Thursday 19 April 2018

David Coleman: I'm worried about my teen son's lack of direction

In reality, many teenagers don't find adolescence an easy time.
In reality, many teenagers don't find adolescence an easy time.
David Coleman

David Coleman

MY SON is 14 years old, has few friends outside of school and spends most of his time at home with no hobbies or interests outside of his PS3.

His shyness keeps him from doing new things. We make him go sailing and to CoderDojo but he doesn't take initiative with either.

He is a good and gentle person. He loves his pets and is kind to his younger cousins. But I worry that he spends way too much time making himself miserable.

He is contrary and argumentative towards all of us but especially with his little sister. He is prone to pouting and moaning, especially when he is not allowed to play PS3.

If we take a trip to the city the entire day is dominated by his begging to go find a shop that sells PS3 games.

Last year, after closing his business, his dad went to work outside the country. The time my husband was away took a toll on their ability to relate to each other easily. This is something my husband is working at now.

I worry about his future. Will he become so depressive as to cause harm to himself? Will he be able to make a living with no direction or drive?

Or perhaps I am expecting too much from a 14-year-old boy?

David replies:

INTROSPECTION and withdrawal are very common amongst teenagers. It is easy to look around at times and to see teenagers out taking part in activities or hanging around with mates and to think that all teenagers are out and about and enjoying themselves.

In reality, many teenagers don't find adolescence an easy time. They struggle to come to terms with their developing selves and identities. They struggle to find a balance or a fit in their friendships. Sometimes friends move on, developmentally, at rapid speed and older friendships can unravel as priorities change.

It is important not to panic about your son. You say, for example, that he has no hobbies or interests outside of his PS3, when in fact, thanks to your prodding, he does actually do a sport as well a more cerebral pastime.

His contrariness, his pouting, his moaning and his argumentativeness do sound entirely normal for a 14-year-old. His lack of direction and drive are also not unusual. Most 14-year-olds don't plan very far ahead!

Indeed, physiologically, the frontal lobes of his brain are really only starting to mature, a process that will continue until his early twenties. The frontal lobes are the area of the brain that are responsible for planning, judging risk, reasoning, impulse control, decision-making and problem-solving.

It is no wonder then that younger teenagers frequently take surprising risks, with little or no thought to consequences or rationality. Similarly, with rows, they rarely consider others' feelings or the impact of what they say or do.

This is not to excuse their behaviour, merely to explain it.

Don't underestimate the impact of his dad's absence either. He could have missed his dad quite intensely and yet felt unable to voice this or express it fluently. He may not want to upset you or his dad as he recognises that you too may have struggled with the enforced separation.

Some of his angst is likely to be hormonal and developmental and I think his current 'stuckness' will shift in time.

It will continue to be helped by keeping him active, even if he isn't overly interested in the different activities. Keeping that social link is important for him.

Talking with him will also help. Your aim in talking with him is to be understanding and to try to listen to him without judging.

I think if you can regularly show that you are interested in him and his world, and are understanding of him, then you may find that he will share more with you.

You are trying to avoid getting stuck in that negative cycle of rows and arguments.

Especially as his dad isn't physically around much, it may also help him if another adult male (like an uncle or family friend) can take an interest in him and his life, to encourage him and guide him.

Indeed, good outside role-models can sometimes have more positive influences on our teenagers than they will allow us to have!

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