Interpreting Your Teenage Son’s Silence

See no evil, hear no evil

Photo by Charlotte Boyle

Sciencemag.org did a study to find out if women really do use more words per day than men.

“We addressed the question about sex differences in daily word use with data from six samples based on 396 participants (210 women and 186 men) that were conducted between 1998 and 2004. Five of the samples were composed of university students in the United States, and the sixth, university students in Mexico.”

The results surprised the researchers. The data suggest that “women spoke on average 16,215 words and men 15,669 words over an assumed period of, on average, 17 waking hours.”

Popular psychology suggests that women speak an average of 20,000 words, and men, 7,000 words per day. If this were true, a parent might conclude that her teenage son’s silence is normal, because he is becoming a man.

His silence may be normal for him, or he may have a deeper issue going on, but according to the research conducted at the University of Texas and Arizona, if we conclude he is quiet because he’s a teenage boy, we might miss his heart. I don’t know about you, but my sons are way too important to risk missing this one based upon a wrong conclusion. Assuming that there isn’t a deeper emotional problem going on, what are possible reasons that our sons are quieter at times, more often than they were in their younger years?

  • It might be that he has nothing to say at the moment.
  • It might be that the changes going on inside of him are clogging up his mind.
  • It might be that the things he’s thinking about seem more like a ‘dad’ conversational topic that a ‘mom’ one.
  • It might be that he’s concerned about a friendship, how he responded to someone, or how he was treated.

Boys and girls are created differently; each is given awesome qualities that the other doesn’t have. Frequency of words is not one of those differences. Therefore, if you have a quiet son who used to be talkative, consider these five responses.

  1. Pray for him.
  2. Pray for topics to talk about.
  3. Rest with his silence.
  4. Show interest in his world.
  5. Give him undeserved grace.

Showing interest in my teenage child’s world and making an effort to keep the lines of communication open looks different than it did when they were young.  An ice cream cone and 20 minutes on the floor with Legos did the trick back then. Sharing books and movies works well for us in a general stay-connected kind of way. Getting to the deeper issues takes more concentration and effort.

Mothers are notorious for mothering, even after our term is over. My personal goal at this stage is to practice asking questions that show that I care, but not in the annoying kind of way where I’m trying make sure everything is alright.  A teenage boy is becoming a man. He’s trying to work out how to manage life like a man. Once, he was your little baby, and all he wanted was your time and attention. He didn’t care what you talked about, as long as you were together. It’s different when he begins to change.

Carefully thought-out questions make a difference. Questions that bring up memories of tense conversations are not the best to ask when your goal is show you care. However, questions that show interest might keep the two of you connected, even when his lips are as tight as a clam shell. Trial and error will prove beneficial if you keep at it.

Questions to avoid

  • If your son is routinely late, asking him what time his practice starts is probably not the question to ask if you want to open up lines of communication.
  • If your son is an introvert, and during his first 12 years of life you encouraged him to make new friends, then asking him if he met a new friend today is probably not the question to ask.

Good questions may or may not get you more than a one-word answer or grunt. Thankfully, his response is not the measure of your success or failure. Genuine questions that show interest accomplish a very important thing — acknowledgment that you are thinking about him, that he is important to you. If you have a teenage son who is irritable, he probably doesn’t like this about himself. He may wonder if he deserves to be loved when he thinks about how often he responds with an irritable tone. The best thing for him is for you to freely offer forgiveness when he apologizes over and over for the same thing and even when he doesn’t. Grace is a powerful advocate. Moving toward our teenage sons in positive ways, especially when they act out, reminds them that they are lovable, acceptable, and important. The key to loving others is to remember, “Choose your actions because they are loving, not for the response you hope to get.” Tweet this. 

Small talk, unobtrusive questions

  • What are your plans today?
  • How is [name his favorite friend] doing?
  • If he’s a football fan: Do you think the [his favorite team] will beat [the name of the other team]?
  • If he likes music, turn on the radio station that plays the kind of music he likes.

If we practice more listening than directing, we will be given the opportunity to share his world with him. At our house, it’s usually late at night. Most of the time, listening without speaking works best. I have to constantly remind myself of this. When the talkative window opens, I want to share, too. Now and then I can tell he wants my input. In those times, I ask less superficial questions and offer advice if he asks for it.

Heartfelt questions by invitation

  • What do you think you should do?
  • What part of that is troubling you most?
  • Do you want my input, my opinion?

If, along the way, your son’s silence has become infectious to you, he may act skeptical when you change your tactics and begin to make conversation again. Let that be okay. Set your mind on loving him because you do, not because he acts in a way that makes you feel loving. You never know; after awhile, he just might warm up to your advances.

How do you love your children when they clam up?

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