Welcome to Part One in my series on Parenting Teen (and Pre-Teen) Boys! Since I announced this series last week I have received so many great questions and requests for topics to cover. I’m wondering if my six-week series might turn into sixteen weeks!
^^Photo from a few years ago, when all of my boys were pre-teen…
I should also mention that each post in this series could probably be an entire series on its own. I have so much to say (and passion, in case you don’t notice,) about all of this that it’s taking a whole lot of restraint to keep my points relatively short and sweet.
I wanted to start off this series addressing the true right of passage to the teenage years: PUBERTY. Puberty is full of all kinds of fun (awkward, exciting…) topics, like mood swings, and pubic hair, and stinky armpits, and…yes, I’m gonna cover it ALL.
Before I dive into all of that pubescent excitement, I really felt that I needed to cover some Pre-Puberty topics. Some of these might be a bit more technical, but they are so important! This post is laying a foundation for all of the others, so no matter what age your kids are, I think you’ll find something helpful here.
So…Here’s my list of what I think are the most important things to have in place before your son hits puberty. I am adding some examples from our family because people have asked for that. Sorry it’s long–You can choose by bullet point if you want to! 🙂
1. Strengthen your relationship.
I encourage you to develop strong bonds with your son before he hits puberty. If you wouldn’t describe your relationship as strong right now, this is the time to work on it. You don’t want to wait for your kids to be thick into puberty before deciding you should get to know them a little better. Build bonds now and you’ll have a good chance of keeping them into the teenage years. This may take some humility (“I’m sorry for how much I’ve had to work, and how little time we’ve had together,” or “I’ve let you down by not following through in the past, but I want to work on that.”) It might take some planning and effort (especially if your family is split,) but you can do it. Make a commitment to a regular time to connect, and be sure you can follow through with what you promise. This will establish a trust and security between you two that is likely to last through the sometimes muddier waters of puberty and beyond. (My “Seven Weekly Habits” download can help give you some practical ideas for this! It is a free gift for all subscribers.)
2. Make your internet safe.
Parents: If you take nothing else from this post, I hope you’ll come away with this: Please get filters on all of your devices! I know, I know–it’s a hassle, and some of you have been meaning to, but just haven’t gotten around to it. I understand because we put it off for a long time too. But hear me: It’s not worth the risk! Even if you think your kid isn’t at risk, or that they have no interest in finding damaging content, hear me now: it will find them! Enticing materials and pornography will show up in all kinds of unexpected places, and it takes very little to grab a boy’s attention and potentially change the course of his life. (I’ll be dedicating an entire post to boys and pornography because I think it is a super important issue.) But for now, just this: Get a filter. On every computer, and every device.
We use Covenant Eyes on all of our devices, and it costs just a few dollars a month. Of course there are plenty of other filters to choose from (some free ones I am sure!) Find one and take the time to set it all up.
3. Educate yourself on social media and games.
(I think I heard a few of you just groan. Hang in there…)
There is so much to say on this topic, but here’s the bottom line: Our kids are growing up in an age of technology, and if we’re letting them use it, we need to get to know it too. I understand that some parents aren’t interested in social media, and that’s ok. But ignorance is no excuse. At least take the time to research the games and apps that your kids are using. (Google is good for that.) Decide what you feel good about, and what you don’t. Set boundaries (you can say no!) and be ready to continually learn more and adjust.
I hear from so many people about how much time their kids spend on devices and gaming. Parents are bummed that their kids have lost interest in everything else. To that I just want to remind you of who is the parent. Rise up! You can set rules, unplug, or throw away a device any time you want. Sure, they may push back. They may get angry. But one day they will thank you.
In our family: We don’t give our kids cell phones until it seems necessary and/or they have proven trustworthy and responsible. (Our second son just got a phone at fourteen, and my husband thinks we should have waited longer.) We put filters on kids phones, and set plenty of rules for it–like turning them in to us at 9:00 PM. Our kids are required to get permission before getting any new apps, and we say no to plenty of them. (Guess what? Not being on Snap-Chat didn’t kill them.) We have reserved the right to scroll through their phones any time, and occasionally we do. If they abuse any rules or overuse their phones or devices, they lose them for an appropriate period of time.
Time on devices: Our kids get thirty minutes on their devices to play games each day, and that is only after school work and chores have been done. During the summer, if they had extra time, they got a second half-hour in exchange for an extra chore, but only if they were in good standing. (had a good attitude that day, getting along with siblings, etc.)
Blessings: Now our boys are learning to regulate their own use of their devices. Our oldest son has created rules for himself, for example he makes sure that he doesn’t spend more time playing games than the time he spent reading his Bible and journaling. (how’s that for a first-born overachiever?) It is really rewarding to see kids internalize the concept of healthy boundaries as they recognize the benefits of how we have raised them.
