EXTRACT: How to raise a man - a modern mother's guide to parenting her teenage son

How to raise a man - a modern mother's guide to parenting her teenage son by Megan de Beyer is published by Penguin Random House South Africa.
How to raise a man - a modern mother's guide to parenting her teenage son by Megan de Beyer is published by Penguin Random House South Africa.

Your life process is condensing at the time that your son's is expanding. So, no matter what you do, you are probably going to go in different directions.


On average, most women continue to mother their teen son with the same mothering style that she used when he was a boy.

This is never going to work!

This is not the time for the 'Cool' Mom or the 'Fun' Mom.

It is time for the 'Coach' Mom.

GenZs (your son) have been adored, desired and cosseted.

Their self-esteem and who they are have been prized.

The amount of video footage and the number of pictures taken of them records every moment of their precious lives. Some of them were raised in a ‘detached’, develop-as-you-want way, or where their connectivity to the family has been paramount.

They are also likely to have been raised either by a single mom or a step-parent (because of the high divorce rate), and with a cellphone permanently in their hands.

They have more information at their fingertips than any other generation, and they know that black-and-white thinking is a thing of the past. They believe in truth and work/life balance, and want to do the right thing that includes the community.

They are wise and questioning, and cannot be told what to do.

Raising these teens requires a paradigm shift for YOU – the overly attached Generation Xer or the detached baby boomer (if you are an older parent).

What's going wrong with the way you parent?

Your life process is condensing at the time that your son's is expanding. So, no matter what you do, you are probably going to go in different directions.

You want him to be less self-centred, less selfish and less under the influence of his friends.

You want him to look inward and consider others. But that’s your goal, not his.

The teenage years are when a boy is negotiating his place in the world.

He struggles with his ego, his identity and the world around him in an effort to learn how to be mature.

It does not happen overnight and takes time, because he is asserting himself and trying to be less dependent on Mommy and other adults in his life. Friends are now more important.

Clashes will naturally increase in the home, since his views and needs often differ from yours.

His needs and his determination to fit in with his friends, who become all-important in his eyes, seem selfish to us.

Let's look at his processes and needs right now: Autonomy. He needs to feel in control of his own body and space, so he says, ‘I’m in control. I make my own decisions.’

Independence. He wants to do his own thing in his own way, so he says, ‘I like being on my own. My friends come first.’

Identity. He is discovering who he is, so he says, ‘I am me. I’ll choose who and what I like.’

Intimacy. New, deeper bonds and connections are being formed as his emotional maturity deepens, so he says, ‘I am interested in girls (or boys). I want my privacy.’

And what about your needs?

Attachment. We will overreact, question and overprotect.

To be heard. We will nag and lecture.

Control. We will give instructions and lay down rules.

Family connection. We want to do things together.

The drama is obvious. Mom needs attachment, closeness and control. A teen boy needs his independence and autonomy. You hear yourself saying things like, 'Don’t talk to me like that! Watch your manners, young man! I didn’t bring you up like this!'

In an out-of-control moment, you may even find yourself saying, 'You remind me of your father, and this is exactly why I divorced him!'

A young teen consciously knows that he aims for more space and freedom and requires some independence from Mom, yet the real developmental phases are not within his conscious control. He is not trying to hurt his mother. But this phase is unpleasant for you. Clashes are inevitable, and feelings run deep.

During workshops I’ve run at schools, I’ve asked hundreds of moms and sons what they generally fight about, and it is obvious that under-lying these everyday clashes is the fact that the mother’s needs are so very different from the developmental tasks that the son is hard-wired to achieve.

The priority for us as parents must be to create the building blocks that will help us develop a parenting style and strategy that works for our teenagers and for us – one that builds rather than breaks up our relationship with them.

You also want to be sure that your son is going to have the necessary skills and competencies in that moment when he’s making a decision that could jeopardise his safety or health, and the safety or health of others. Is he going to make the right decision?

Underlying it all is our dearest wish and deepest worry: Will he be happy? If I were to ask, ‘What are the three most important things for you as a mother?’, most moms would tell me:

His health and safety.

His happiness.

His relationship with me.

