Teen Boys’ Emotional Lives

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Teen boys mystify (and frustrate) their parents. Especially their moms.

But there’s a lot going on behind and beneath that sometimes stony exterior. Teen boys are not devoid of emotions; in fact, they devote a lot of time and attention to managing and controlling their emotions. They may not show their emotions as freely as they did when they were younger, but, sadly, that’s often because they’ve learned their emotions aren’t welcome.

According to Brendan Kwiatkowski, PhD, a researcher who studies boys’ emotions, experiences, and masculinities, the #1 reason why teen boys restrict emotion (& emotional expression) is because “they don’t want to burden other people.”

The #2 reason is “fear of judgment.”

Why Teen Boys Retrict Emotion

Teen boys “assume most people don’t want to hear about their negative emotions,” Brendan says.

Stress and trauma can also affect boys’ ability to process and express emotion.

Teenage boys’ refusal (or inability) to express their emotions is usually “not selfish,” Brendan says, but rather, an “act of care.”

Helping Boys Express Emotion

A boy’s ability to express emotion is affected, in part, by his parents’ ability to tolerate his distress.

If he knows that his anger, sadness, or frustration upsets your equilibrium, he’s more likely to stifle his emotion. If he knows that you’ll respond with calm compassion, he’s more likely to open up and honeslty share his feelings and experiences.

Don’t fret, though, if you don’t always respond calmly or compassionately. According to Dr. Becky, clincical psychologist & founder of Good Inside, parents can miss the mark 70% of the time and still raise great, well-adjusted children, especially if they apologize and make things right when they’ve gone off the rails.

Getting Teen Boys to Talk

According to Brendan’s research, teenage boys are most comfortable opening up to women — typically, their girlfriends or moms — because they believe that females are good listeners and less likely to judge them.

Modeling authenticity and vulnerabilty also helps boys (and all humans) open up.

“I never would expect a teenage boy to be honest with me if I’m not demonstrating that myself,” Brendan says. “Being a boy or man is full of contradictions and tensions, and acknowledging those is such as important way to help the dialogue.”

In this episode, Jen, Janet, & Brendan discuss:
  • Teen boys’ emotion
  • Factors that affect boys’ emotional expression
  • Helping boys open up
  • Emotional safe havens
  • Normalizing emotions
  • Helping boys understand anger
  • Holding boys responsible
  • What teen boys think about Andrew Tate
  • Talking about controversial topics
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:

remasculine.com — Brendan’s website

Re: Masculine — Brenda’s album about masculinity

Hold Onto Your Kids: Why Parents Matter More Than Peers, by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate — book recommended by Brendan

What You Need to Know About Boys & Suicide (w Katey McPherson) — ON BOYS episode

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