Remember when your son was your little buddy who hugged you all the time? Now he comes home, sprints up the stairs, slams his door, and puts his headphones on.
He used to ask you for a snack. Now he may decide to come out to dinner if you text him.
He used to laugh with glee as he recounted the details of his day. Now he answers your questions with a grunt or one-word only answers.
Your son so often feels a million miles away. And now he wants his driver’s license. And he’s starting to date.
Should you be worried?
Nope, not yet. (And, here’s even better news … probably not ever!)
There’s a high probability that when your son says there’s not a lot going on, he’s telling the truth.
Besides, armed with a little mother’s intuition and some parenting tips about how our sons process life, we moms can identify any little problem before it gets big.
As a primer, I strongly, highly, and enthusiastically suggest you watch Richard Linklater’s award-winning film Boyhood, rich with these insights.
Watching the movie’s characters age and grow together in real time (Linklater filmed over 12 years), you’ll feel reminded of how daily moments of motherhood go by in a blur, how we (often needlessly) toss and turn at night, and—how raising boys differs drastically from parenting girls.
Here are the top seven things your son needs you to know about what’s going on for him while he’s growing into a young man:
1. Boys take everything in, even if they don’t talk about it.
Make no mistake about it, you are shaping your son’s life—his opinions, habits, and world view—even if he doesn’t act like he’s paying attention, emerge from the advice, values, and guidance you give him.
For example, in Boyhood, Mason, Jr. (played by Ellar Coltrane) rarely comments on all the drama around him, while his elder sister is full of questions and sass. Yet we see Coltrane’s reaction in his eyes.
There is a world going on behind your son’s eyes, as well. Trust me, he’s paying attention.
What boys observe affects their lives and their future decisions more than we suspect. So, if you walk the walk, your son will gradually match your steps. So, remain mindful.
2. Sports and video games are important metaphors for boys.
If you want to get into most boys’ worlds, talk sports or video games.
I’ll admit, this transition was hard for me, as I feel far more comfortable discussing the arts. But learning how to share an opinion about a touchdown or a ref’s decision creates a bridge that invites your son to feel safe sharing his other opinions, and sometimes his feelings, as well.
Think about how a good book or charming movie can freshen your perspective or solve a problem for you. That’s what playing sports and video games often does for boys. Even just watching a game often relieves stress and elevates their self-esteem.
3. Boys compete with each other endlessly, even when there’s nothing to compete for.
According to economist Ray Fisman, boys are socially programmed to compete, and they love the game. That’s why boys excel if we give them goals to achieve instead of a to-do list.
And if they’re competing with a male friend, they will try even harder.
4. It’s hard for boys to make the first move to talk to girls.
Most boys would rather let go of something or someone rather than demonstrate weakness.
As such, words that express their feelings feel scarce to them, especially when hormones rage and anxiety constrains them. What will the other boys say? What will they think of themselves?
The risk must outweigh the fear of embarrassment. Behind that closed door, your boy is probably playing computer games, trying work up the nerve to talk to a girl right now. Don’t think your maternal advice is going to help him, though. The only thing that actually helps is acting on his intention. Don’t worry, he eventually will.
5. Boys love their mothers but need to bond with a male.
Our sons typically want to protect their mothers from their boyhood “frailty.” They want their mothers to see them as men.
Boys need a healthy male figure in your their lives whom they can talk to and mirror. This is key to developing their identity and individuality.
If a boy lives with his single mom, she needn’t remarry, at least not to find him a father. Instead, she might help him find a male mentor or big brother that he feels connected to.
6. Peer pressure weighs heavily on boys, and they feel they must respond with machismo, no matter their sexuality or sensitivity level.
A special word to the moms of all the geeks, artists, and gay young men out there. Your boy is fine … but he might not want to confide that he’d rather take a photograph or illustrate a cartoon than get drunk at a party. He keeps this to himself because he’s used to other boys, girls and often, teachers judging him.
His heart would break if you start judging him, too. So stay cool, Mom. He’ll come around in a few years, happier and more loving than ever. And you’ll be glad you didn’t intervene in his search for himself.
7. Boys usually find their way, even if we make mistakes with them.
Like Mason, Jr. (in the film Boyhood), sons stay with us only a little while, but the impact of family life does leave its imprint on their hearts.
We do the best we can, and so do they.
They leave us, all grown up, transformed. But they change us, too. Sons leave us with a deeper understanding of the male species, and of ourselves.
So give yourself a break as you do your best to raise them, and know they’ll be alright. And remember—they’re raising us, too.
Kathryn Brown Ramsperger is a life coach, writer and mom who helps people with life transitions and family relationship issues. Contact Kathryn through her website Ground One Coaching.