For decades, boys were expected to “man up” when it came to their feelings. Tough it out. Don’t cry. Be a man.
Thank goodness, those days are over. In fact, says Tim Viands, head of school of the all-boys Grand River Academy in Austinburg, OH, the most effective way to communicate with teenage boys is to use “feeling words.”
“Feeling words are really important and boys will be receptive to that, but it needs to be on a consistent basis,” he explains. “If you have a concern or want to address an issue, using feeling words in a conversation can help open that up.”
So, what does that mean exactly? In a nutshell, it’s about parents starting conversations with an “I feel” rather than jumping in with an accusatory “you are,” which will put teenage boys on the defensive, explains Viands.
Say, your son is not doing well at school. “You can say, ‘I feel things aren’t going well right now. I feel there has been a drop in motivation and dedication to your schoolwork. Am I right in my feelings? I am interested to hear how you feel about that?’ And then just stop and let them talk.”
Adds Viands: “That’s a non-threatening way of opening this conversation, versus saying, ‘You just got four F’s on your report card and you’re hanging out with this bad peer group. That needs to stop now.’ Teenage boys will just rebel against that. Using ‘I feel’ is not an accusation. You are talking about how you feel. For our students that works really well.”
It also helps teach boys that expressing feelings is a positive and necessary part of any relationship.
Validating your son’s feelings is key, stresses Viands. In fact, denying those feelings is a sure-fire way to get your son to check out of the conversation. “Accepting your son’s feelings is so important, even if you don’t agree. If your son gives a reason for something he did, and you don’t agree, don’t say ‘You’re wrong,’ instead try ‘I understand where you are coming from, but I don’t agree.’”