As we go through life, we often need the support of others. Unfortunately, there’s often a lot of pressure in society to just “suck it up,” “tough it out,” or deal with our own problems. This is especially true for teenage boys as from their peers and others, they face expectations to be tough, not cry and avoid asking for help. While this may be the expectation, this is by no means what many teenage boys need. Instead, how can we encourage teenage boys to ask for help and seek support when they need it?
Firstly, it’s important to consider the culture around boys; most are expected to be strong and see vulnerability as a weakness. This pressure can come unconsciously from parents, siblings, mentors and peers and can result in low self-esteem or bullying. In other words, boys who show emotion, empathy or that they are in need of help are seen as “weak” or “unmanly.”
As parents, it’s important to turn that cultural expectation around to make room for emotional identification, expression and vulnerability without it being seen as a flaw in boys.
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It can also be helpful to learn how to recognize when your boy needs help but isn’t asking for it. In these moments, you can not only support them with their needs, but also encourage them that it’s ok to ask for assistance.
Some warning signs to look out for include:
- Withdrawal: If your son appears to be withdrawing from ordinary activities, family life or friendships, this could be a sign that something is going on.
- Mood swings: If your boy’s mood changes drastically or quickly, this could be a sign that they are overwhelmed or stressed. It could also be a sign that they need professional assistance.
- Physical symptoms: Many of us experience physical symptoms when our emotional needs aren’t met. In other words, your son might experience fatigue, sleeplessness, illness, lack of appetite or stomach aches that are caused by stress.
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Asking for Help
Teaching your teen how to practically ask for help can be difficult but it’s an important skill to pass on and teach even when they are emotionally healthy. Here are some tips for how you can engage your son in deeper conversations and encourage them to seek assistance:
- Talk shoulder-to-shoulder: Generally speaking, boys tend to be more comfortable opening up in conversations where they aren’t required to make eye contact or even have a direct focus on them. In other words, to put your son at ease when talking about significant topics, try sitting side-by-side with him, instead of face-to-face.Sometimes even including an “activity” to take off the focus can help too, such as going for a drive, playing a game of cards or making dinner together in the kitchen. Simply put, you want to encourage your son to know that talking about his feelings can be a comfortable, pressure-free experience.
- Respect their timing: Forcing conversation on boys often backfires and you might be met with moody glares or crossed arms. While it’s ok to want check in with your son and let them know you’re available, pushing them to have emotional conversations when they aren’t ready can cause them to close up. Instead, make space for conversation for when your boy is ready and willing.
- Lead by example: Especially if you’re a male role model for a boy, this is your time to shine. Leading by example and showing that it’s ok to be vulnerable and to ask others for help is important for your son. A simple way you can do this is by sharing daily “highlights and lowlights” as a family. In other words, demonstrate that it’s ok to share the tough times as well as the good.
At the end of the day, it’s important for boys to know that expressing emotions isn’t just normal but a healthy part of life. In fact, asking for help and helping others is a significant way that we can strengthen our relationships and grow as individuals.
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