Parents, being adults, try desperately to talk with their sons about deep feelings. They fear their sons are hiding their emotions and that’s causing all sorts of problems behaviorally. Pushing most boys and young men to “open up” and express emotions can backfire. They often shut down. While it’s important to not bottle all emotions up, a surprisingly different approach is often more effective in helping boys feel positive and moving them developmentally forward.
Find what they desire and then push them to make positive changes in order to earn what they want. Case in point, one young man wants an iPhone and guitar desperately. He can think of nothing else. Those are symbols of power and young adulthood, but he’s not acting like a young adult these days. He fights with his parents and doesn’t do basics, like homework and chores.
Rather than explore in long-term therapy how he feels or why he does these things – as if there are deep rooted problems to bring to the surface – I recommended to his parents that they set up a simple behavioral program to earn the guitar and phone based on incremental, realistic changes. If the boy is motivated to earn these things, he will change.
What’s most surprising in my years as a psychologist is how effective this simple strategy is with boys and young men. They adopt greater maturity not by talking through their feelings, but by working harder and harder for what they want to achieve and own.