can go and who can ride with them. Establish early that in order for him to drive around friends you must be made aware of where they are going and who they are going with.
Dating – Perhaps your son has started dating. In my house, we have a rule that if a girl comes over then they either have to sit with other adults or if they go into the bedroom the door must be open at all times.
In all these situations you define the expectation ahead of time. You layout what the limits and rules are and if they break them there isn’t much of a chance for argument. Sure they will still argue that life isn’t fair and you are just a horrible parent. But the rules have been set and need to be followed.
Relax the rules when needed
Even though you have established the rules there may be times those rules/limits need to be relaxed. Rules that you may have for your 15-year-old son might need to be adjusted once they turn 17 or 18 and are still living at home.
Perhaps as they get older you might let them establish their own bedtime. If they are responsible enough to wake up without being told to and can get ready without you having to remind them every minute, then let them go to bed when they feel like it.
Also if they are extremely trustworthy and you have no reason to believe they would lie then maybe you relax the rules on knowing who they can hang out with. Maybe they made a new friend at school and want to take them out to introduce them to other friends. Instead of asking 20 questions maybe just ask that they bring the new friend by the house so you can meet them, and leave it at that.
Teenagers also go through some crazy mood swings because of the changing hormones in their bodies. If you notice this then maybe you let a few things slide. But keep it on a short leash. If the attitude and errant behavior go on for a while you may have to tighten up the rules again.
Sit down and have open conversations (keep it short)
Teenage boys can be short on words. They may not be the best communicators and nothing will make them shut down quicker than having to listen to a long speech about what they are supposed to do. But sitting down and having an open conversation is a must.
Let your son know upfront that anything you talk about is confidential. Also encourage them to talk about anything, feelings, bodily changes, girls, boys, friends, other adults. Remove any barriers for them to clam up and shut you out.
Establish a judgment-free communication method
Kids today are not big on having face-to-face conversations. I’m an adult and I am not even a fan of face-to-face conversations. Even talking on the phone gives me anxiety sometimes. Just send me a text and I will be good.
Establish a way your kids can let you know something is going on. And make sure it is judgment-free. That means if they did something they feel they will get in trouble for, let them know it is a safe space to talk about it.
I once heard some advice that a dad had a drawer in his desk. His teenage kids could always put notes about anything in there. The rule was dad could never get mad or never punish them for what they wrote down on the note. Doing this once again removed all communication barriers.
Find projects to work on together
One of the best ways to bond with your teenage son is to find a project and work on it together. Maybe your son wants a car but buying a new one isn’t affordable. But you can go out and purchase one that needs some work and work on it together.
My oldest son really wanted a new desktop computer. We could have gone the easy route and bought an already put-together PC, but I knew he loved working with computers. I went out and bought the parts and we worked together assembling the PC and setting it up.
Just make sure whatever the project is you want to work on is something your son will enjoy. If you are constantly dragging him out to your shed to do some woodworking, and he hates woodworking, this could backfire on you tremendously.
Tell them stories (about your youth)
Depending on what kind of adventures you had as a teenager yourself you may want to skip this one. Unless you use the bad stories as a cautionary tale.
Tell them about the good times you had camping with your friends, sitting on the back of a tailgate and laughing and having a blast. Tell him about the time your truck caught on fire while you were in the middle of the woods (yes this did happen) and then you had to go home and explain what happened to your dad.
It’s ok if some of the stories are not all good. Our kids need to hear the bad with the good. They need to know that you had experiences that not only were memorable, but you were able to learn from and grow to be a better person.
Do something they are good at (even if you suck at it)
When I was younger I played video games a lot. I grew up on Atari and Nintendo and arcades. I used to be really good at games. And as I got older and stopped playing as much my ability to play games went downhill.
Now my passion for games is passed on to my kids. They love to game and game all the time. And they are really good at it. Whenever I get the chance I will play games with my teenage son. He is a lot better than me and that is ok. We have a blast and it gives him that first chance to see that he is really good at something that dad isn’t.
By engaging in your kid’s passions you show them that what they want to do matters too. Whether it be video games or sports or music. Just find that passion of theirs and engage with them while doing it.
If you look around your circle of friends who have kids you will probably find a helicopter parent or two (or more). These are the parents that are constantly hovering over their kids and don’t want to let them out of their sight. But with teenagers, you have to give them their independence.
And if they have been sheltered a large portion of their life you might need to encourage them to be more independent. I feel like sometimes I took care of too many things for my boys. And when they got old enough to be on their own they struggled at times.
But with anything moderation is important. Don’t just let them struggle while they are a teenager. Encourage them to do things on their own but if they fail, pick them back up and help them out when needed.
