by Steven Cessario
What did you want to tell your father when you were a teenager? Maybe you had feelings for a girl and you wanted some advice, or maybe you were frustrated with school, a friendship, or even life at home. Did you want your dad to hang with you, to shoot some hoops or watch a game? Did you wish he was there for you a little bit more?
Did your father listen? Whatever it was you wanted to tell your dad when you were a teen, there’s a good chance that opportunities for honest communication were lost because either he didn’t listen or you didn’t know how to tell him what was on your mind.
Now, you have a teenage son, and there are guaranteed to be moments in his life where he’s tried to express himself to you in some way. This is your opportunity to seize those moments, and for you to understand your son better—sometimes without even talking.
“I don’t need you to judge or lecture. I just need you to listen.”
Listening is one of the best ways for you to get to know your son. When you listen, you build trust and open up the channel for communication. Just listening to him can lead to team problem solving, and it shows him that you respect him as a young man.
We all want to be listened to. But truly listening isn’t always easy. Here are a few tips to help you become a good listener to your son:
- Allow your son to open up. If he’s talking about something that is important to him, don’t cut in, even if you really want to.
- Listening is more than just using your ears. Relax, be attentive, and use positive body language.
- Sometimes your son wants you to read his mind. And surprisingly, you can! Look and listen for hidden messages he might be sending: slamming doors, not talking, rolling his eyes, or spending too much time alone in his room are all signs he may be trying to silently call for your attention—or your help.
“Get to know me. I have a life outside of school… ask me about it, because that’s who I am.”
“How well do I know my son?” Ask yourself this question, and take it seriously. Your son might play football, but that doesn’t mean he can’t love to bake cookies! It’s important that you connect with your son where he is, not where you think he is or where you think he should be.
How do you do this? Try a guys’ night! Ask him to pick a band that’s playing locally and head to a concert. How about a movie (his choice) followed by pizza at the local parlor. He’s more likely to be enthusiastic if you’re really trying to understand what he likes, and it can be an awesome bonding experience!
If getting your son to open up is tough, try prepping some simple questions ahead of time. I’m sure you can come up great questions to ask him, or start out by letting him ask YOU some questions—and be honest with your answers!
Don’t give up, even if it’s frustrating or awkward at first. If you want to do more research at ground level try these:
- Watch his favorite TV show or play a video game with him.
- Skim through a book he is reading.
- He’ll let you in faster if you’re non-judgmental and sincerely curious about his life.
“I feel like my opinion is always wrong. Can you even see my side?”
Each one of us sees the world from a unique perspective based on our own experiences. This sometimes makes it hard for us to understand someone else’s opinion if it differs from our own. Plus, if you have more life experience, it’s hard to stop yourself from thinking you know better.
Sometimes you do know better, but sometimes it’s more important for you to be open to your son’s opinions.
Try to place yourself in your son’s shoes, even if it’s challenging. Some fathers feel they’re always right and know what’s best, either ignoring or brushing off the real issues. If you respond to your son by saying, “You’re too young to understand,” or, “You’ll get over it,” it’s like telling him that his feelings aren’t important. Is that the message you want to send?
Here’s what you can do differently:
- Find out where your son is coming from. Do this by listening.
- Resist debating. Your relationship is more important than winning or being right.
- Ask if he’d like to hear your point of view, or wants your advice.
“Don’t get angry when I make mistakes. I need you to accept that I’m not perfect.”
We all make mistakes. Your teenage son is no different—he’ll mess up plenty of times throughout his life. He might forget to do homework or clean his room, get caught cheating, lying or even driving drunk. Some mistakes are small and simple to fix, others are more serious and have heavier consequences. But each and every mistake provides an opportunity for learning—and an opportunity for you to bond with your son, build trust, and be there for him.
Unfortunately, your son is growing up in a culture where there is so much pressure to be perfect, right, or the best. But in reality, mistakes are opportunities for learning. No one is perfect. No one is always right, nor can we always be the best at everything.
The pressure on teens to perform (whether it’s in school, sports, or extracurricular activities) can cause lying, cheating and even drive a person into depression. When he reaches a boiling point, he may turn to alcohol and drugs or other destructive behavior.
How to reduce the pressure and be okay with your son’s mistakes:
- Praise your son’s effort instead of his intelligence and remind him no one is perfect and you don’t expect him to be.
- Be unconditional with your love no matter his mistakes.
- Continue reminding your son you’re there for him.
“I know you’re doing the best you can to be a great dad. I appreciate all the things you’ve done for me. Thank you. I love you.”
Continue to strive to be a great man, a great person, and a great father—it’s simpler than you might think. The first step is having the desire to grow and learn every day. Be okay with your own mistakes, because you’re likely to stumble a few times along the way. Don’t strive to be perfect—remember, no one is perfect. And finally, take care of yourself … your son is watching.
If you’re confused or need some feedback, ask your son one simple question: “What can I do to help you?” You might be surprised by his answer.
Just understand your son. Just be DAD.
Steven Cessario has been a part of various radio and TV shows, acting as a progressive voice on the subject of mentoring and parenting teenage boys. Steven also regularly contributes to Divorcedmoms.com and has written for other blogs such as The Good Men Project.