Ask the Experts! Is this normal teenage boy behaviour?

May 29, 2019

Ask the Experts! Is this normal teenage boy behaviour?


Ask the Experts is your chance to get advice from specialists/experts in the field of adolescence.  So if you've got a question/ issue/ conundrum around parenting teens, send it in and we will ask a specialist in that field to provide a response to be published here on the website.  Your question will remain anonymous and the advice will be tailored to the scenario presented.

It is our hope that this is another way we can help parents, help their teens...


Audience Question:

My Son is 16 (17 in June).  He often seems uncomfortable in his skin and I'm not sure how to help him. We get on well but he is not one to come forth to discuss his feelings or express his emotions. He has always been a 'man of few words' and when gently probed to engage in open discussions he offers little more than 'maybe's, 'I guess so's or 'I'm not sure's'. I don't consider myself to be an overly prying parent and usually interact with more general comments like - 'how was your day', 'did you have fun' etc.

In hindsight there have been times when I maybe should have delved deeper but generally take the view that hopefully he's OK. I’m usually not aware of what might be impacting him until much after the event. One time was when I became aware he was being bullied in year 4 (by a supposed friend). I addressed this with his teacher but I really think the damage had been done and now think it has  followed him through the remainder of Primary School by way of a steady decline in confidence. Since then, there have been odd incidents when a remark by a peer or teammate has possibly added to his insecurities.

His father on the other hand is constantly offering advice on health, happiness, social engagement, how the brain works and any other topic he can think of. My son is a loyal child and tries to take on board his advice. I sometimes think too much information could be contributing to his lack of self-confidence as it may make him feel like he is being 'corrected' and needs to be 'fixed'.

Two years ago we changed schools as it became apparent he was not happy at his school and seemingly had no connection with anyone. Whilst very open to changing schools he really didn't say too much about how unhappy he had been but his Year Advisor expressed concern that he didn't socialise in or out of class. It came to light during an Interview with his new (School) Principal that 3 of his friends had left at the end of year 8 and he had not bonded with other students. The change of School has been a very positive one and he now has a group of friends he socialises with in and out of school - although we have only met them at school events - he is reluctant to invite them home. I will also add that he has two good friends from Primary School (at Private High Schools) who as a family, we remain in touch with and he has a comfortable relationship with.

He plays Hockey (and has for 10 years) but he seems to be quite intimidated at times by his team mates. Some he has known for many years although has not formed 'friendships' with. He is quite socially awkward and uneasy about initially joining a 'gathered group' at trainings and yet he doesn’t seem intimidated at the prospect of meeting a totally new team. I interpret this as being that he believes people who know him are judging him or don't like him and so he feels inferior and reluctant to be himself around them.

Just wondering whether this sounds typical of teenagers, boys in particular? In contrast, I have a 15 year old Daughter who has no problem expressing herself or discussing friendship concerns etc.

I would be very keen to know your thoughts on how to talk to my son to enable him to 'offload' any concerns he has.

Image by Adriano Gadini from Pixabay 


Expert's response:


Thank you for sharing your story so openly.  It is refreshing to hear you speak about some of your reflections and where you might be able to improve things!  Good on you! 


To answer your questions:

About his father:  It is possible that dad has talked too much at your son without taking the time to learn about his story and, most importantly of all, validate his feelings.  However, your husband is amazing for even starting these conversations!

Is this typical teenage boy behaviour:  Sort of.  I find teenage boys (and adult men for that matter) to be less open in talking about social events, feelings and thoughts.  Having said that, if you change up the location i.e., talk to him while he is doing something like kicking a ball, practicing hockey or even putting the groceries away (if you can get him to do that!) it is a much better approach then sitting face to face with him.  The best way to determine the answer to this question though is to ask the following:  Is this current behaviour ‘normal for my child?’.  It is not useful to compare your child to another but instead compare your child to himself.  If he has always been quieter and on the shy side then this would be quite normal.  If he used to be outgoing and sociable and now he’s not, this could be a sign that something is not quite right.

How can I talk with him: I could tell you a million different ways to get a young man to open up and talk.  But I’m going to suggest one very simple and highly effective technique.  And, when he does start to open up, it is imperative that you listen carefully, never pass judgement, even subtly, and never over react, no matter what he says.  To get him to keep opening up he must feel safe, understood and that ‘anything goes’.

So try this first, the gentle assumption method: instead of asking him how his days was, try to read his body language and emotion and make a gentle assumption about his day, ensuring that you end the statement with some validation.  For example: “you seem a bit uneasy today.  I can imagine it would be quite intimidating to approach those boys over there – that would probably make me feel a bit nervous too”.  Then just wait to see his reaction.  Do this enough times and he will very likely feel as if you understand and get him and he’ll feel more comfortable opening up.

You son may benefit from social skills training to learn very specific skills that will increase his confidence to engage with others and some support to manage his anxiety.  It is hard to say whether your son has a skills deficit or has anxiety or both.  Based on your story, there are some key indicators that your son is experiencing some type of anxiety that might be impacting his self esteem and ability to socialise.  I would suggest that he talk with the school counsellor or a psychologist and obtain some strategies to address this in a way that is specific to him.

I really hope this is of assistance to you.


Author bio: Davina Donovan is a practicing Psychologist, with over 10 years of industry experience. She is also an author, speaker, researcher, educator and consultant with a special interest and experience in Teenagers, Parenting and Suicide. Davina has seen and heard just about everything when it comes to Teens: the good, the bad and the ugly. For years, Davina has listened to Teenagers tell her things they would not dream of telling their parents; all the while, supporting parents as they watch on helplessly, feeling fear, guilt and anger. Davina has the unique skill of ‘Speaking Teen’ and has a passion for empowering parents and Teenagers to remain connected during the inevitable challenges that arise in the Teenage years. You can find Davina at Speak Teen

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