I have three sons who range in age from fifteen to twenty-five. In theory, I should be an expert at boy-speak but the sad truth is that I have not yet cracked the code. However, I have made some small inroads and have a few insights which I am happy to share with other parents of boys.
When you try to communicate with the male gender, the silence can often be deafening. Asking them questions generally results in generic, monosyllabic answers which they may or may not be held accountable for at a later date.
Trying to get information from a teenage son is comparable to cross-examining a witness; a hostile witness. But, don’t despair there are ways to increase your odds of getting information and they don’t involve waterboarding. I offer no guarantees.
Here is a list of don’ts:
1–Do not try to speak with them when they are hungry. A teenage boy can’t think when his belly is empty.
2–Do not try to speak with them when they are tired. Again, talking to a tired teen is a complete and utter waste of your time.
3–Do not try to speak with them while they are watching a sporting event (or for a little while afterwards if their team has lost.)
4–Do not ask them about girls (or boys) they may like. When there is something to share in this department they will clue you in.
5–Do not ask them questions in front of their friends. In fact, it’s probably best not to even acknowledge them in front of their friends.
Here are a few things you can try:
1–Do wait until they are in the car with you—the cozy environment sometimes promotes communication.
2–Capitalize on any opening they may give you. If they open the door even a crack with a comment or observation keep the ball rolling, however… (see number 3)
3–Play it cool—pretend you are half-listening. Do not let them know that you are hanging onto their every word. If you act too interested in what they are saying you might scare them away. Do not make eye contact; a good technique is to rummage through your purse while they are speaking and under no circumstances should you interject too much. I realize that this last tip might also be used when dealing with an undomesticated animal; there are definite parallels which can be made.
I consider myself fairly close to my sons yet I know there is only so much I am going to get out of them at any given time. When my boys were in elementary school, they would pass along information which they deemed important when they got home, such as if another child had thrown up in class or if there had been a fire in school (not a fire drill) where men in trucks with hoses arrived. This was memorable and exciting to them.
As they got older, the concept stayed the same, although the details changed. Once they reached high school the information they deemed mom worthy was stuff like a child getting suspended, a medical emergency such as a teacher fainting, or changes to the food program. My youngest son, who is a sophomore in high school, was recently delighted to report that his school was adding a sushi bar to the lunch program. Details about actual learning or results on tests? Not so much. One thing you can count on is hearing from your sons when they aren’t feeling well. Little or big, they will always want you when they are sick.
I believe that there is truly no malice in their withholding of information—it’s just that, for the most part (and I realize that I am generalizing), boys are not wired for small talk. Occasionally, I am annoyed that I have to learn something about my boys from someone else (such as the time I had to hear about my middle son’s first college acceptance from another mom) but despite the apparent lack of communication, I know that my boys and I are close.
Trying to communicate with sons is just not the same as conversing with daughters, who, in comparison, are generally quite talkative (although they too can go through some rough patches during the teen years.) For the most part, I’ve gotten used to the status quo. In fact, after three sons, I’m not even sure I could handle the level of minutiae that girls relay.
Bottom line is—even with experience and advice—you may never know every detail of your son’s life. And while at times that can be frustrating, it’s just the way it is. The important thing is to know that when they need you they will reach out and that you will always be there for them.