What more can I do to help my teenage son?
January 13, 2013 4:10 PM   Subscribe

My 15 year old son is in 9th grade. He is not doing well in math (he's always struggled). He has no real friends to speak of. He has no desire to try any sports or extracurricular activities. He just turned 15 and doesn't seem at all interested in getting his restricted drivers license. He doesn't seem at all depressed. He tends towards the quiet side, but on the right topic he talks alot.

Something that may be of note: when he was about 15 months old he and I were in Walmart. He saw a female cabbage patch doll and wanted it. He had a three alarm meltdown when I wouldn't buy it. He also played with Barbie doll alot when he was younger. He never wanted trucks or male action figures, much to my husbands dismay. I thought it was a phase. He also has always gravitated towards hanging around girls at school/afterschool.

He is the oldest of my three children (I have 9yo boy girl twins). I am wondering if there is anything I can do to help him do better in school and socially? We have sent him to private tutors and the larger Sylvan learning centers. He is enrolled in Kumon currently and goes twice a week. I have him do a minimum of 30 minutes practice with algebra/math dvds every night. He is an average student in his other classes.

I am concerned with how he will fare after high school and in life. I know my question is all over the place. I just want to give as full a description of my child and his personality so I can, hopefully, get some input as to what, if anything, more I can do?
posted by getyourlife to Human Relations (46 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
What does he like to talk about? Are there activities you could encourage for those things?
posted by quodlibet at 4:19 PM on January 13, 2013


Have you tried...um...talking to him? Asking him what he likes or doesn't like or wants to do, rather than just basing things on what things seem like, or what he liked to play with when he was a toddler?

It's possible he gets bullied/picked on at school, and just hates being there, especially if he doesn't have any friends. That can be tough to deal with, especially if he feels he has to deal with the same things at home (dad thinks he's a sissy, tutoring=parents think he's dumb, etc).

You say that he talks a lot when it's the right topic. Encourage that topic, whatever it is! Help him find other kids his age who like the same things, and maybe it'll help him find his people and realize there's more to life than high school.


He also has always gravitated towards hanging around girls at school/afterschool.

o.O Huh? I don't even know how to parse this. What is the problem here?
posted by phunniemee at 4:21 PM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think before you can help your son, you have to better articulate for yourself the issue. For instance, I am not sure why something he did 13 years ago as a toddler matters. This is probably not a relevant detail for anything, ever. I find your focus on something so remote indicative of your not being really being clear on what you are trying to solve.
posted by milarepa at 4:21 PM on January 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


Something that may be of note: when he was about 15 months old he and I were in Walmart. He saw a female cabbage patch doll and wanted it. He had a three alarm meltdown when I wouldn't buy it. He also played with Barbie doll alot when he was younger. He never wanted trucks or male action figures, much to my husbands dismay. I thought it was a phase.

This is unbelievably inconsequential. Give it no further thought. Small kids play with the toys that they like, and don't really pay attention to what society thinks is 'gender appropriate'.

He also has always gravitated towards hanging around girls at school/afterschool.

Um, he's a fifteen year old boy. If he is successfully hanging out with girls, good for him.

It's not clear what the problem here. Can you elaborate?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:27 PM on January 13, 2013 [20 favorites]


I don't understand the problem either. You say he's not good at math ... but what about all of school in general, or other classes that may seem (to you) less important than math?

Many, many, many teenagers don't want to drive, for many, many reasons.

Playing with girls, wanting to have a doll as a toddler? I don't know what is wrong with these things. If he senses a judgmental attitude on your part (or on his father's), then he's not going to feel comfortable sharing with you whatever other interests he may have.

Sports and math are not the only worthwhile things for teenagers to do.
posted by headnsouth at 4:37 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


If my parents appeared to be homophobic in the way you and your husband sort of do, I too would be withdrawn. What if your son is gay or questioning his sexuality and the reason he seems withdrawn is because you and your husband keep giving off the impression he isn't welcome to be who he is? He may not even be gay at all, but perhaps he thinks that if he is true to himself and his likes you and your husband will assume that = gay = bad which is really damaging and scary for someone developing their identity as a young adult.

The problem here seems to be your semi negative perception of your son, because aside from that, he sounds fairly normal and you haven't given any other evidence that your son is doomed for failure. Show your son that he is just who he needs to be and that you and your husband don't think he's weird for that and see if he seems less withdrawn after that.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:38 PM on January 13, 2013 [30 favorites]


It sounds like you're anxious about your son's gender expression and/or sexuality, and you're concerned that his concerns are making him secretly depressed or ill-at-ease in the world and that's impacting his social life. Vis-a-vis the dolls and girls: without more data, that could mean anything! He could identify as trans! He could be a femme-y straight guy! He could be gay! He could be a regular guy who just was into dolls and likes women. I think that making sure that he knows that you'll love and accept him in his gender and sexuality, no matter what they are, is the best gift you can give him here. Also, support him - if you realize that he's paying lots of attention during a news story about a trans teen, for example, let him talk to you about that story. (Although that situation might mean nothing at all! Your child is only trans if your child identifies that way) If he wants to do something that's not macho - learn to knit or whatever - support him in that.

