Teenage boys exude confidence, often presenting self-assurance that isn’t altogether real. Perhaps it’s part of learning how to be masculine, but for many this mask is an attempt to desperately hide a lack of confidence. The truth is that many teenage boys today feel unsure and depressed. Mental health experts say that teen male anxiety and depression are on a steep incline in recent years. Girls have long been more prone to depression than their male counterparts, but today teenage boys suffer depression at nearly the same rates. This is partly explained by greater levels of uncertainty in today’s world. Growing divorce rates mean today’s teens are children of divorce in unprecedented levels, and more teens are living in single parent households minus the stability that a married couple provides. In many cases, parents are distracted by work demands, divorce conflict or have simply checked out emotionally. This is the largest generation of kids to enter the turbulent teen years without the support of a stable family unit. There is culture-wide uncertainty affecting teen boys as well. High school boys are old enough to understand economic downturns, underemployment and the changing roles of women. Boys aren’t sure that college will open promised doors of opportunity. They aren’t sure that marriage is a safe bet. To top it all off, teenage boys are just as nervous as ever about how to successfully interact with the opposite sex. Teenage boys are feeling all of these pressures and anxieties but many of them don’t have a pressure valve. They don’t know how to sort out their emotions, much less talk about them with someone else. Identifying feelings and being able to process them verbally is a huge part of resolving anxiety. Internally, teen boys feel a roaring ocean of emotions but there is nowhere for the waves to break. Here are some ways to help the teenage boy in your life to find a safe shore:
- Talk to them. Express genuine interest in their life experiences and listen without attempting to correct or direct.
- Be there. Teenage boys will act as though they want you to move farther away when what they really want and need is for you to draw close. Stay close and be supportive with words and actions.
- Adjust their thinking. Help them to see things from the other person’s perspective and to think about how the other person feels. Ask them for specific words to describe how they are feeling in order to create an emotional vocabulary.
- Keep them grounded. Make sure they stay engaged when conflicts arise. Don’t allow them to detach.
- Learn how they tick. Do some self-education on the subject of male adolescent psychology. There are helpful books which reveal how boys struggle and the fears they commonly face.
- Teach them to ask for feedback. They need to invite others to tell them how they sound or come across. This is a tool everyone needs because none of us sees or hears ourselves with objectivity.
- Feelings are not weaknesses. Talk with them about how to manage strong emotions. Anger, fear, stress and self-doubt are real but boys need to be taught the right ways to cope with negative feelings. Without guidance, boys tend toward turning negative emotions into violent outbursts. Sometimes the violence is against others, and sometimes against themselves. Substance abuse is a form of self-violence due to an inability to manage strong emotions.
Teenage boys don’t know how to ask for help, but they need it. If a father is still in the picture, he’s the best person to take on many of these tasks, but even if dad is not on the scene, mom or another adult can step in and help a young man take off the mask and sort through the tough realities. Without that help, many young men will fall into depression.