January 2, 2009. Washington, DC It is no easy task
to navigate the stormy seas of adolescence with a teenage
boy. To help parents and educators understand how to work
with young men more effectively, Fr Michael Sliney, LC, compiled
this list of the 7 things that teenage boys most
need from their parents and educators:
1. Clear guidelines with reasonable consequences
from a unified front; cutting slack but also holding them
accountable for their actions.
2. Reasonable explanations should be given
for the criteria, guidelines, and decisions made by the parents.
3. Avoiding hyper analysis of their emotions and state of
mind: avoid “taking their temperature” too often.
4. Unconditional love
with an emphasis on character and effort more than outcome:
encourage them to live up to their potential while having
reasonable expectations. To love them regardless of whether they make
it into Harvard or become a star quarterback.
faith and fidelity should be reflected in their parent’s lifestyle.
6. Qualities of a Dad: Manliness, Temperance, Makes significant time
for family putting aside work, and a reliable source of
7. Qualities of a Mom: Emotional Stability, Selflessness, Loving
Service, and Extreme Patience.
In the following interview, Fr Michael
expands on some of the points listed above, drawing from
his 14 years of experience as a spiritual guide, confessor,
and friend to high school boys.
Q: Fr Michael, what
are some of the particular characteristics of this age group
that parents and educators need to bear in mind?
of the first and most important points is to recognize
that they are no longer kids. Up to age 12,
they are still kids. But from 13 onward, puberty kicks
in and there is a lot more sensitivity; they are
more easily irritated and they want to be treated like
a teen, not like a kid.
|It’s important for parents to have reasonable expectations and to encourage each boy to live up to his potential.|
At this age, teenage boys
are discovering their identities and going through a lot of
turmoil. It’s a very sensitive time, and we need to
pray for them and dedicate time to them, show personal
interest, try to understand what they’re thinking.
Q: How can
a parent find the balance between being clear, firm, and
Explain to your son in advance: these are the
guidelines and these are the consequences. The consequences must be
reasonable. Every parent has an atomic bomb he or she
can pull out (taking away the internet, the cell phone,
or the driver’s license, or keeping their bedroom door open),
but everything needs to be done in a fair way,
in due proportion. You can’t surprise a kid with a
negative punishment that doesn’t correspond to what he did.
the kids feel like there is no hope or that
they have totally lost your trust. Striking the balance between
being firm and cutting them some slack is important.
it is better to be emotionless and rational when you
reprimand them or make a point. Don’t throw salt in
the wound by making a punishment into an emotional ordeal.
If you’re going to ground your kid, do it in
a rational, non-emotional way. Be brief. In the end, boys
respect it more.
Q: How can parents motivate their kids to
do the right thing?
Don’t explain it so much in terms
of “right” and “wrong,” but in terms of “wise” and
“wrong.” Explain the reasons behind why something is wrong or
right and frame your motivations in a positive way.
example, instead of telling your son, “Don’t become a drug
addict,” help him to see how resisting the temptation is
a great way to forge his character. When the issue
of premarital sex comes up, flip it around: instead of
saying, “It’s a mortal sin” or “You might get a
disease,” help him to look forward to his future wife,
and to think of what a great gift he could
offer her if he waits for her.
Q: Why should parents
avoid probing into their sons’ emotional life?
Boys don’t like to
be analyzed under a microscope. Sometimes the worst possible question
a parent can ask is: “How are you doing today?
How are you feeling? You look a little sad.” Don’t
analyze their emotions and state of mind. Girls might like
to talk about their feelings and emotions, but most boys
don’t. If they had a bad day, they don’t want
to talk about it because it makes them feel vulnerable
Q: Do teenage boys really feel a lot of
pressure to perform up to their parents’ standards?
Yes, they do
feel a lot of pressure and they are very sensitive
when they feel judged by how they perform instead of
by who they are. They need the love and esteem
of their parents. Parents should put the emphasis on their
kids’ character and on the effort they make, not necessarily
on the result that comes out. If a kid is
honest, generous, prayerful, trying hard in school, and is still
a B student, he’s doing his best, and he should
be encouraged. It’s important for parents to have reasonable expectations
and to encourage each boy to live up to his
Q: How important is the good example of the
It is extremely important. We all hyper-analyze our parents and
observe the example they set in all areas: if they
are practicing what they preach, if they are faithful to
each other, etc. High school is a very tumultuous, unstable
time for boys. If these qualities of fidelity and authenticity
are not there, and if there is not a stable,
happy marriage, it’s chaos. Troubled kids generally come from dysfunctional
or broken families. Here we see the importance of a
great marriage: if that’s in place, you’ve got a pretty
good chance of a teenager getting through in good shape.