In terms of school: you could ask him what he wants to do and where he sees himself in five years. If he's genuinely not into academics, would it make sense for him to look at skilled trades? Is he good with his hands? Is he good with designy stuff? Would he like to try classes or hobbies that might help him identify stuff like this? Would he be interested in healthcare, like being a med tech? There are lots of jobs that you can get even if you're not a star at school, particularly if you can start on your training early instead of flailing and failing through an unsuitable major at college.

Are you worried that he's secretly being bullied or has something going on that makes him a loner? That might could be! Maybe he's just not telling you! I was a total loner in junior high and high school because I was bullied until I withdrew totally, and my parents...hm, I am sure they noticed, but they never said anything or took any steps the way parents might in mefite social circles today. I don't know what you'd do about that, though - work on your relationship with him and support him in hobbies/vocation stuff?

How does your family fit in locally? Are you averagely well-off? Does your son have much of what his classmates have? Does your family do the kinds of things that other families do? Definitely one reason I was a weirdo loner was that my family was a lot poorer than everyone else. Another (one that has actually served me well in the long run!) is that my family is a bunch of intellectual weirdo loners and we did very little of what others did, so I had little in common with my classmates.

Also, do you and your husband socialize much? My parents really do not - they think of me as a social butterfly because I might see a friend once a week - and growing up with that model brought me to see it as normal. (Which isn't bad! If you like being alone, there's no problem!)

Why not unpack why you are so worried about the Cabbage Patch doll incident? Why do you feel that it indicates something big about your son? What are you afraid of it indicating? Does it represent something about you? Do you worry a lot about missing a tiny sign that your son needs something and then Messing Everything Up Because You Did Not Notice? (I have a lot of this kind of anxiety.)
posted by Frowner at 4:38 PM on January 13, 2013 [26 favorites]


How I read the problem is that he's having a bit of trouble in school, doesn't seem very socially active, and had a tendency toward girls toys, and also with girls. The mother sees that he doesn't exhibit passion for moving forward in his life (no desire for a drivers license, lack of effort in school), and worries about what will become of him in three years, when he's off on his own. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

There's a few things that come to mind.

1) In my experience of being a 15 year old boy, there is a spectrum – a broad spectrum – of how teenagers relate to their parents.

Some parents are very well-adjusted and have appropriate boundaries. Their kids come to them in trust and confidence, and the parents know a lot about the kid's life.

Other parents don't recognise the shift of a child to a young man, and his related need for independence. Independence does not just happen – it must be fostered. These parents connect to the kid about half the time – usually on family stuff. The kid keeps everything else separate. The language the kid uses is "they just don't understand" and often the parents are relatively oblivious to the kid's real interests and altering personality.

Some parents are real menaces to their kids. They are either helicopter parents or overly anxious about The Bad Things In The World. Their kids don't tell them anything because the parents don't have appropriate boundaries. There is no separation of identity, rather anything the kid brings to the parents becomes "our problem". Unsurprisingly, kids end up hiding things, sometimes their entire lives.

2) There seems to be subtext here around homosexuality. So sub it's not even in text, so maybe I'm reading too much into it. If that's the concern, you at least need to be able to articulate it. Some kids are gay. You may have a gay kid. Lots of people have gay kids. There's nothing wrong with them, they're just gay. If you think your kid might be gay, you need to accept it and create an environment where he feels safe and comfortable to be himself, and become himself. If that's not an option, then that's your problem not his – although it is going to deeply affect him.

And actually, regardless of whether he's gay or not, are you creating the kind of environment where he feels safe to be himself? You seem to have some guilt about the doll incident. Is that indicative of his upbringing? For this, it's probably worth looking at the relationship with his father. Are they close? Do they connect? Is he starting to model behaviours on his father? Or is he actively trying to differentiate himself from his father?

If you're not having the relationship you want with your son, it's up to you to change because you are the one that is dissatisfied. The maths focus is interesting. Some kids aren't good at maths. Some really couldn't be bothered. It sounds very important to you, but is it important to him? What is important to him? I'll tell you that there are things that are very important to him. Teenagers typically generate their identities by rather tight attachment to things that excite them. That's how they learn to become themselves. What is he attached to?

