Q I am a father of a teenage son who used to be very involved in athletics and playing outside, chatting with friends, and enjoying himself. In the last year he has been spending a lot of time on the computer emailing friends and is also more involved with his school work. Some of the joy and liveliness that he has always had is going away. He seems less involved with people and family and more preoccupied. I am a little worried and don’t know quite how to talk to him about this change.How I can influence any positive change?
A It’s good that you are observing these changes and asking about them. There are clear developmental milestones that happen through the teenage years for boys. Hormonal changes affect mood, social interests, body image, and can cause insecurity and even aggression. These are quite normal, especially in countries or families where separation and independence are stressed. The pressure of high school and college preparation and thinking about having a job or career can also force teenagers into a more focused, less happy, and even stressed attitude. There are also social pressures of being in peer groups, dating, and going to parties where a lot of comparison between boys can occur. The sense of trust and innocence that all is well begins to change and worry or fear often enter into his mind.
Sharing with him that you are noticing some of these changes and want to see what’s going on with him is a good start. If he doesn’t want to talk at all about his inner feelings and issues, then it imight be a cause for concern.
Continue connecting with him and do your best to draw him out in a positive way. Invite him to an activity where you can both connect more deeply. You can also talk with others who know him well and see if they are noticing similar things and what their impressions are about it.
The internet is a huge distraction and can also change people’s personalities to some degree. It’s a place where people can have pseudo relationships where they have many virtual friends but don’t really know each other. Do you know who he is emailing and what websites he is on? Have you had a conversation about what he is limited to doing on the internet? This doesn’t mean you’ll have full control, but you do have the right to ask and check whether he is watching porn or involved in other activities that are addictive, overly distracting, or influence him in ways or connect him to people you do not approve of.
Physical activity and deeper human contact are very important at this stage of his life. He needs to get to know himself and expand beyond his world into other people’s experiences. These skills and taking in other people’s perspectives will help him mature and be realistic about his expectations of himself.
Lastly, are there changes in family dynamics that he is affected by? What is his relationship to his other parent, brothers, sisters, or are there other challenges? Seeing the bigger picture will help you understand him more fully.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com