Man-to-Man: A Guide to Father-Son Talks
If you’re the father of a teenage boy, you may have found yourself in a tough position or two when it comes to having meaningful conversations with your son. Moms are usually the “caring” parent, and you might not get enough time with your son due to your work schedule or his school load. You want to teach your son all the important things about becoming a young man—respect, integrity, hard work, and the like—but don’t know how. Quality time only gets you so far, and relying on tough love might end up with your son seeing you as some sort of sergeant at a teen boot camp. Eventually you’ll have to actually talk with your son openly.
This is something many dad’s have trouble with, especially if their own father’s weren’t open when it came to emotions and feelings. However, it’s important for teenage boys to have meaningful conversations with their fathers to prevent internalizing harmful stigmas about what it means to “be a man.” Here are a few great tips on how to handle heart-to-hearts with your son and make them feel comfortable opening up to you.
This might be hard for some dads; fathers and sons don’t always go around saying, “I love you” and hugging each other. If you feel comfortable doing that, great! If not, that’s fine, too! The important thing is that you show your son you care about him and want to be a source of support for him throughout his teenage years.
This might mean going out of your way to spend time with your son, expressing an interest in his schoolwork or extracurricular activities, and asking about his social life. When you can, let him know that you’re happy for him. When things are tough, let your son know you’re there for him. You care for your son, but how is he supposed to know that if you don’t show it? This is the first step in making you and your son feel comfortable opening up to each other.
Take the First Step
Your son might not know how to open up, or be nervous about how you’ll react in certain situations. It’s up to you to set the example and show your son you want an open, communicative relationship. This might be uncomfortable for you, but it’s not a bad idea to approach your son first with some of your problems. Don’t be too overbearing (he’s your son, not your therapist), but revealing a little bit about your own emotions and personal life will open the door for your son to come to you about his own issues.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s harder than it sounds. When your son comes to you for advice, it’s exciting! You finally get to do your job as a parent and impart all that amazing wisdom you have stored up. If you jump the gun too soon, though, you might actually be hurting the relationship you have with your son.
When you open up about your problems, do you want somebody to talk over you with their experiences, or hear you out? I’m guessing the latter. It’s the same for your boy. When he finally approaches you, he’s not only looking for advice. He’s looking for somebody to listen to him. To show your son you care about his specific situation, ask questions that keep him talking. Make it clear this moment is about him and not you. Being selfless is a huge part of being a parent, and while it’s hard not to talk about your own life experience and give advice straight away, it will pay off in the long run by strengthening the relationship you have with your son.
End on a High Note
Your son might come to you with some seriously bad news. A friend could pass away, he could be in trouble for cheating, or he might need a hand dealing with a toxic relationship. No matter what, though, it’s your job to help your son leave your heart-to-heart feeling like it accomplished something. There are plenty of inspirational quotes for teens that will help end the conversation on a positive note, but it will often be a subjective issue. A great way to make your son feel optimistic after a heart-to-heart, though, is to show them that you’re in their corner. Thank him for coming to you and being so honest, and let him know you want to be a part of whatever it is he’s going through. This way, teen if there are more hard times to come, your son knows he has somebody he can rely on.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.