Fifteen is the age when a boy moves into manhood while still holding on to the boyish ways of childhood. It is a time when parents need to be extra vigilant to help him make it through the transition smoothly, and therefore not get stuck at this stage for several years.
Age 15 is when the your son’s thoughts and his expectations crash like ocean waves amidst a sea of change. It’s the end of one tide and the beginning of another. At the very least, it’s an awkward season. Increased hormones, growth spurts, voice changes, muscles, and moving from concrete to abstract thinking all tend to make a young man feel a jumble of both invincibility and vulnerability. And as a first step toward making up his own mind about life, everything you’ve taught him will be questioned.
This is a “convenient” time for a mom and dad to detach and drift alongside their teen as he is busier with extra-curricular activities at school and spends more time away from home. But this is no time for parents to back off. It is a critical and pivotal point of time where a parent can steer a son away from childish thinking and move him toward more mature thinking.
Your son needs to learn from you how to be respectful during a conflict, to be honest in the face of confusion, and to remain obedient in times of disagreement. It’s a time for some serious character-building. Sailing these waters can be a tough time for parents… but more than ever it is the right time to be available and to be firm.
So how do you go about making a smooth transition?
First, determine the “state of your child.” If things are already getting strained in your relationship, move toward them out of compassion, not frustration. Approach the harshest situations with humility, but carry a big stick. I don’t mean a big stick in relation to punishment, but I’m referring to your authority as a parent to set the agenda and to say “No” when you need to.
Parents today strive to be a friend of their children more than a parent. But as most soon find out at about age 15 when conflict erupts, they’ll wish that they had more of a “parent role” than a “friend role.” I’m here to tell you from years of experience that it is never too late to jump into the parental role, and trust me; there will never be a better time for boys than at age 15.
If you’re seeing behavioral problems, it is important for your son to know that you will stop at nothing to change the inappropriate direction he is headed. If you don’t know what to do, find help from others who have been there. Or, contact our on-call coaches for more help. Just call our Family Crisis Helpline at 866-700-3264 or visit www.heartlightministries.org/crisiscoaching for more information about that service.
A parent will do well to start with the following list to-do’s beginning on your son’s 15th birthday:
- Ask your son to begin making more of his own decisions. “Where should we go to eat tonight? What would be good for us to do on our vacation? What movie should we get this Friday? What charities do you think would be good to support?”
- Ask for his input or point of view. How would you respond in this situation? How would you discipline differently? What you do think about what’s happening at school?
- Give him an opportunity to respond correctly. He may not respond to your giving him more responsibility appropriately at first. So give him another opportunity to get it right. Display empathy rather than judgment. The way you go about it is sometimes more important than the message itself. Remember, a gentle answer turns away wrath. How you respond to him will determine how he will respond to you.
- Set clear boundaries. In times of trouble, don’t move away from your child, move toward him. Immaturity demands that you place boundaries around his inappropriate behavior. You may be thinking, “Well, you don’t know my kid and how he mistreats me.” I admit, I don’t. However, I do know that if you do nothing to rein in the bad behavior you see in your 15-year-old son, it’s only going to get worse, not better.
- Help your son learn how to say “No” by honoring it when he says “No.” This is another boundary issue. Honoring his boundaries will help him learn to honor others’ boundaries.
- Admit when you are wrong. Admitting when you are wrong will help your son understand that everyone makes mistakes, and models how to behave when mistakes happen.
- Shift control before you think he is ready for it. Yes, he will blow it, but he will also learn some valuable lessons from doing so, but only when you… (see number 8).
- Force him to take responsibility for his decisions. Don’t say, “I told you so,” or, “I should have made that decision instead.” Allow him to figure out what he should have done instead, and force him to own up to the consequences of his choices.
- Encourage him in his good decisions. Point your comments toward his successes, not his failures.
- When your son responds with maturity and responsibility, then move him up to the next level. Expand the limit and expectations and expect him to meet new requirements. For instance: “Honey, I think it’s great that you have a job now. If you are willing to save your money, I will match it and help you buy your first car.”
I encourage you to take advantage of this time to help your son make a strong transition to the smoother waters of responsible adulthood. Thankfully, he won’t be 15 forever.