I guess that's my general read. There seems to be a gulf between you and the kid, and you're concerned about it. That sounds fair enough. You cannot force him to relate to you. What you can do is provide a space for him, and show him how to relate. He's still modelling. He'll relate to you in his way, and you need to be aware of what that way is. He probably has friends. Maybe they're online. Or maybe he hides them from you. Or maybe he's embarrassed of them. Or of you. Or something. But he probably has friends. If you're not seeing them, you may need to look at bit harder. Not ask, look.

3) One thing that's great for kids in high school are study abroad programmes. It can really help ignite their independence. It's a structured programme where they are safe and monitored, yet at the same time, not by parents, so the kids can be largely self-directed. Navigating foreign cities is both exciting and challenging, and doing so successfully (which is designed into the programme) is often deeply satisfying for them.

If not study abroad, some other programme where they are supervised by adults that you trust, but who are not you. That keeps the kids safe whilst also allowing them to be themselves.
posted by nickrussell at 4:51 PM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was a lot more fucked up than this when I was 15. I'm great now. My advice to you would be to count your blessings and be friends with your son.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:53 PM on January 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


When he was four, my normally placid son had the biggest loudest five alarm meltdown in the middle of a huge shopping mall over a gold sequin encrusted purse with a rhinestone clasp the size of a chicken's egg. The salesclerk told him, "You don't want this, this is a ladies purse," which was kind of the wrong thing to say because I went and bought the same purse for him at different store. That purse (and the cabbage patch doll) foretold...absolutely nothing and even if it did somehow mean something, so what: neither the denial or gain of the purse/doll would change who our sons are.

Your son sounds like he doesn't have much time after school to do anything but academics practice: my son used to go to Kumon as well and if I recall, their daily worksheets are geared to be completed in ~30 minutes (which, for a struggling math student like my son, dragged out to at least a hour). On top of that, you've got him doing another half hour of math DVDs and I'm assuming he's got homework assigned from his high school too.

At some point, you have to stop trying to hammer math into him. At this stage, it's unlikely to be effective and most importantly, it's coming at the expense of his having the time to discover and practice what he enjoys doing. Whatever that thing is, that he enjoys doing? That's the seed of what he will be doing after high school, into college and his adult life. Even if you don't understand why he likes what he likes, find it in yourself to like it at least for no other reason than because he likes it.
posted by jamaro at 5:18 PM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Regarding what nickrussell said about friends - the kid may not actually have any friends. There were times when I had no friends, and it certainly wasn't because I didn't want any. I went to a small school and was stuck in the "loser" role. It's hard to make friends when no-one will even talk to you except for insults. In fact it's hard to even borrow a pencil.

But it's not permanent! He can try to befriend other loner kids, for starters. And if there is a "new kid" at the school he can try being friends with them. I usually lost the "new kid" when they realized I was unpopular, but in the last few years of high school I gained two awesome close friends after they switched to my school. And things kept getting better, especially after I moved away to go to university. Now I have so many friends, the puzzle is making time to hang out with them all.
posted by fullerenedream at 5:21 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't understand what it is that you think you need to help him with, considering you say he doesn't seem depressed. It's good that you encourage his education, but if you've got him a tutor etc and he's still not great at math, it just isn't his strong suit, and that's ok. Honestly, I have never particularly needed to know math in my life besides being able to calculate change and pay bills. Trigonometry is not useful unless you are in particular fields, and your son is probably not aiming for those fields.

About the social thing, some people are introverted. It's fine. There is nothing wrong with him not having lots and lots of friends etc. AT ALL. If he seemed lonely or depressed, that would be a thing, but just "quiet"? Not a problem.

About the gender thing... I don't even know where to start. Everyone else has pretty much covered it. I would really, really avoid making snap judgement or assumptions about your son's sexuality or identity based on such random things. I guarantee you he can sense it.

Actually a lot of this question seems to be based in some sort of very specific idea about how your son SHOULD be (good at math, into sports, social, manly-man) and the fact that he's not, and how you can get him to be more like your ideal. The sooner you get over that, the better.

Basically, I think your son is normal and fine, and the only way you need to "help" him is by changing your perspective that his personality is Wrong.
posted by celtalitha at 5:23 PM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


If you are concerned that your child might be transgender, you might want to do some specific research, and talk to a trans-friendly therapist.

Trans Kids is a good place to start.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:23 PM on January 13, 2013


Hi, I am a mental health therapist (I am not your or your kid's therapist) and I work with kids and teens. From the information you chose to emphasize, I have these suggestions for how you can do more to help your son:

1) Tell him "I love you" lots, even though he is a teenage boy and may not want to hear it right now. It's still important that you keep saying it, and more importantly, that you always show it.

