Kids need a safe place where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions, and where they can learn the nuances involved with self-advocacy.
Having the ability to express ourselves in a manner that is respectful, clear and non-threatening is necessary but often a challenge for adults. Now imagine the difficulty faced by our sons when trying to do the same.
Because adults “know what’s best for them”, the opinions, desires and questions of children are frequently relegated to the “non-factor” status. Since many of us were raised this way, our behavior is performed consciously and instinctively. Unfortunately, this results in teens who have problems with asserting themselves in peer groups, with advocating for themselves in the face of wrongdoing, and with walking away from situations they are not comfortable engaging in. While teen girls are often the focus of after school specials and movies that deal with this issue, our teen sons experience this dilemma as well.
I would encourage all parents and adults to support youth in respectful self-expression. They MUST have a safe place where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions, and where they can learn the nuances involved with self-advocacy. Of course, we will be there to support them but as our sons get older there will be many more times when they have to process feelings and speak to feelings on their own.
Although I recognize the importance of said encouragement, it still remains a conscious struggle at times, as I was raised from the “Because I said so” generation. My father did not engage in discussing issues in our home. While he listened to me if I had a problem, it was rare that I had the opportunity to clarify or discuss anything. I am focused on finding a middle ground between “Because I said so” and “Everything is up for debate” (cause that is definitely NOT occurring either…lol). Recently, I received confirmation from my son that I may be doing a little better at this then I thought. One evening last week, during a routine conversation with Twin 1, I asked him what he was working on, as he had a looming school related deadline. He responded, “I just completed my outline for my TEDTalk, Mom.”
“Great! What did you decide to talk about?”
“I talked about how I adjusted after you and Dad split. You know how teens go through that, and their grades suffer, and they get depressed, and they have to dig themselves out of that hole before graduation?? Well, none of that happened to me. I mean, I was sad for a while, but you stuck to your word regarding everything. I remember the day you took us to the restaurant to tell us, and when we moved, and I thought it [depression] would happen to me, but it didn’t. I’m fine”
“Why do you think you’re fine?”
“Well, We see each other every week, [my sons and their father], and you guys laugh and joke and snap, but mostly laugh and joke”
I have to confess that I teared up as he spoke. I am glad that I have REAL conversations with my sons. I can imagine teens in this situation that have no outlet, no discussion, no voice…and how emotions will find their way out either through healthy or unhealthy channels. In order to provide healthy channels, consider the following:
- Ask your sons open ended questions that will stimulate conversations. If this is a new practice, then the first 20 times, he may look at you as if you are insane. Ask anyway.
- Provide healthy outlets. Encourage journaling, provide social outlets where they will be forced to speak. I have seen the positive outlet provided for teens via the stage through my work with ChildhoodsLost Entertainment Group, an organization that uses the arts to give voice to the voiceless.
The confidence groomed inside of the home plays an important part in the level of confidence manifested outside of the home.