As a mother of seven boys, with the majority of them presently in the throes of puberty, I’ve endured a crash course over the past few years on the subject of raising teenage sons. And just when I thought I’d endured enough blank stares and eye rolls to last a lifetime, one piece of priceless parenting advice arrived from an unlikely source — a book on marriage.
Previously, I wrote about how the book Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs had been instrumental in helping my husband and I get along. The core premise of Dr. Emerson Eggerich’s book is biblical and research based. He claims that while women are “wired” to need unconditional love, men are desperate to receive unconditional respect (that men even prefer respect over love, if given the choice).
Recently, I’ve found myself applying Love and Respect‘s key concepts to raising my teenage sons. The effects have been overwhelmingly positive. And while there’s much to be gained from reading the book in its entirety (as it deals with many aspects of family life), here’s my top take-away in relation to parenting a teenage son:
Express your genuine respect for him as often as possible.
Simply say, “I really respect ________ about you” as frequently as you honestly can. It might feel unnatural at first but give it a try. When he walks out the door on time for work or school, say, “You’re punctual — I really respect that about you.” Watch what happens next. Sure, he might laugh off your attention a little, but he’ll stand up straighter, too. And then he’ll probably leave on time for school or work the next day as well. Because when your teenage son is shown respect, he will likely respond by becoming even more respectable.
Of course, this won’t be easy if your son is not behaving in a respectable manner. In that case, based on the concepts of Eggerichs’ book, you’re still called to show him respect anyway (“Show proper respect to everyone…” 1 Peter 2:17). So, watch your tone and facial expressions at all times. Don’t nag. This priceless advice has been particularly challenging for me, as I’m pretty dramatic by nature. But when executed successfully, it has been profoundly fruitful.
Respecting who he wants to be
So, what’s a parent to do with the son who wants to sit on the couch and play video games all day?
Eggerichs offers the following advice to a wife who harbors an understandable lack of respect for her less-than-motivated husband (this applies to teenage sons, too): “Express respect for the person you know he desires to be; is capable of being; or for the goals you know he hopes to accomplish.”
For me that’s looked like this: “Your little brother looks up to you so much. That makes me really proud; maybe you’ll work with kids one day.”
On a related note, don’t spoil your teen. One of the best ways he can build his own priceless self-respect is by getting a job and paying for his own necessities. In my home, a teen cannot own a cellphone until he gets a job, buys one, and pays for the monthly bill himself. While this may seem like a small matter, it’s not. I’ve caught more than one of my teens proudly explaining to friends how he handles this responsibility completely on his own.
Actions speak loudly, too
Furthermore, remember your teenage son doesn’t need you to simply express your respect for him verbally. He needs you to show him respect in your actions. This is often done by actively listening to him share his views and opinions, even if those views and opinions don’t line up with your own.
Lastly and quite possibly the most profound way to express respect to your teenage son is to back off/ choose your battles/ let go and let God. That means if you’ve already reminded him to hang up his towel after taking a shower, keep your mouth shut when he forgets to take out the trash. Also, say a Rosary for him — or at least a decade of the Rosary for him — every. single. day. Entrust your teen to our Blessed Mother (John 19:26), knowing She will guide him to her Son.