A good, positive, connected relationship is the foundation he needs to build a safe, happy life. Building relationship skills with your son will carry him not only into his later teenage years, when his brain is more capable of abstract thinking and able to reason and think of consequences, but out into the world, too.

By age eighteen, he will have a much better grasp of abstract thinking.

Until then, you are providing that part for him – you are forever on about consequences and reminding him to re-member things. But by the dawn of the teenage years, you should be finished instilling duties, tasks and rules – these are behaviours that you laid down in his childhood.

If you are still going on about this, you need to stop. If it’s going to help you lessen your own anxiety, then sit down with him, make eye contact and have a serious conversation:

I am not prep-school mother any more.

I am not asking you any more whether you’ve washed behind your ears or brushed your teeth. I trust that you have done that for twelve years non-stop and that it has stuck in your brain and in your heart.

I am also not going to nag every five seconds about your manners and whether you have packed your bag. I want you to start getting on with that.

I will check in regarding your responsibilities, but you have control of the other stuff now. Let’s give this a go.

When a mother is stuck in old mothering habits, she normally resorts to what worked in the past. Her movement is towards her son. She wants to continue to nurture and be involved by doing.

Sure, there are different styles of mothering and there is a myriad of core intentions that mothers bring to their relationship with their sons. At one extreme, there is the symbiotic mother who cannot see her son as a separate being; at the other, there is the resentful mother who blames her son for her unfulfilled life and her inability to achieve her own goals.

Rather get to know yourself as a parent and as a woman and progress to senior-school mothering, which involves coaching and guiding. It is the new hat you are putting on.

Your parenting should now focus on helping your son to acquire the life skills that will help him to be safe in all circumstances, and that will ensure he has the tools, capacity and competence to make the right decisions when it counts. We also want to make sure that our boy somehow is happy in his own skin.

If we could tick all those boxes, we would probably sleep reasonably well – though we would always find something to worry about!

Other Parent

A positive relationship and the ability to work together with the other parent are crucial for parenting any child. Not only does consistency be-tween the parents help a child learn, but lack of consistency undermines a child’s feeling of security.

This can only worsen as the child enters adolescence. If the teen is able to divide and conquer, or, worse, cause conflict between the parents, you have a real problem.

In saying this, however, if parents have different parenting styles and they accept and acknowledge the differences, then a child adapts. Differences are fine if there is consistency and acceptance.

Every now and then, a small secret between the two of you is fine. But if it’s a constant "Don’t tell Dad", you need to find out why, and help them both through this.

If your son says, 'Dad is just going to mock me or put me down,' then you need to say, 'Okay, how can we change that? I won’t tell Dad, but I would like you to tell Dad. How can you learn to share things with your father? What needs to happen?'

A mother aligning with her son in keeping things secret from his dad is fostering division with the father; it is a negative, when your son needs positive role-modelling to form his own positive partnerships.

Secrets should not be encouraged in a home, and alliances have no place there either. These are also dangerous for your marriage. Your son’s testosterone levels are raging, his brain is on high alert, and his sporting prowess and energy levels are peaking; your husband’s, on the other hand, are decreasing.

In fact, he could easily be going through a bit of a midlife crisis.

If he sees you conspiring with his son against him, it can cause a great deal of pain - even panic.

A panicking man often defends himself with anger or becomes competitive. The consequence is con-flict in your marriage, and as a result all the relationships in the home will start breaking down. Instead, try to be sensitive in how you handle these different developmental stages.

And, speaking of husbands, remember that they’ve also been social-ised to act a certain way. Many have not been taught how to nurture or be empathetic.

It is important to have a private conversation with your husband and highlight that his role as a male nurturer will become more and more important during your son’s teens.

Your son will have ques-tions around his own sexuality/masculinity, and it is important that these answers come from his dad. So, as his parents, you need to discuss in advance what your family values are.

Leave your husband with the question, 'What do you think constitutes a good man, and how can our son begin to be one?'

Don’t put your husband on the spot; let him go off and think about it.

CAVEAT: In same-sex homes (where sons have two mothers or two fathers), have an open dialogue about masculinity and what it means to be a man. Discuss family roles, values and reciprocity in the home

- How to raise a man - a modern mother's guide to parenting her teenage son by Megan de Beyer is published by Penguin Random House South Africa.

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