More about social media and kids: (Sorry, this is a huge topic!) Because I am on social media, I totally get our kids’ interest in it. So I try to emphasize the positive use of social media, and have regular talks with our boys about our “online reputation,” as well as all of the pros and cons of various social media sites. We have talked about how social media can be used to bless, or hurt other people. Kids need to understand that anything they put out there will live somewhere, forever. It is important to realize that for the sake of their future – jobs, relationships etc., they should take the responsibility of having an online presence very seriously!
4. Have “the S-E-X talk(s).”
I believe in talking about sex very naturally as kids are growing up. As far as getting to the more serious sex talks, the goal is to talk to your kids about all of the things before someone else does (or they go searching.) This should all begin well before puberty! You want your son to hear the facts from you, and you want him to know that you are available for any questions that he might have. The Talk, ideally, will be an on-going conversation, not a one time talk.
Though the conversations should start much younger, I love the idea of a set time where Dad takes his pre-teen boy away for a weekend. A time the boy knows is coming and anticipates as a certain rite-of-passage. During the time away, Dad and son can focus on talking about all of the things, (following a book or video series if it helps.) Then they combine it with some dad-son bonding through camping, sports, or something else.
If Dad isn’t able to get away with the son, that’s ok. Talk at home. Mom can be there too. I’m pretty sure I started talking first and brought my husband in a little later. (I’m generally the talker in the family.)
Our family has been less structured, but very natural about the sex topic. We have used real words for body parts, and have been completely open to questions. We have also used this series: God’s Design for Sex Series, 4 Books (Amazon Affiliate Link.) There are four books in the series, and I like it because it starts really young with great introductory topics. Then by the time you get to the more “awkward” subjects, the kids are familiar with the series and a lot more comfortable with all of it. (You can also buy the books individually for whatever age you want to.)
There are plenty of other resources out there, so I recommend you talk to trusted friends who have gone before you to help you find the best resource for your family.
In addition to any books or resources you may use, I think it is important to just get comfortable talking about the subject of sex naturally as things come up.
In our family, as topics come up, I very plainly break into a little Q and A right on the spot. Q & A, as in: Me posing the Q’s and the A’s! (Isn’t that tricky? ) For example, after seeing something on t.v, I might say, “You might be wondering how that teenage girl is pregnant when she isn’t even married. Are you curious about that? Well, remember when Dad and I talked to you about how babies are made? Well we used the example or a husband and wife, but sometimes…” and on the story will go. As I throw out my sample Q and A’s, the kids get more comfortable bringing up questions of their own!
Even when they act like they don’t want to hear it, I talk to my boys comfortably and positively, knowing that they are learning, even if they’re squirming.
(More on this stuff in the actual PUBERTY post coming soon.)
5. Start normalizing puberty.
Before they get a stray hair or a pimple, it’s good to just start talking about puberty. Let them know it’s coming. Speak about it positively and naturally. Cast a vision for the man that they will become and remind them that when puberty starts they are well on their way.
In our family: My boys all seemed to get stinky armpits long before anything else, so that was an easy introduction. I would give them deodorant and let them know that stinky armpits is just the beginning of many more body changes. They felt pretty proud when I would compliment them on how manly they smell after a shower and some fresh deodorant.
6. Teach positive socialization.
Before they hit puberty, it’s good to encourage your boys to become socially aware. Talk to them about friendships–from what to look for in a friend, to how to be a good friend. Get to know their friends. If you see red flags or get that parental instinct that one of their friends is not a good influence, follow your gut.
Before they’ve entered puberty you want your kids to understand peer pressure, and to anticipate it. Talk to them (role play if you can) about how to handle it if someone they thought was a good friend tried to steer them in the wrong direction. Let them know very matter-of-factly that as they hit their teen years some kids will begin to make bad choices, and they may have to let some friendships go.
My motto: Talk about issues before they are issues!
7. Make sure they’re active.
As boys near the beginning of puberty, I highly encourage you to get them doing something active, regularly. Even if they don’t love sports, you can still teach them that exercise is a lifelong habit, and make it a requirement. Give them options: From swimming at a local pool, to jogging, to a rec. center or fitness program. O how much easier will puberty be if your boys are active!
Our family, as many of you know, is by nature very active. But besides surfing and skating, my boys have disciplined themselves to regularly go running, as well as do resistance work and other activities for general fitness. Starting their days with activity really makes the whole day better!
I’m sure I am missing something, but this post is already the longest post ever…I hope you grabbed a few new thoughts, or some healthy reminders out of it. The next posts in the series will build on this foundation, so be sure to come back for more thoughts on raising teen boys.
Leave me more questions, more requests, or stories from your own experience below in comments! We can all learn from each other!
And if you found this post helpful or encouraging, please do share it using social media buttons below! 🙂 Mahalo!
Find the other posts in the series:
What to expect when your son starts puberty
Kids and Porn
Teens and their Peers: What they Need Most, and How you can Help
Teenage Boys and Dating
Teen/Pre-Teen boys, Q and A