“Sons are a heritage from the Lord.” Psalm 127:3
You’ve probably noticed that “How was your day?” isn’t getting you anywhere with the man-child in your home. You miss the chubby arms that once wrapped themselves fiercely around your neck after a day at school. Hugs and “I love you”s don’t come so readily anymore, though. With three teenage boys of my own, I’ve had to get creative when it comes to finding ways to connect with them on their terms. Here are five that have worked for me:
- Play Ball. Whether it’s playing catch in the back yard or shooting hoops in the driveway, lace up those tennies and get outside with your son. If you’re not typically an active mom, be prepared for a little good-natured ribbing, but also expect to catch a glimpse of chivalry as he adjusts his speed and strength to yours. The face of my 15-year old, 6’2 son lights up when I offer to play catch with him. I can’t throw the baseball nearly hard or far enough for his liking, so I focus on grounders and high fly balls. When my arm is spent, I stand off to the side and watch him showcase his talent, as he throws the ball across our 60-yard property (and sometimes into the field beyond). Then we walk out together to retrieve the balls. (Alternative: play cards or a board game instead.) Quick tip: Be sure to stretch before and after.
- Take him to lunch. As the saying goes, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Find a buffet if you can, because we all know how much these boys can pack away. Depending on his personality, he might talk your ear off about his favorite topics or readily answer questions about friends, school, or sports. Or, like I’ve experienced with my 13-year old, you may just sit in comfortable silence, making small observations about your surroundings or the food once it’s served. That’s all right. He’s eating, you’re together, and that counts as connection. Quick tip: No devices at the table. Connected silence is better than distraction.
- Go for a walk/run/bike ride. According to sociologist Harry Brod in an article in Psychology Today, “Numerous studies have established that men are more likely to define emotional closeness as working or playing side-by-side, while women often view it as talking face-to-face. Men, for example, derive intimacy from playing and watching sports.” For guys, facing someone directly can feel competitive or challenging; they are more relaxed in a side-by-side position. Walking, running, or bike riding all offer this form of posturing. Watch your son open up more as his body is engaged in activity. He will feel more comfortable and less threatened as you interact alongside him. All of my sons, on our walks together, have shared their personal thoughts about life, asked for my thoughts about topics of interest to them, and expressed opinions about books, current events, etc. with me. Quick tip: Limit your physical contact while out in public.
- Watch a movie. You have a few options here. You can: a) agree to watch something he likes, b) introduce him to a movie you love (try to avoid anything too romantic), or c) strategically pick a movie that will foster discussion afterwards. Again, this is a side-by-side activity to help your son feel more at ease. The pressure is off with a movie, because he won’t feel like he is expected to talk. If you go with option A, and it’s a movie he’s already seen and loves, you’ll get to share in his anticipation for his favorite scenes. If you choose option B, my advice is to stick with comedy. With option C, keep your expectations low. Your son might not like the movie, or he may just get up and leave the room (or theater), without feeling the need to verbally process what he’s seen. You can always circle back to it later on a walk (#3). Quick tip: Don’t forget the snacks!
- Digitize your relationship. Whether it’s a quick, encouraging text, a shared meme or article you think he’d like, building worlds together on Minecraft or playing his favorite video game, remember that technology can be an effective means of connection. If you have a 16-year old son, like I do, who goes to school all day, works a part-time job, and has various social activities throughout the week, it can feel like you barely see him anymore. Cue the phone. It’s a great way to not just check on his whereabouts, but also let him know, in a lighthearted way, that you’re thinking of him. Quick tip: Be sensitive to where he might be when you send texts. You don’t want his teacher to call him out on the “Have a great day, sweetie!” ping on his phone during class.
Bonus: Pay attention. When your son bounds into the kitchen, ready to tell you all about the windmill he just made on Minecraft, or calls you from the living room to show you the incredible touchdown pass he just saw on his computer, it’s an opportunity to connect with your teen. Sometimes, he might be more subtle, shuffling into your bedroom where you’re reading or wandering aimlessly around the kitchen while you’re doing the dishes. This, too, is a sign that he is looking to connect with you.
It’s Up to You
It’s up to you to stop what you’re doing (or, depending on what you’re doing, ask him to join you), make eye contact with him and show interest in what he has to say. For the less self-aware, you can lead in with a positive, welcoming comment that lets him know you see him and encourages him to connect.
Sometimes, I’ll start by talking about something that happened in my day or asking his opinion about something. Anything that safely opens the door for communication should work. He may not have anything to say at all, though; he just wants to be with you. That’s a gift in itself. Embrace it, and him too, if the opportunity presents itself.
What ways have you found to effectively connect with your teenage son? Share your ideas in the comments below.