2) By "show it" I mean: communicate to him that you accept him for who he is and support whatever dreams he has for himself and his future. If you don't actually accept him for who he is and support whatever dreams he has for himself, then I suggest you get to work on getting to that, because you will actively harm your son by communicating disapproval and lack of support. He sounds like he is actually well-adjusted, normal, and totally fine, but you as a parent absolutely have the power to change that by pressuring him to be someone other than who he is.

3) You say he has interests, but do you know what they are? Do you talk with him about them, and encourage them? If you focus only on the things you see as his weaknesses (math), so will he, and he will resent your lack of attention to what he's doing well. In the child/adolescent psychology world, there is a popular idea that for every ONE critical statement or comment you make to a child, it takes SEVEN positive ones to balance it out so that a child does not take away the overall message of criticism without acceptance or acknowledgement of his strengths.

4) Encouraging his interests could also encourage him to connect more socially. Is he in a small school? Many kids who are quirky or have different interests from the majority of the kids in their environment don't socially blossom until their worlds become larger and they have more choice of friends.

5) This is a lot more up-front than I might usually say to a parent, but as I said, I'm answering based on what you chose to emphasize here. There's a reason that suicide rates in the United States are extremely, disproportionately high among LGBT youth. If you think your son is gay, and you're communicating to him verbally or nonverbally that that's something horrific that needs to be fixed about him, you're not helping him.
posted by so_gracefully at 5:27 PM on January 13, 2013 [38 favorites]


when he was about 15 months old he

At just over a year old, you aren't signaling to parents that you have same-sex desires, if that's what you're worried about. He was still learning how to talk and maybe poop in a toilet. Nobody should be held even slightly accountable for what they did when they were 1 year and 3 months old.
posted by Houstonian at 5:28 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've not talked to you and I've not talked to your son. I am a licensed social worker and have experience in adolescent counseling.

I just wanted to make a couple of comments (IANYSW): It sounds like your son is, basically, not doing too badly, don't make too much of this. And, if you need to take your concerns further, I would suggest that you seek counseling for you and your spouse, not your child, this route will help you identify what future needs are and how you can support him as he is. And, as mentioned above, make sure that the therapist you seek doesn't have negative perceptions in the area of gender identification.
posted by HuronBob at 5:28 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


He tends towards the quiet side, but on the right topic he talks alot.

This is your key—listen to him. Stop thinking about what you think 15 year old boys should be like and get to know the one living under your roof.

You are lucky to have option. It is not at all uncommon for kids this age to practically shut out their folks altogether.

Finally, please listen to what everyone has said re your attitude about gender behavior and possible homophobia.
posted by she's not there at 5:30 PM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Go easy on him? You tagged this with "flunking" but if he's doing average.. average is average for a reason, that's where most kids are - that doesn't seem so bad, half the school must be below average. But I guess it wouldn't hurt to tell him, without being judgy, that it will make his life easier in the future if he gets decent enough grades to be able to go to a decent college. And don't a lot of people hate math and struggle at it? I do. But I never have to use it, other than basic addition/multiplication etc. I hated high school too, I thought most kids' interests & the ones adults seemed to think were acceptable (sports, school spirit, hanging out with the popular crowd, lame music, and more sports) were stupid. Maybe he will love college because he can get away from high school and meet more people like him, who are quiet and don't care about sports. All my friends from high school hated it and were weirdos. Most of them are quite successful now.

Are you giving him the message that you think something is very wrong with him just being the way he is? There is a lot of disapproval all through what you wrote & not a lot of appreciation.
posted by citron at 5:30 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I hated school - the kids, the classes, everything. Its possible that my parents might have described me similarly when i was in high school (other than the weird suspicion of gender or sexual confusion based on nothingness).

What helped me was finding a social circle that was outside of school. Where i could have a bit of a 'fresh start', and where the crap i hated at school didn't follow me. It was great to be in an environment where achievement didnt' matter at all - my grades, how good i was/wasn't at sports/music/acting were all totally irrelevant. (For me, this was joining BBYO - B'nai Brith Youth Organization, essentially a social and secular jewish youth group.)

Your kid's value isn't based on his grades or the number of friends he has, and there's a really good chance he doesn't know that.
posted by Kololo at 5:48 PM on January 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


I have four teen boys - they're not all the same. One is very sports guy (any sports any time - mostly team sports), one is summer sports only (sailing & surfing - mostly singular sports), one is into the military and a sailor and one is artistic. All from the same family, same parents, all within 5 years. 2 are quiet (one very quiet) and 2 are more outgoing. BTW their school grades are all over the place. Their socialization is all over as well. Most teen boys IMO are not really super social unless they are "jocks". He may be social at school but not at home. Have you talked to his guidance counselor? What are the subjects that he does talk to you about? Being bad at math doesn't mean anything. If he does well in his other subjects, some kids do better in one subject and not others.

