The Camouflage

Parenting teen boysTeenage boys normally wear this mask, an invisible shield. They pose to be something for the outside world, which is a feigned self-confidence and bravado, and normally hide the shame he felt at his feelings of vulnerability, powerlessness, and isolation. Boys cannot open themselves to anyone. It is thus difficult to know their state of mind behind the mask. As a result, they remain unhappy and lag behind in their academic performance. Many of the boys live behind a mask of masculine bravado that hides the genuine self to conform to our society's expectations; they feel it is necessary to cut themselves off from any feelings that society teaches them are unacceptable for men and boys--fear, uncertainty, feelings of loneliness and need. They think it's necessary that they handle their problems alone. A boy is not expected to reach out -- to his family, his friends, his counselors, or coaches -- for help, comfort, understanding, and support. And so he is simply not as close as he could be to the people who love him and yearn to give him the human connections of love, caring, and affection every person needs. The problem for those of us who want to help is that, on the outside, the boy who is having problems may seem cheerful and resilient while keeping inside the feelings of being troubled, lonely, afraid, desperate. Boys learn to wear the mask so skillfully -- in fact, they don't even know they're doing it -- that it can be difficult to detect what is really going on inside them and thus helping them becomes difficult. The problems below the surface become obvious only when boys go "over the edge" and get into trouble at college, start to fight with friends, take drugs or start drinking, are diagnosed with clinical depression, erupt into physical violence, or come home with a black eye.

Looking behind the Caumoflage

There are many ways to understand a boy's deepest feelings and experience, to come to know who he really is, and to help him love and feel comfortable with his genuine self. Given below are the ways which will help you look behind the mask and find out the problems you son is facing and will give you a chance to help him.

Be attentive and sensitive

Being a mother you should always be alert. Look for those early signs of trouble. These signs include everything from bad grades to rowdy behavior, from "seeming quiet" to manifesting symptoms of depression, from using drugs or alcohol to becoming a perpetrator or victim of violence. Thus become sensitive to the early signs of the masking of feelings.

Talk to him and understand him

The second step to getting behind the camouflage is learning a new way to talk to boys so that they don't feel afraid or ashamed to share their true feelings. Be patient to him, don't push him and don't be nagging. Be gentle and kind. Show him that he means a lot to you and that you are proud of him.

Give him time

Boys who do share their feelings often take longer to do so than girls do. A girl might open up when asked the first time but boys will refuse when approached the first time. We have to learn how to give the boy the time he needs and how to recognize in his words and actions the signals that he is ready to talk. He usually has to set the clock himself. He has to determine how much time he needs to remain silent before opening up to share his feelings. If we learn to become sensitive and respect his emotions, it will make it easy for him to be honest about the feelings behind the mask.

Make him feel comfortable

The next step is to make him feel at ease. Rather than nudging a boy to sit down and share his feelings with us, parents can begin by simply joining him in an activity that he enjoys. Often by simply doing something together that is playing a game with him, watching TV together or going to movies together, taking him to an amusement park, etc you can forge a connection that then enables him to open up.

Respect the real boy in him

Finally, parents can often help boys take off their masks by telling them stories about our own experiences, mistakes and mischief. Even if our boy groans or rolls his eyes when we begin to share our story, he almost always benefits from this. By discovering that, yes, we too have felt scared, embarrassed, or disappointed; the boy begins to feel less ashamed of his own vulnerable feelings. He feels our sympathy and discovers that we understand, love, and respect the real boy in him.

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