By Heidi Stevens, Tribune Newspapers
3:18 PM EDT, October 23, 2012
Q: Your 16-year-old son spends all his time with his girlfriend. Should you nudge him to keep up with his male buddies?
(from our panel of staff contributors)
Nah. His buddies will take care of that, and the spend-every-moment-together thing will play out on its own. Although I did tell one of my sons that his girlfriend's refusal to have anything to do with his friends was a red flag.
I would be too busy talking responsibility and birth control with him.
There is a good chance your son will alienate his buddies by ditching them for his girlfriend, says Anthony Rao, child psychologist and author of "The Way of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Complex World" (William Morrow).
But he doesn't need to hear that from you.
"As a parent, you often want to help your child not go through all the ups and downs that you did," Rao says. "But this is not time for a lecture. This is the time to respect the new, very intense, very powerful feelings your son is having and learn to approach him as a young adult — which he is starting to become."
You can certainly set up clear boundaries for your son. ("You do have control here," Rao tells parents. "Use it.") So curfews, where and when he and his girlfriend can be alone in your home, and what behaviors you approve and disapprove of should all be on the table.
That discussion can include a conversation about balance.
"It's an amazing opportunity to talk about pacing and balancing your personal life and your love life with all your other demands," Rao says. "You can talk to him about being careful not to burn out, like when you overtrain for a sport.
"You can give information, but you have to be careful not to lecture," he says. "This is not a young child. This is someone with his own identity with very strong emotions."
So the overarching tone should be one of respect and, ultimately, approval, says Rao.
"It's an opportunity to point out to your son what he's doing right," he says. "'I really like the way you show her you care about her.' 'It's awesome the way you treat her with so much respect.' 'I like the way you two are so compassionate with each other.' Encourage these things because they're great behaviors for your son to have mastered down the road."
And if the balance portion of the conversation falls on deaf ears, step aside and let his buddies razz him about the time he's no longer devoting to them.
"You've got to recognize and respect that there's an intensity of really great emotions here," says Rao. "You can't stop him from having these emotions or feelings, and if you get into too much conflict with your son over it, you're going to send him the message that you don't respect what he's feeling. That will just shut down the dialogue."
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