Have you tried other things to bring him out? Our son who is more into art wanted to do things that were more creative. He went to our local college and did some art classes through them after school. We went out of our way to find stuff for him to do.

It seems to me that he's quiet because he perceives a tacit lack of approval from his parents who don't seem to understand a boy who's not into "manly" things. It's your job to help him find and maintain his interests.
posted by lasamana at 5:56 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I should mention I do try to talk to him about things he likes to talk about or he's interested in: Hunger Games, art, even video games he likes to play. I mentioned his Walmart meltdown, but I should have mentioned he still likes to play with his sister's Barbie dolls. He sleeps with a ragdoll my sister made for him (at his request) several years ago. Whatever videogame he plays, he ALWAYS chooses to play as a female. I don't make an issue of these things, I just made a mental note. He swears he is not bullied at school. He never misses school, I never have any resistance from him going what-so-ever. I don't know if any of this is pertinent, again, just trying to paint a full picture of my child and his personality.
posted by getyourlife at 6:00 PM on January 13, 2013


One more very important thing, I don't care if my son is gay, straight, trans, bi, I just want him to be happy and well adjusted!
posted by getyourlife at 6:08 PM on January 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


but I should have mentioned he still likes to play with his sister's Barbie dolls. He sleeps with a ragdoll my sister made for him (at his request) several years ago. Whatever videogame he plays, he ALWAYS chooses to play as a female. I don't make an issue of these things, I just made a mental note. He swears he is not bullied at school. He never misses school, I never have any resistance from him going what-so-ever. I don't know if any of this is pertinent, again, just trying to paint a full picture of my child and his personality.

Are you worried that he may be gay or transgender? Is that a problem for you or your husband? Would you love him less if he were? He may just be trying to figure out his identity. He may be gay/transgender or he may not be. I still think your job is to guide through him life and to do it without any preconceived notions of his sexuality. Teen years are hard enough without your parents questioning what your choices are. I'm just a mom who happens to think if he's still talking to you and he's not expressing any depression, leave it alone. If he wants to do more things with girls let him. It seems to me the problem is you - you seem to be uncomfortable with him.
posted by lasamana at 6:15 PM on January 13, 2013


He never wanted trucks or male action figures, much to my husbands dismay. I thought it was a phase .... I don't make an issue of these things, I just made a mental note.

You may think you don't, but you do and you can be sure your son is aware of it. You started out your question with "my son is not doing well in math" but everything else is about gender issues.

Your question is still unclear. What are you asking?
posted by headnsouth at 6:28 PM on January 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


With all due respect, your actions and your words disagree -- you may think you're okay with it, but your post communicates homophobia. And you are making an issue of it! The fact that you continue to supply anecdata about your son's supposedly abnormal behavior but have yet to say, "My son might be gay; how can I support him?" indicates that you are not really aligned with what you think of yourself and your opinions about your son's sexuality (supposed or otherwise).

So what's the problem with your son? There isn't one. But your post makes it sound like you feel like he's flawed in some way. That means the real problem here is you, not him. Stop painting your son as if he is something that needs fixing or improvement -- he needs your love, and that of your husband, and if neither of you can give it to him if he displays behavior outside of your frame of reference for "normal male teen", make sure that that is the square 1 you start from so you can be the parents he may need.

Start modeling non-judgmental behavior. Graciously welcome whatever friends he has into your home, and tend to the things he likes with love and care and make his home a place of safety, kindness, and acceptance. And make sure your husband is on the same wavelength as you, because if he is not okay with his son being whatever and whoever he is, his behavior towards his son may be profoundly damaging and destructive.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:46 PM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


He sleeps with a ragdoll my sister made for him (at his request) several years ago.

At this moment, there is a 3 foot fuzzy dinosaur stuffed toy in my bed. I'm a 31 year old, straight, reasonably happy man.

Whatever videogame he plays, he ALWAYS chooses to play as a female.

So? If I play Mario Kart as Mario, that doesn't mean I want to be a plumber.

One more very important thing, I don't care if my son is gay, straight, trans, bi, I just want him to be happy and well adjusted!

Good. Check your assumptions, talk to your kid, and communicate to him in whatever way possible that you just want him to be happy, and you'll support him no matter what he chooses.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:12 PM on January 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


Some kids are just not great at math. His struggling with algebra is not an indicator that something is wrong with him. If he were to suddenly start failing his classes, or have another sudden change in behavior/habits, that could be an indicator that he was dealing with some other issue.

