Parenting --Teens/15 year old son
QUESTION: My son and I according to me had a good relationship. We constantly talked and even when we did not talk we understood each other. About a few months ago he started to have feelings for a girl that would listen to him, she has a boyfriend, and does not return the feelings. He says that this situation is over but I still do not see my son anywhere in his body. He is moody, depressed, does not talk, sarcastic, and what seems to be in his own world where no one is allowed in. He does not want to attend band or sports practice. I do not know what to do. I miss my son and desperately want him back. He is 15 years old and a sophomore in high school.
ANSWER: Dear Cynthia,
I usually save this recommendation to the end of my posts but I think that this will be one of the most helpful things that I can suggest. A friend and associate of mine, Diana Sterling wrote a book called, "Parent as Coach." It is required reading for all my clients, is "Parent As Coach." It is low price, a quick read, and it transforms even pretty good parent/son relationships. You absolutely need to buy and read this book. If you go to my website, http://TheParentsCoach.com
and go to the Parent Resources section, it will be there along with other suggested books. All you have to do is to click on the title and it will take you right to Amazon to order it.
To a 15 year old, all these dating dramas are a bit overwhelming because they have very little experience to compare the current on to. You didn't state just how long this moping has been going on. I would think that if it has been only a couple to weeks to a month, I would watch for worsening signs but not be overly concerned. If it continues, getting him to a counselor or therapist that specializes in adolescents, would be a good call. It would be even better it you could convince him to voluntarily go, although unlikely that would happen.
You didn't mention if there is a father figure in the picture. Hopefully there is and he has enough rapport with your son to do what I am about to suggest. If not you need to do it. What it is, is hanging out with your son for a minimum of a three hour block of time. The activity needs to be something free of outside distractions, such as fishing or a road trip (as long as cell phones and texting and the radio are off). The objective of this hanging out period is to let him get comfortable enough to start expressing his feelings without any prompting.
Boys are taught by society to share only good feelings, so it is very hard for them to express hurt, loneliness, and other down feelings, even to parents. This is especially true of teenagers. Part of going through adolescence is the drive to become an independent adult. At the same time, though, they are still emotionally dependent on their parents. This is why you probably get conflicting signals and push-pull reactions from him. If you ever want to get to his feelings, the easiest way is to do one of these 3=3 hour hangouts with him.
There are some guidelines to doing this. First, do not monopolize the conversation. If you do not shut up, there will be no room for him to get a word in edgewise. There might just be a long period of silence before he opens up. Most people (other than Native Americans and meditators ) are not very comfortable with long periods of silence and will keep talking to fill the void. That needs to be him, not you. Your shutting up will create the void that eventually he will eventually fill.
Once he starts talking, let him talk. Here is where having read "Parent as Coach" will come in handy. Your goal here is to keep him talking by asking curious questions about whatever it is he is talking about.
You need to avoid direct suggestions unless he asks for them. Let him work it out by using you as a sounding board. Just ask enough questions to keep him talking. If he ends up crying, that is a great step towards recovery. He is acting the way he is because the boy code (men don't cry and only show up feelings) is keeping the hurt bottled in.
When he cries, let it continue until there are no tears left. Because we are both also caught up in the boy code and we don't like to see our kids hurting, we do stuff when they are crying to cheer them up. That is counter-productive. Once the negative feelings are dumped, he will naturally cheer himself up AND he will be open for suggestion as to what to do next. Your role when he is crying is to protect him from doing any harm to himself (if he needs to pound on something, give him a pillow) and to offer a degree of security so that he is free to express himself. Holding his hand or putting your arm around him is OK as long as you are not using it to comfort him whish will stifle the feelings.
He will be back to band and sports once this morning period is over. I know you are desperate to have him back. That is natural. Just do not be so desperate that you smother him and drive him more inside himself. Give him room to grow. This is all part of growing up. At 15, you can only parent when he permits you to. If it is a matter of his or other peoples safety, by all means step is. For everything else, you will be way more effective if you respond to his requests for parenting than to push your best advice on him.
There is a blog on my website that has a lot of hints for parents of teens. It is probably a good idea to look it over. It is at http://TheParentsCoach.com/blog
I hope this has helped. You can always do follow up questions to me if you need further assistance or something I wrote is unclear.
It sure sounds like you are a good mom. Your son is very lucky.
One last thought. I am convinced that if you stick by our kids long enough, we will always win at parenting. The biggest failure of many parents is giving up on their kids prematurely.
Jason Wittman, MPS
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: This has only been happening for about a month. The father figure relationship is not very good. there is a major cultural diversity problem. the fathers solution to the problem is to let his frustrations out in a different manner. It has normally just been my son, 7 year old daughter and myself. Should I be worried that my daughter will go through this as well or are girls different? I am sad to say that his father does not try at all to try and help with the situation. I will read your book and take all of you suggestions to heart. You have no idea how much I miss my son.
If the father figure is not of assistance then all the stuff I suggested is what you need to do. You will have to engineer some activities where the two of you can hang out for an extended block of time.
Also, at a month, I would give him some space to grieve at the same time insist that he at least stay involved with school when I starts and encourage his other activities, but not to the degree where he does the opposite of what you are recommending out of spite. Encouraging, supportive but not demanding.
There is a possibility that once back in school, he gets a new love interest or is paid attention to by someone else at the world will change. Such is the world of a 15 year old kid. Did you ever hear the song "Who Wrote Book of Love?" When I am taking a teen through this type of breaking up drama, once we have gotten past the hurt. I usually mention that this is a normal and natural part of the social world of a high school kid. I then either play or sing "Who Wrote The Book of Love," a number 1 song in 1958, just to prove that nothing in this area of growing up has changed much over the years. Here are the links: the lyrics http://www.oldielyrics.com/lyrics/the_monotones/the_book_of_love.html
the song sung by The Monotones http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIfuNPbBaaA
By the way, the other ageless example (this one is for you, it is going to be very close to his actual feelings and not recommended to share with him) is Teenager in Love by Dion and the Belmonts http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/d/dion_and_the_belmonts/teenager_in_love.html