By Becky Medlin

My oldest son just turned 16. Time goes by so fast; it seems like he will be packing for college tomorrow. His younger brothers are 14 and 6, so I have plenty to keep me busy when he leaves. My brain constantly spins to juggle their activities, wants, needs, and attitudes. One fact that keeps me from losing my mind is that scientific research has found that boys’ brains don’t develop fully until they are in their mid-20s! If you are the parent of a tween boy, here are a few truths to keep in mind while raising teenage boys so that you don’t lose your mind, too:

1. You will need to remind him to take care of personal hygiene on a daily basis.

Beginning around the end of 4th grade, you will begin to notice that your son reeks. Do everyone a favor and buy deodorant for him. If he plays sports after school, give him deodorant to keep in his gym bag and remind him that he should reapply before practice or games.

You’d better believe the smells don’t end there. One of my boys will go for days without a shower if I let him, and will skip brushing teeth in a heartbeat. Do a breath check and scan the teeth before he leaves your house. Insist on showers. Eventually (when his friends start to stink), he will understand that this is not just for his benefit, but also for the benefit of everyone around him.

2. They eat non-stop, but never want the food you serve.

ABL342015Teenage boys love to eat, so make sure you have your pantry and fridge stocked or you might see your teenager turn “hangry” (hungry+anger=hangry) from lack of food. My boys play sports, so they burn off what they eat quickly, and it’s a challenge to keep them eating the “right” foods. I realize that food battles are fought in most households, so I’m not alone on the kitchen battlefield, especially since I have one with allergies.

Recently, I’ve made it a tad more challenging by trying to eliminate processed foods from all of our diets to improve our health. When I initially swapped out a popular maple syrup brand for organic maple syrup, one son protested. Ok. No problem. I didn’t argue with him. I gave him his choices of syrup, honey, or jelly and left it at that. It was his choice—eat it or don’t. Eventually, he gave in and started using the real syrup. Now, I can’t keep it stocked.

3. They are secretive.

I often joke that my oldest child works for the CIA. I have only a tiny view into his world on the best of days. His “conversations” with family members typically involve mumbles and grunts, and a quick turn of his feet to return to his room or the basement. I have to remind myself not to take personally this self-isolation and seeming lack of interest in anyone he’s related to, and remember that I did the same when I was a teenager. I try to respect privacy, but I don’t let my sons expect total privacy—especially when it comes to their access to the Internet.

Using the Internet and any social media can put a layer of secrecy between you and your teenager that didn’t exist when I was in high school. I made it abundantly clear that I would be checking their phones frequently. This has not kept my boys from making mistakes like posting, liking, retweeting, and viewing inappropriate content, but there is no telling what could’ve happened had I not been paying attention.

4. Boundaries and communication are crucial.

boypicPaying attention is crucial at this age. Know who your child’s friends are; get to know his teachers and coaches; know where he is, and know what he’s doing online. Teenagers need boundaries just as they did when they were in elementary school. The boundaries should be wider and broader, of course, but clear. Now, this should be no shock to anyone reading this, but boys are very curious about sex and they will seek out knowledge about it. How you react when you discover that they have been looking at adult content online or in a magazine is important. Don’t freak out. Instead, talk to them about what they’re seeing and/or posting. Communication is very important—even if they don’t want to talk about it.

When I discovered that one of my teenage sons had viewed a popular YouTube video on “How to Take a Shower,” which was definitely R-rated material, I freaked out a little, but I made a plan about how I would approach him. I didn’t want him to feel ashamed for watching it; however, he did need to understand that every video of a naked girl isn’t “ok” to watch and why.

Me: “How old do you think this girl is?”

Son: Shrugs.”I don’t know.”

Me: “Could she be 30?”

Son: “Definitely not.”

Me: “Could she be 16?”

Son: “Maybe. I don’t know. Do we have to talk about this?”

His answer opened the door to a discussion about child pornography and the consequences he would face if a video of a naked, underage girl was discovered on his phone. We also talked about how it was clear that the girl in this particular video knew she was being filmed, but that there are some people in the world who will film others secretly. We also discussed why he should never take or share inappropriate pictures of himself, friends, or classmates. Most importantly, both of my boys and I have discussed that they should never, ever post or share any images or words online that they wouldn’t want their father or me to see. I try to remind myself daily that making mistakes in judgment is part of the nature of teenagers. Their brains are still developing. They are risk takers and don’t consistently consider or even understand the potential consequences of their actions.

These years are not easy for anyone. Despite their teenage-ness, I love my boys so much. They are involved in sports and are good students, and we haven’t experienced a lot of drama so far. I grew up with a hell-raising brother who was the epitome of teenage rebellion, so I’ve lived through both the good and the bad. No matter what kind of teen you have living in your house, you have to be willing to compromise and give choices. Remember that they still need you—no matter what they say or how they act. Teenagers want boundaries and want to know that someone cares about them. As their parent, it’s my job to make sure that they are loved and healthy (and clean) so they can continue to develop and grow into the wonderful men I know they will be.

About the author: Becky Medlin began her career as a mother in 1999. A former middle school teacher, Becky currently works as a Product Marketing Manager at a local software company, a freelance writer, and a part-time taxi driver and personal assistant for her children.

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