Given your concerns about his social life and possible issues with sexuality or gender identity, I suggest you look into local parenting resources--not because you're a bad parent or are doing anything wrong, but because I think he'd benefit more from you having some new tools in your parenting tool belt than he would from anything that further pathologized him. See if there is a PFLAG group or similar, or just a general parenting support group, and attend a couple of meetings. See if you can learn from other parents who have had similar experiences with their teens.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:15 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for all the responses. I did not grow up with brothers, I was one of four girls. Raising a son, admittedly, is not something I am familiar with. I admit some of my concerns about my son are all just my overly anxious personality. The last thing I want is for my son to feel I don't love or accept him exactly as he is. I don't want my fears to impact him negatively. I will go talk to a therapist about my anxiety and fears. Again, thank you all. I knew putting this out here would help me get the perspective I needed.
posted by getyourlife at 7:24 PM on January 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I am not your therapist, but I'm wondering if you're quite concerned that your son has no friends and is rather withdrawn and perhaps not expressing emotion and engaging with people in the way you'd expect of someone his age. Maybe you're focusing on the gender stuff because it is something to focus on -- because the other issues are more ambiguous and elusive?

I wonder if you'd consider taking your son in for a professional psychological evaluation, because it sounds as if you're looking for another "pair of eyes" to see what you're seeing. I don't think it would be such a terrible thing, so "pathologizing" or "labelling," to do this.

You want to see if your son is functioning up to potential both academically and socially/emotionally. I trust that you are perceiving some attitudes and behaviors on the part of your son that are hard to understand and that concern you. It doesn't seem so strange that you'd want to explore this further to see if there is any clinical significance you need to be tuned into.

I'm also wondering if you've ever discussed your son's academic performance and behavior with anyone at his school (teachers, guidance counselor) to see if they have any concerns.
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:44 PM on January 13, 2013


I find the insinuations that the poster is homophobic insulting and quite frankly against guidelines. I think that Frowner did a great job replying to getyourlife's concerns. FWIW, OP, I also read your question as trying to 'paint a picture' of your child as you have stated, and far from seeing homophobia, I saw a concerned mother who fears that she has perhaps not nurtured her child's interests enough, that she is perhaps missing a large part of her child's identity, and that her child might be unhappy or turn out maladjusted because of this.

I am not a parent, but I think some of the other less judgmental and searching advice offered in this thread is good. Just make sure he knows how much you love him. Talk to him when you can, and when he is interested. Don't press him, because after all, he is a teenager. I am female, but I was a very withdrawn teenager, and I did not talk much to my mother. I was one of those that did not feel she 'understood' and while I had interests, I had a handful of friends, spent a lot of time on the computer and in my room, and didn't do many extracurriculars.

And I wouldn't try to grill him about his gender since it could make him uncomfortable or put him into a corner...just make it clear (without saying it of course) that however he turns out, you and his father will love and support him! Overall you sound like a concerned parent who is trying to do right by her son. I wouldn't worry too much.
posted by nonmerci at 7:56 PM on January 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


I don't understand why people are jumping on the OP. There is nothing homophobic about her observations. Obviously OP is wondering whether her son's unusual interest in dolls and preference for hanging out with girls could have something to do with why he seems disengaged with school and other typical teen guy interests like driving. It's not an unreasonable question.

OP, it's possible that the dolls etc are a sign of an unusual sexual identification; or it's possible that it has no other significance at all and he just finds the dolls comfortable. As long as you communicate clearly to your son that you love him unconditionally, you're doing fine. And there are ways to communicate acceptance of alternate sexualities and lifestyles without getting up in your son's grill about his own. For example, my kids are much smaller, but I make it a practice to discuss things like this in their hearing -- like recently an acquaintance of ours came out as transitioning M->F, and we found out about it in the context of her engagement, and my husband and discussed it and how happy we were for her to have found her path at the dinner table.

Just be loving and accepting, that's all.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:19 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was an introverted middle school student and my mom went bonkers trying to get me to do "normal" things like go on dates, have lots of friends, and engage in extracurricular activities.

She ended up buying me a guitar and a year's worth of lessons. Changed my life.
posted by bardic at 9:28 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks for all the responses. I did not grow up with brothers, I was one of four girls. Raising a son, admittedly, is not something I am familiar with. I admit some of my concerns about my son are all just my overly anxious personality. The last thing I want is for my son to feel I don't love or accept him exactly as he is. I don't want my fears to impact him negatively. I will go talk to a therapist about my anxiety and fears. Again, thank you all. I knew putting this out here would help me get the perspective I needed.

Good luck! I'm sure you'll do great.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:40 PM on January 13, 2013


When I was 15 I was into ... girls my age, other countries, odd music, sculptors, historians, old dead writers, long walks that started at 10pm, hallucinogens and alternative socioeconomic and political structures.

