“My teenage son is always angry, he has such a negative attitude and any little thing sets him off. I don’t know how to help him and he won’t talk to me.”
Out of the huge range of human emotions teenage boys are only allowed to show happiness or anger. Anything approaching emotional vulnerability is dangerous territory and must be avoided at all costs.
Of course, we never tell boys this, but they learn it from an early age. Boys should be tough. We tell them to stop crying, get up and walk it off or other such messages. Basically, don’t ever show that you are weak. They certainly don’t want to be labeled as a “sensitive” boy.
Unfortunately, this leads to all sorts of problems when boys experience distressing emotions and just don’t know what to do. They don’t have good emotional problem solving skills and the vulnerable feelings often get translated into anger. This usually equals some kind of trouble, whether it is blowing up or shutting down.
Some boys area amazingly in-tune and aware of their feelings, but many just don’t have the emotional vocabulary to understand what is going on.
While it is quite simple, the feeling chart pictured above is very helpful and I use it often in my work with boys. Helping teenagers to label their emotions is an important step in assisting them in increasing their awareness and gaining some new skills.
We start with anger and then do a little digging to find all kinds of other interesting things. Maybe the teen felt hurt when his friends left without him, maybe he felt ashamed at getting caught with pot again, maybe he felt embarrassment when he heard his Mom talking about his problems on the phone or maybe he felt sadness and disappointment after getting his report card. When he understands the feeling then he can take steps to figure out what to do about it.
I’ll be honest in saying that as a teenager I was crazy confused about what I was feeling most of the time. I’m not entirely sure I would have been open to it, but I wish that I had more help in sorting out some of that mess! While it can be a difficult task, many teenagers would benefit from a caring adult helping them to label their feelings and in starting to build some emotional intelligence.
It is part of my purpose to be one of those caring adults, a safe place for boys to be honest and learn about real strength.