After all of these years of listening to parents talk about their teenage sons and daughters, I can say with tremendous confidence that there is much more focus on the mental health and emotional well-being of daughters.
In my role as a clinical psychologist and friend to many families, if I hear the phrase "boys are easier than girls" one more time I may just bang my very cerebral and emotional head against the hardest wall that I can find. I am frustrated. Parents may believe that teenage boys are easier than girls because they just don't understand their sons. It is as simple and complicated as that.
Here's how we are failing our sons.
First, we are making a number of incorrect assumptions about boys.
Many parents believe that teenage boys are simply a group of sex-crazed maniacs interested only in getting into the collective jeans of our daughters. NOT TRUE. Teenage boys are just as anxious about sexuality as the the teenage girls.
I know you may not believe me, but many boys I work with say that they feel tremendous peer pressure to have sex when they are primarily interested in doing things liking playing sports. And if a girl breaks up with them after they've had sex, they worry that their performance was inadequate. They tell me this in the confines of my safe therapy office. For goodness sake, what self-respecting teenage boy is going to admit this to their friends or parents? Please.
We are also failing to teach our teenage sons how to label their feelings.
This creates alexithymia, a difficulty expressing feelings and difficulty with awareness of feelings. Then when our teen boys are sad, disappointed or frustrated, they don't tell us about their feelings. Instead, they become aggressive or get involved in substance use when unable to describe how and what it is that they are feeling.
How can parents raise healthy teenage boys who turn into lovely men?
A LOT! Here is my advice for parents of boys.
1. Teach them the vocabulary of feelings and emotions.
2. Teach them about empathy and offer them empathy.
3. Do not reinforce their tendency to detach and crawl into a "man cave." I don't think that anything positive is happening in that man cave. And, their future wives and girlfriends will kiss you for helping to prevent this sort of emotional hibernation and avoidance.
4. Let them know that there is nothing that is unmanly about having and expressing feelings. In fact, the girls and women in their lives will love them for this.
5. Please don't make the assumption that simply because they are quiet that they are feeling good.
Where do you stand on the issue? Do you think we're failing our sons?