12/11/2012 10:28 am ET Updated Feb 10, 2013

How We Are Failing Our Teenage Boys

After all of these years of listening to parents talk about their teenage sons and daughters, I can say with tremendous confidence that there is much more focus on the mental health and emotional well-being of their daughters. In my role as a friend and a clinical psychologist, I must say that if I hear the phrase "boys are easier than girls," one more time, I may just bang my very cerebral and emotional head against the hardest wall that I can find. I am frustrated. Parents may believe that teenage boys are easier than girls because they just don't understand their sons. It is as simple and complicated as that.

Let me explain how we are failing our sons. First, we are making a number of incorrect assumptions about them. The one that irks me the most is that many parents believe that teenage boys are simply a group of sex-crazed maniacs interested only in getting into the collective jeans of our daughters. NOT TRUE. The teenage boys are just as anxious about sexuality as the the teenage girls. I know you may not believe me here, but many of them say that they feel tremendous peer pressure to have sex when they are primarily interested in doing things liking playing sports. And, if a girl breaks up with them after they've had sex, they worry that their performance was inadequate. They tell me this in the confines of my safe therapy office. For goodness' sake, what self-respecting teenage boy is going to admit this to their friends or parents? Please.

I believe that we fail to teach our teenage sons how to label their feelings, hence contributing to something called alexithymia, which is difficulty expressing feelings and difficulty with awareness of feelings. Then when our teen boys are sad, disappointed or frustrated, they don't tell us about their feelings because they lack the vocabulary of emotions. Instead, they become aggressive or get involved in substance use when unable to describe how and what it is that they are feeling.

So, what is a parent to do to raise healthy teenage boys who turn into lovely men? A LOT!
Here is a partial list:

1. Teach them the vocabulary of feelings and emotions.

2. Teach them about empathy and offer them empathy.

3. Do not reinforce their tendency to detach and crawl into a "man cave." I don't think that anything positive is happening in that man cave. And, their future wives and girlfriends will kiss you for helping to prevent this sort of emotional hibernation and avoidance.

4. Let them know that there is nothing that is unmanly about having and expressing feelings. In fact, the girls and women in their lives will love them for this.


5. Please don't make the assumption that simply because they are quiet means that they are feeling good.

From my heart to yours. Good luck.