My parents, bless their hearts, politely listened and talked to me about every damn fool thing I thought was interesting, never asked me where I was going (so long as I checked in every day or two to let them know I was safe), never asked me about school, sports, driving, my gender or sexual identity, or anything they thought was good for me. When I barely passed the final year of HS and showed no interest in further school -- or further involvement in the city and society I lived in -- they bought me a plane ticket and wished me luck.

A few years, countries and jobs later, I went to Uni when I wanted to, got a degree, put together the adult life I wanted to, and wound up surprisingly normal, never having got any static from them about the numerous changes of plan. My path, mistakes and all, was mine to take without interference. I recommend all parents do the same.
posted by ead at 10:08 PM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


I should mention I do try to talk to him about things he likes to talk about or he's interested in: Hunger Games, art, even video games he likes to play.

He's interested in art.

If this includes making it, find a local art school (or even something like cabinetmaking at a local community college). Or drag him by a comic book shop on "24 hour comic / making zine day".

Making art may be meaningful work for him. Unlike "study the math dvd to do the worksheet to study the math dvd to ..."

He may be interested in the contempary art scene, and he may get a kick out of juxtapoz magazine and artist's magazine.

Make sure he has a decent workstation for making art at home and good materials.

In terms of math, bring this home:
Cartoon Guide to Physics

This might make the math more relevant for him; you can use it for something physics or architecture, or the robotics club.

He has no desire to try any sports
Check on martial arts, which is different from football or the stuff he sees at school.

Also consider hiking, or bike rides.

-------------------------------------

Regarding the gender stuff, dunno.

Keeping a copy of the book of the sex advice column Savage Love floating around the house may help a lot, if he is a round peg in a square hole. Or even if he's vanilla heterosexual - he's still a young teen whose primary education in sex ed is probably quite unrealistic porn videos.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:25 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The question is how you can help your son socially and academically? Therapy could help him. But you could find an interest of his that are constructive and that create challenging but attainable goals to boost his self esteem and allow him to find activities with others who share the same interest. If he isn't into sports, why not encourage him to explore some other things he may have not thought about or felt open to trying - music, theatre, art, philosophy, whatever. Most of all, I would say just be willing to listen and support him. And if it turns out you believe he is gay or even trans, that might be a separate question, but I would make sure you don't say anything he could construe as you not being accepting if he were to come out. You sound like a mom who cares. That already means he's doing OK. Good luck!
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:28 PM on January 13, 2013


I was this kid - in high school I was pretty socially withdrawn, terrible at maths, and had no interest in learning how to drive.

I was also into girlier stuff, and yeah, it was because I am gay.

My mother never showed any sort of judgement or stress about the path I was taking. She did stress when I finally made some friends who were into drugs in the final year of high school, so she was paying attention, but in regards to the way that my interests steered in high school she just left me to it as long as I kept turning up to school and passing. With driving she made it clear that it didn't matter to her whether I drove or not but made a point of never driving me anywhere so I became quite independent in that regard. With my sexuality that was a non-issue - she let me know it didn't bother her and left me to figure it out for myself.

As a result of a few chance decisions I made I have just finished law school, I have a good group of friends, I still suck at maths, I still don't drive, and I would say that I am pretty well adjusted.

My advice is pretty much just - don't sweat the small stuff. Your interventions probably won't have the intended results anyway so just focus on being supportive. The world today is complex and most people can find a niche somewhere if they are given the chance to find it.
posted by kwes at 1:01 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Comment deleted. Note that the OP has clarified: "I don't care if my son is gay, straight, trans, bi, I just want him to be happy." Helpful answers, please.]
posted by taz at 1:57 AM on January 14, 2013


it sounds like your son is an introvert. if you are not an introvert it might be helpful to read one of the many books on introversion as we do do things a bit differently than extroverts. it can be quite eye opening to learn that there are very good reasons why we are the ways we are. i'd have your son read up on it too as it might help him to feel a bit less of a square peg in a round hole. you might want to look into the myers-briggs personality types and the attendant interests of your son's type to help understand him and help him flourish as a person.

also, because your son is into art i'd definitely see if there is a local art school/community art center where he could take some classes if he would be interested in that. some art schools & centers specifically have programs for high schoolers during the summers & maybe also during the school year. if he's into music buy him an instrument he'd like to play and the necessary lessons. overall, i'd just focus on what he is good at and interested in and affirm and support those interests rather than focusing on the areas he may be lacking in. i did quite well in math but really i never use anything beyond the basics in my life or work as a creative person.
posted by wildflower at 3:00 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for all the responses. I did not grow up with brothers, I was one of four girls. Raising a son, admittedly, is not something I am familiar with. I admit some of my concerns about my son are all just my overly anxious personality. The last thing I want is for my son to feel I don't love or accept him exactly as he is. I don't want my fears to impact him negatively. I will go talk to a therapist about my anxiety and fears. Again, thank you all. I knew putting this out here would help me get the perspective I needed.