There are not too many cases of parents who’ve got
it together having dysfunctional kids.
Q: Can you expand on
the importance of the dad’s role in relation to his
Kids, especially in high school, need to spend time with
their dad, doing things together. This time together creates a
space for him to open up and talk if he
wants to. Take him out to breakfast or out to
a game. Look for ways that he would want to
do something with you. Dads need to get personally involved
with their sons and dedicate time especially to their more
difficult kids. Making little gestures of kindness is so important.
My dad used to stop in every night before going
to bed. He showed me he cared by asking how
I was doing with my homework, how things were going.
It was just a quick gesture but it was very
We’re living in a very feminized culture, so dads
need to teach their sons what true masculinity is all
about. Being masculine doesn’t mean being a tough football player
and lifting weights. Manliness means strong character, self-control, quiet strength,
and getting through adversity without whining. Kids need to see
the example of what it means to be a man
in their dad. It’s about having an internal toughness, not
complaining, and not letting others tell you what to do.
You’re the man of the house, you think about things,
and you have things under control.
If you’re living an
authentic life, it comes across. One time when I was
a kid, we got a pretty serious tornado warning while
we were out in the yard, cleaning up. My dad
went to each one of us: he was calm, in
control, and he knew what needed to be done. Once
we were all in the basement, he was at peace,
having a good conversation with us. He was a calming
force, full of confidence and authenticity.
And dads need to
be a reliable source of guidance because high school kids
are looking for words of wisdom. Kids are looking for
advice from the one they love. Dads need to be
available, but also offer. Kids shouldn’t be intimidated or afraid
to approach their dad for advice.
Q: Why did you list
“emotional stability” as the first characteristic for moms of teenage
Well, guys are pretty choleric and easily excitable. They don’t
want their mom in their face, exploding, without self-control. It’s
very irritating. If a mom is too excitable, anything she
says is not going to be well received because of
the emotional charge. In my experience working with kids, I’ve
seen that very few have a great relationship with their
mom. There’s not always a natural connection there. The way
of being is so different… and in some cases, moms
still treat their teenage sons as if they were little
Moms should deal with their sons in a calm,
straightforward way. When guys talk, they get to the point.
They don’t go roundabout the point or over-emphasize it with
emotions, etc. It’s important for moms to watch what comes
across in their tone, in the way they address the
Q: Can you expand on how moms can communicate
more effectively with their sons?
Most teenage boys don’t like engaging
in long, philosophical conversations with their moms. It’s generally better
for moms not to ask too many questions and to
be satisfied with short answers. If moms dig too deeply,
kids try to avoid them, because they feel like they’re
being probed. Obviously, moms can pick up if their boy
is having a bad day, but it’s humiliating for him
to have to admit it. If you’re prodding them, it’s
like forcing them to expose their weakness. Boys don’t want
to show their emotions.
Moms have to understand that there
won’t be a lot of communication, and they need to
go about it in a very delicate way, trying to
talk about things the kids like to talk about: “Hey,
you played a great game last night...”
The mom’s role
is to be a mentor, a guide, and a leader,
but she is not called to be a friend to
her son. Moms are not going to have a loving,
intimate, communicative relationship with their high school boys. For example,
the worst thing in the world is for mom to
say, “Son, we’re going shopping.” Shopping for a guy is
“get in, get out.” A guy wants to go throw
a football around, not stand around analyzing outfits. So moms,
you have to let them go a little bit and
do things as a family. It’s more the dad’s role
to have one-on-one time and to build that close man-to-man
Moms can really make a big impact when they give
an example of selfless love and service. Kids need to
feel loved, served, appreciated, because they are not getting that
in their competitive environment.
Q: How do you help teenage
boys build character and a strong spiritual life?
Character and the
spiritual life go hand in hand, because grace builds on
nature. It is not possible for a kid to be
able to resist his passions of disobedience, rebelliousness, vanity, and
lust without the help of God’s grace. I always suggest
Confession every two weeks or at least once a month.
Definitely Sunday Mass, and if they can go more often,
I encourage it. I also encourage kids to pray a
decade of the Rosary for the virtues they struggle most
And it’s important for them to learn to live
in the presence of Christ, because the motivation of loving
Christ and serving Christ is really what is going to
help kids overcome the struggles they face. Doing things just
because mom is watching or because they’ll get in trouble
is not enough, because once they go to college, those
deterrents are no longer there. They need to form convictions
of faith in the presence of God. The most important
task is to help Christ become a friend for them,
to help them see that Christ is counting on them,
and to know that the sacrament of Confession is there
if they happen to fall.
Fr Michael Sliney, LC, posts a
weekly Sunday homily on the Regnum Christi web page at
www.regnumchristi.org. To contact him directly, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.