Teach them something that you wish your dad had taught you
Through the years I have met a lot of people that didn’t grow up with a dad in the house. There were a lot of things they had to learn on their own. I can remember my dad teaching me how to change my oil and how to change a tire. He also taught me how to use a saw and measure and cut wood properly.
But maybe your dad wasn’t handy and didn’t teach you those things. I know there are a lot of things I missed out on teaching my kids. Now that they are becoming adults I feel bad because they call me asking how to do it. And if I am not close by it makes it hard to teach them.
If you have never taught your kid some basic things like how to change a tire or how to change the oil on a lawnmower, then teach them the next time you do it. They may not appreciate it now, but later in life when they need this information they will be glad you taught them how to do it.
Be the example
This is a pretty open-ended tip but it is still one that so many miss out on. Just be the example in their life. If you drink a lot and then, later on, catch your teenage son drinking, where did he learn it from? If your teenage son has trouble maintaining relationships and you aren’t treating your wife with respect, where did he learn it from?
When I was younger I drank a lot, but it was typically around friends. I rarely drank in front of my kids and as a result, my son would actually get onto me if I kept alcohol in the house. He realized that nothing good came from it and now I rarely drink. And if I do I try to be out of sight of my kids.
I also treat their mom with the utmost respect. Even when we get into an argument I will stop and walk away. It’s not because I don’t want to communicate, but I don’t want to show my kids that is ok to argue with their mom.
Don’t be afraid to talk about sensitive subjects
As parents, we question when we should start discussing sensitive topics with our teenagers. Things like sex, drugs, alcohol can be taboo for a lot of families. Don’t wait too long.
In today’s culture and with the internet readily available if you don’t talk about these things first, the internet will tell your kids about it. And by then their mind may be twisted in a direction you are not comfortable with.
Remember when you talk about these subjects to go into the conversation with an open mind. Don’t make it a lecture, or they can shut down real quick. Always ask if they have questions, and remind them that there are no silly questions and they can ask you anything. You want an open dialogue because you never know if maybe they had something happen already.
Build them up when they succeed
We do a really good job of building up our kids when they are little. When they take their first steps or if they use the potty for the first time we get really excited and praise them. For some weird reason when they get older we forget to do this.
We have expectations of our teenagers that they should just “get it”. But in reality, they are still learning at about the same pace as they did when they were toddlers. The main difference is they may not react to praise as well as they did when they were toddlers.
If they get a good grade then praise them, maybe even give them a reward. If they go out of their way to do an act of kindness for another person or a sibling, praise them, tell them how much you appreciate their effort.
Teenagers crave attention. They won’t show it the same way younger kids will, but teenage boys do crave attention and need it. Whether it is big or small the praise they receive when they do good things will pay off in the long run.
Be there when they fail
We like to think our kids are perfect. They can’t do wrong. But often our teenage boys will make mistakes. And since they are older and should “know better” we tend to be a little harder on them.
This is the wrong way to handle it. If they make a mistake assess the situation and work out a plan to remedy the mistake. Was it an honest mistake? Was it driven by emotions? Was it intentional? These are all things to consider when deciding whether to punish or whether to lift them up.
If they are failing in school make sure you work hard with them. Don’t just depend on your school to provide support. This might be tough because they may be doing subjects that you are not familiar with. But learn with them and use the internet or other family to help them along.
If they have a relationship that fails be there with them. As your teenager gets to the appropriate dating age they most likely will start having some failed relationships. Talk them through it and be ready to just listen.
Keep up with the latest societal trends
There is the latest internet craze called the milk crate challenge. The general idea is people stack up milk crates and are challenged to walk across them without using their hands. In most cases, this ends in disaster as the person falls and either hits the ground or the milk crates.
This is just one of the many dangerous things that social media and society will put pressure on our teenagers to do stupid stuff. It may look funny, but most of these challenges can end in disaster and potentially a trip to the hospital.
Also, keep up with the latest trends in clothing and slang. Nothing can drive your kids crazy like buying them clothes that are out of style. And slang changes so quickly if you try to use one it will probably already be out of date.
Teenage boys bring a different parenting challenge almost every day. You hope by the time they get to be in their teenage years you have this thing figured out. But you would be wrong. I have raised two boys and have one that will soon be hitting his teenage years. None of them were the same. And I imagine my youngest son will be no different.
The biggest thing that gets me is how our world changes and how you have to deal with each one differently. But be consistent and make sure you have an open line of communication. If you have this then raising teenage boys can be a breeze.
Do you have any tips on how to be a better father to your teenage son? Let us know in the comments or drop a note on our Facebook page.