Friday, March 25, 2011

Why Don't Boys Talk?: A Different Kind Of Silent Treatment

 I love doing my seminars because after I finish my presentation parents come up to me with such heartfelt questions. This parent, feeling at her wits end, just did not know how she could get her son to talk to her. She can see and sense that all is not well with him, he looks unhappy, seems lonely, and isolates himself in his room. This is not an intentional silent treatment as in the daughter who wouldn't talk to her parents for 2 months, but the story of a guy who probably just doesn't know what to say, cause he may not have a handle on what he is feeling, and is just full up to brim with emotion.

Boys and girls, men and women are different. Period. Our bodies are different, our driving hormones are different, and our culture raises us differently. I asked this mom what her son's father was like,wanting to find out what kind of model this boy had grown up with. Turns out the dad is not dissimilar to her son. A quiet guy, who keeps his feelings to himself. Mom also seemed somewhat introverted. I sensed she was in unfamiliar territory as she haltingly shared her story. This too was a woman who kept things to herself, but could see her son was in pain, and wanted so desperately to help him even if it meant going out of her own comfort zone. 

There are two things at play here. First this 14 year old boy is experiencing the world in a new way. He is probably uncomfortable with his new body, his new brain, and all the normal angst of adolescence. He may be in the middle of a transition time with old friends, some moving on to other people, leaving him with a void, and having no idea how to fill it. If he is a shy guy, then put his personality style into the mix, and you have a boy feeling all kinds of things he has never felt before, and no comfortable outlet to express it. If this is a family in which people mostly keep their feelings to themselves, this boy may not have the feeling language to communicate all that is going on with him. 

If your kid jumped out into the middle of the street and you saw a car coming, instinctively you would jump in to save him/her. In adolescence, your teen is jumping in the street on a regular basis, and you need to have a huge repertoire of life-saving techniques. A very important one may be looking at your own behavior, personality and attitudes and evaluate the model you have presented to your kids about how to handle life's ups and downs. In this family, this boy may not been given the tools to unravel his own feelings. Instead he is following the family legacy of shutting down and keeping those things locked up inside. How wonderful would it be for the dad to say to his son: "You know I'm not very good at this feeling thing. I know I don't talk much at all about what's going on with me, and like you, I didn't talk at all to my parents. But I can see that you have a lot on your mind. I know what that feels like. I remember when I was your age.........(share some stories, insights). I get talking to your mom and me might feel uncomfortable, cause I feel like that a lot even now as an adult. But I love you, and we can work on this together." Insert here any observations like: "I notice you don't seem to be hanging with so and so anymore, or you used to love playing soccer, it feels like something has changed for you..." Rather than asking questions, try to make observations of changes you have noticed, sometimes that can help open him up.

Raising a teen requires parents to take a good, hard look at their own life and how they live it. Your teen's level of awareness of who you are and how you handle the storms and stresses of life has never been more important. This can be a time for enormous new growth for you. A good therapist costs a ton of money, just ask me, let your teen do it for free.

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