How do we talk to our sons about their appearance? Teen boys are notoriously private. Many parents complain that their teen boys hibernate in their rooms. They close their doors and absorb themselves in video games and texting. So how can we engage our sons and get them to talk to us about their concerns? The best way is not to pry, but to do what I call active listening. In my private practice I use the acronym EAR. Encourage elaboration, affirm and reflect. For example, if you notice your son has a blemish on his face you can ask if it bothers him or makes him self conscious. Try to refrain from making assumptions but listen to his response or more importantly, listen to his tone. If you notice he is uncomfortable responding then reflect that this might be annoying or uncomfortable for him and that is normal. Normalize his discomfort instead of taking it as a slight. Some other helpful tips for getting your teen to open up include:
Walk while you talk. Boys are generally spatial processors, and therefore think best when they are active and moving. Forcing your son to sit down and sit still while you berate him with a long lecture is a recipe for disaster—or at least distraction. Try taking your talk outside, walking around the block, shooting hoops or playing catch while you discuss the issue at hand. This will keep your son alert and engaged.
Feed him. Make sure he’s had something to eat before you start talking. We have all experienced or observed the correlation between hunger and irritability. The clinical term is use is Hangry. Although your son might not be grouchy just yet, making sure that his blood sugar level is stable will keep him focused and engaged throughout your conversation.
Allow time for follow-up. Many boys can take hours, days, and even weeks to process the substance of an important conversation. If you do not receive the engagement or answers that you were hoping for during the first conversation, give your son time and space to reflect on the conversation before you bring it up again. You might be surprised how your conversation evolves over time, and what insights your son will bring to the table.