“I don’t understand why this happened to me. Why me, in particular? Everyone says I have a purpose or I’m chosen for something great, but I didn’t choose it. So, why me?”
Those words poured out from my 15-year-old adopted son as I was driving. It was dark, and he was in the passenger seat. I noticed the stars were out, but he had his gaze locked straight ahead, watching reflective lines on the highway. We had been talking about his past, which includes multiple abandonments and a major life upheaval at age 11 that eventually led him to our home.
To many, adolescent and teen boys are a mystery. One can spend hours observing them and wonder if there’s much going on in those brains of theirs. They seem to be filled with a lot of impulse, some roughhousing and smack talk (mostly to friends, but also to adults), and they shut you out with grunts and one-word answers. Obviously, there are exceptions, but after raising five boys, two of whom are 15 right now and the rest older, I have noticed some things.
Adolescent and teen boys are trying to find their place in the pecking order of the world. They are defining manhood, “trying out” the different types of men they’ve seen in society, they are deciding the company they want to keep, the sports or clubs they join, how they want to be defined… but it doesn’t look so eloquent from the outside, does it?
Do you want to know what’s going on? How they’re doing? What they’re thinking about lately?
Take Them for a Drive
I noticed that my boys could go days without sharing anything personal, no matter what I asked, the tone of voice in which I asked it, or how nonchalant I tried to be. But take them for a drive, and they answer questions, even including little anecdotes and open expression! It’s like a miracle… and it’s also confirmed by psychology.
According to Psychology Today, “The side-by-side frame increases men’s comfort level and eliminates the feeling of ‘competition.”
“Numerous studies have established that men are more likely to define emotional closeness as working or playing side-by-side.” (Nelson Ph. D., 2014)
I know it can be tough to find time for a drive if you’re like my family and have multiple children who are in different grades with different activities. But if you can find one day a week where you explore an area 15+ minutes away, you can start trying out conversation in the car. Ask open-ended questions. Listen thoughtfully. Laugh with them. Even get mad with them (I don’t know how to explain this one, but validating negative emotion before working toward a solution actually helps my boys to WANT a solution!). Be patient. If they’re quiet at first, let them pick the music. Ask simple questions, share your thoughts, and follow your thoughts with another question. After some time, you will find that some of your favorite memories are made when you simply take them for a drive.
- Nelson Ph. D., A., 2014. Why You Stand Side-by-Side or Face-to-Face. [online] Psychology Today. [Accessed 28 November 2021].
This blog article was contributed by Cherie Johnson, adoptive/foster parent at Nexus-Kindred Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.