FWIW teenagers can suck the life out of you. I can spend days worrying about one kid only to discover he's taken care of the problem and has moved way beyond that point. IMO teen boys are not talkers and you really have to work at it. I find the best conversations take place with them when you're doing something else like painting a room or going somewhere in the car (usually with them driving so they can't text friends). I do think anxiety can impact itself on your kids. So relax and accept his personality as is and I think it will be great when he's older and can appreciate it.
posted by lasamana at 5:50 AM on January 14, 2013


My son sounds like yours, although my son is 17 and has Aspergers, so some of his issues are not a phase. One thing that has helped us connect is picking a tv show to share. We watched Death Note a while ago, just the two of us, and it gave us a whole range of issues to talk and joke about. I get to pick next, so we're going to watch The West Wing on Netflix, which I'm sure will inspire lots of discussion (and private jokes too). I do this with my 12 year old too, only our current show is Dr Who.

Socially, he has trouble. He has no friends at school, and is very uncomfortable around new people. He does play Minecraft online, though, and he joined a server that is mostly young people from Australia and England. Despite my initial reservations, I have encouraged him to Skype with these kids and "practice" social behaviors. He is having fun getting to know the different cultures and I don't have to worry that he is a complete loner.

Good luck!
posted by Biblio at 6:16 AM on January 14, 2013


Fundamentally, I think the source of your concerns derives from the fact that you do love your son very much, and that you don't want him to be disadvantaged in life - thus, the reference to driving, as it is something that does affect quality of living, and thus the concerns about his gender conformity, as it is something that does carry a great deal of burden and can leave kids subject to bullying and all.

That being said, be aware that you may be operating from a different perspective by nature of changing times, and that societal values have significantly changed. Stuff that would have significantly posed a challenge to quality of life in the past no longer do so - you can successfully live in an urban area without a car now, non-gender conformity much less being gay/trans hardly bats an eye, and having poor math skills is less of an issue as well.

So the balance here is that while your worries may be well-founded, your son is still going to pick up on these worries negatively - not just in terms of you projecting as homophobic when you really aren't (as others have suggested), but in terms of other lifestyle considerations as well. Your son is growing up in a completely different world than you have, and he may not perceive your concerns as relevant to his interests anymore - yes, he considers you a dinosaur! Beyond that, he may even be resentful at how you keep imposing limits and barriers to him on the basis of concerns he no longer considers relevant - and truthfully, are not that relevant anymore.

I think you, like any other parent, need to acknowledge where your fears are coming from, and admit that they might not be completely valid. Express this to your son as well - that yes, you may seem stifling at times, but it's out of love and not trying to suppress him, because he doesn't know this and he thinks you're just going around misinformed. And beyond that, he's at the age where he should have mostly autonomy of his own on a lot of things - tell him that while you will voice concerns based on your experience as a dinosaur, he still has final say in how his life goes and that you'll love him no matter what. As obvious as it should be - it's not, and you need to make certain that he understands these things coming from you.
posted by Conspire at 7:21 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


15 is a rough age. You're freaking out at becoming an adult and having adult responsibilities. Learning to drive, getting a part-time job (because Mom and Dad cut off allowance when I was legally allowed to work), and having to think about college and adult life.

It's hard to talk to your parents because you're embarassed about everything, puberty, your body, all that oil, yech!

One thing you might want to do is to schedule some time to speak with your son's teachers. Touch base with them and see how he's doing in his classes, is he a behavior issues, does he participate? What do they think of him?

Some kids are quiet and introspective. It doesn't mean they aren't fully engaged in school, don't have friends, or aren't having a great life. It just means that they aren't meeting Betty and Jughead for a malt.

Once you're satisifed that your kid is a happy loner (if indeed that's what the situation is) then roll with it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:42 AM on January 14, 2013


> I am wondering if there is anything I can do to help him do better in school and socially?

Yup! I don't know where you are, but here in the Seattle area there's a great organization called Aspiring Youth. They're all about helping kids work on their social skills and make friends. Can you find something like that in your area? Your son's school's therapist should be able to point you towards a social skills group.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:45 AM on January 14, 2013


"He never wanted trucks or male action figures, much to my husbands dismay."

You sound like you are on board, but is his father as well? I don't know of this was a short term thing or carries through to the present day, but if it does (or wells heard by your son when younger), it might be a source of difficulty for your son.
posted by Vaike at 7:22 AM on January 15, 2013


That savage love book may help your husband as well, if he doesn't really understand the whole genderqueer stuff your son may go through.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:12 PM on January 17, 2013


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