By Josie Gritten
When our boys were little – toddling around, fascinated by every worm and puddle – I was told many horror stories. So many people would shake their heads at me and mutter, “just you wait until they’re teenagers – then you’ll be sorry.” Or some other grizzly snippet of sage advice. And then one day, some friends who had 3 teens told me how much they enjoyed their kids and it was like a shaft of light glowing in the dark – so there was hope after all!
And now I’m a proud mama of 14- and 16-year-old boys (plus a 10-year-old girl and 2 foster boys, but I’ll leave that for another article!) and I’m here to tell you that having teens in the house is a wonderful thing! They are funny, clever, cocky, conscientious, hilariously get innuendo, capable, argumentative, kind and helpful. I’m proud of my boys; excited about the men they are becoming; in awe at their increasing knowledge and awareness. And so I thought I’d pass on that glimmer of hope that my friends gave me so many years ago and tell you now that teenage boys are awesome!
Renowned family therapist Virgina Satir coined the phrase “we need 4 hugs for survival, 8 for maintenance, 12 for growth” and we all know that one of the key elements of raising healthy boys (any kids for that matter) is safe, loving touch. But nurturing this when your sons reach that grumpy – elbows out, ‘don’t-touch me’ age can be tricky! However, it’s vital that we keep on touching and hugging our boys in a safe and nourishing manner. Vital that we teach them about the comfort and security found through caring touch.
You can offer a massage, (hands and feet are pretty innocuous at this age, and most kids enjoy having a shoulder rub whilst watching a movie together). I tend to go for the ‘little-and-often’ approach with the older kids – standing close so our arms are touching; a quick shoulder squeeze as we pass each other; a kiss on the forehead at bedtime – it all adds up and makes it easier for them to reach out for more when they are ready (my 16-year-old recently came and sat on my knee at school swim sports. I thought that if he’s happy to do that in front of the whole school, then we must be doing OK!).
School drop-offs were becoming a bit of a pinch point for me. The boys would jump out of the car, slinging a rushed ”bye’ at me as they scrambled for the bus, leaving me feeling frustrated and slightly bereft. And so I had a wee chat to the boys. I explained that my ideal would be that they would fling their arms lovingly around me wishing me a wonderful day and saying they would think of me every second until they returned! They laughed. I went on to say that clearly that was never going to happen and so my minimum was eye contact, a kind goodbye and a touching of our little fingers. And this we do. Even when it’s been a fraught morning, there’s a little finger touch, and now and again I even get a fulsome, precious hug!
The other thing I would encourage in terms of loving connection is to notice the moments when your teenagers choose to reach out; to be ready to drop what you’re doing and to meet them with your full attention. I’m an early-to-bed person (in my ideal world at least) but I’ve noticed that our 16-year-old likes to linger some evenings. He begins to pop out of his room and to meander aimlessly around the house. At first I felt annoyed, tired and resistant, but then I began to let it flow. It’s only now and then but I recognise the signs now and resign myself to a late night. And it’s worth it. Sleep I can catch up on and these precious evenings of yarning with my lovely, night-talkative boy are to be treasured.
I’m sitting in a cafe, writing. A momentary mental block stops me and I pop outside to say a quick hello to two friends. “What’s your top tip for parenting teenagers?” I ask. They answer simultaneously: “Communication – Listen.”
Perfect I think. And it is. Like everyone, teens want to be heard. They need to feel that their voice is important.