The Secret Thoughts of Teenage Boys

August 16th, 2012 by | Print

 There’s never been a more dangerous time to be a teenager in our society. The statistics on teenage drug use, depression, pregnancy, alcoholism and suicide are quite staggering and just plain sobering. Thanks to technology and the media, our kids are being bombarded with a 24/7 onslaught of fabrications, distortions and downright lies about what life is really all about….and they are buying it. The daily pressures on our teenagers today are more intense and destructive than ever before.

Our community is in shock over the suicide death of a Brother Rice student last week. People who knew this young man personally have told me that he had everything most high school kids could only dream of – intelligence, athleticism, friends, good looks and a loving family. I’m sure most people thought he “had it all” – but there was obviously something deeper that he kept hidden from the outside world.

The unexpected death of a young man with so much hope and promise should naturally rock the foundation of every parent and force us to ask the necessary question “what about my teenager”? The scary truth it’s very hard to truly know what’s going on in the hearts and minds of our teenagers, especially our boys.

The teenage years can be a crazy, confusing and overwhelming time as kids start the transition to adulthood. Nowadays, the pressure to perform academically, socially and with extracurriculars is way over the top. Everything seems magnified when you’re a teenager and the smallest of setbacks can start a downward spiral.

Back in high school I never shared my feelings…with anybody. My dad would openly lament how he wished he knew what was going on inside my head. My nickname back then was “The Fog” because I was pretty much checked out emotionally. Looking back I know why I felt mostly numb. Plain and simple, I was not living the life I wanted for myself and I didn’t know how to express it to those around me.

The teenage years tend to be a time of testing boundaries and finding new freedoms, but I remember just feeling lost.  I’m sure people around me would have said that I had it all.

In high school I committed much of my life to being a basketball star and earning a college scholarship. I spent a lot of time playing basketball even though it wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed. You see, I followed in the footsteps of my older brother and I simply wanted the same fatherly attention and affection that he seemed to get for his athletic achievements. I now know that I spent a lot of my time doing something I didn’t particularly like, to win something that I could never really attain. No wonder I felt depressed.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college basketball at Kent State that I first experienced freedom from the pressure and scrutiny I was feeling.  After three major knee surgeries in two years, the doctor told me that my career was over.  While I wasn’t purposefully trying to get injured, my knee problems provided me with a respectable way out of my situation. At the age of 19, when I couldn’t play anymore, I finally felt the freedom to start choosing the life I wanted for myself.  As a result, a whole new world opened up for me almost immediately and I started engaging in life in a brand new way.

Now the crazy thing is that freedom was in my grasp the entire time. But in my teenage mind, I didn’t feel like there were any other options out there for me. I felt like basketball success was my only path so I created a single mindset that propelled me forward to a place I didn’t really want to go. Like so many teenage boys, I kept my thoughts and feelings tightly under wraps.  

It appears from all accounts that sports and a pressure to succeed were not the mitigating causes in the death of the Brother Rice student. To the contrary, this young man spent countless weekends heading up north to fish or snowboard, and enjoying a lot of time with his family. Like so many other teens though, this young man was dealing with something on the inside that was weighing him down. So many times, it appears there is no logic or rationale in how teenagers view themselves and their life. In the psyche of most teenagers, life is lived in the here and now without much thought given to the future or the bigger picture.

So what’s a parent to do? How can we peer into the emotional lives of our teenagers and best support them through these challenging years? Well, the most important thing to do is to stay in the game with them – even when they try to push you aside and act like they want to check out on you. Be available and never just assume that they are ok.  Don’t stop checking in with them.

Here are a couple of simple, open-ended questions that parents can ask to “check-in” with their kids. It takes some parental courage to ask the questions because they may shut you down or give you the raw and real truth.  Regularly ask your teenager the following questions: 1) What would you add or subtract from your current activity list? 2) If you could wave a magic wand, what one thing would you change in your life? 3) Who are your true friends and who would you talk to if you have a problem? Now here’s the hard part. Once you’ve asked these questions, sit back and listen to their answers without problem-solving or value judgments (easier said than done). 

I think most would agree that our primary goal as parents is to raise healthy, well-rounded kids who can function effectively in the world. At the end of the day, they need to be valued for their own uniqueness and actively taught what an abundant life looks and feels like. And as they enter into the world, we can only pray that they will be able to stand in the storms of life that will surely rage around them….and reach out for help when they need a lending hand.

 

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