Single Mom's & Teenage Boy's
When it comes to grooming, teen boys have a hit or miss philosophy. They may spend an inordinate amount of time on their hair, only to walk out of the house without brushing their teeth.
Joyce Anthony, of Erie, Pa., says teaching her son about grooming wasn't easy. She finally resorted to good old-fashioned bribery. "I was having trouble getting my son to shower, wash his hair, etc.," she says. "I started out by telling him for each time he showered and washed his hair, we'd add a dime to a jar and he'd get the money at the end of each month. Eventually, he just decided he felt better when he got compliments from others on how nice he looked, so we decided the money wasn't needed."
The Mom Advantage
Consider the following data from the Harrison Group/VNU Teen Trend Report, conducted by the Harrison Group, a leading market-research firm located in Waterbury, Conn.:
- Forty-nine percent of teen boys are comfortable speaking to both their parents about hygiene.
- Sixteen percent of them are not comfortable speaking to either parent.
- The remaining group prefer speaking to their mother over their father.
- Twenty-four percent of teen boys are comfortable speaking only with their mother about hygiene.
- Eleven percent of teen boys are comfortable speaking only with their father.
- Since many boys are more comfortable talking to their mothers about grooming, moms are in a great position to teach their sons good grooming habits. The question is how?
According to Dr. Joel Schlessinger, a board certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in Omaha, Neb., and the president and founder of Lovelyskin.com, a skincare and products Web site, the need for teen boys to start shaving can vary greatly, from 10 years old to late teens. The best time to start shaving is when fine hairs (known as "peach fuzz") are causing social embarrassment or create problems between Mom and Child. "There is no reason that once a child shaves, they have to shave every day from then on," Dr. Schlessinger says. "Initially, shaving may be once a week or less, depending on the growth pattern and personal preferences."
Usually, it is easier for teens to use electric razors than it is a disposable razor. Disposable razors take more finesse, and there is a greater chance they will cut themselves.
Even though moms may have been nagging their sons to brush their teeth for years, hair is usually the first thing the young male takes a genuine interest in. Moms need to take advantage of this interest by purchasing hair care products that will help their sons get a system into place. Beverly Hills celebrity hairstylist Billy Lowe says male teens respond better to systems rather than having to piece things together for themselves.
"Rarely will male clients spend the time to read, research or ask questions about products, so they either purchase the wrong products, or nothing at all," Lowe says. "Then, if their hair doesn't perform well, they get frustrated, and ultimately give up."
By buying products that go together, moms can help simplify hair care for their sons. Many product lines, such as American Crew or Paul Mitchell, are creating systems for males to make it easy for them to understand how to use.
"Male teens are on the go," Lowe says. "Thy are active in sports, school events, socializing, and they want products that are convenient, easy to pack or things that offer travel-size packaging for those on-the-go times. And as sensitive as teens are, they certainly don't want products that look 'girly'. Product lines are very savvy about packaging for the male market and are developing attractive packaging for the male audience. No frills, no poof, just clean and simple."
It's also important to find your son a good hair stylist. Avoid cut-and-curl-type places where both grandmothers and little girls go to get their hair cut. Many cities now have hair salons that cater to men. The atmosphere is male, sports are shown on big screen TVs and a neck massage or hot towel wrap are often part of the service. Teen boys can relax in this type of salon, which motivates them to go as often as needed.
Deodorant and Cologne
Tackling this sensitive issue takes the finesse of a swordsman and the courage of a bull fighter. Dr. David Bank, a board certified dermatologist and director of The Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., says that Mom needs to remember that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. "Be persistent, relentless and encouraging," he says. "When you begin to smell odor, it's time to offer deodorant soaps and antiperspirants. If you notice that your son is sweating more than the average teen or expresses that he is uncomfortable about his perspiration, which is very common among teen boys, there is Certain Dri Antiperspirant, the only non-prescription antiperspirant with the active ingredient of 12 percent aluminum chloride, the most effective active ingredient available in an over-the-counter antiperspirant."
Using cologne is a personal choice. Teens will often use cologne as extra insurance againstodor. Just remember to tell them that less is more when it comes to cologne!
Dr. Schlessinger feels that most young men would be willing to talk to their mothers about acne, as they really want the problem solved.
"If acne is a problem, it is best to discuss this with the teen and see if it is time to visit a dermatologist," Dr. Schlessinger says. "Over-the-counter treatments containing benzoyl peroxide are of some value, but don't always work on stubborn cases of acne, so it is important to set reasonable goals to make sure the acne doesn't scar before you seek medical help. Washing should occur twice a day, but there is no particular benefit to washing more than twice daily, unless there are extenuating circumstances such as athletics or jobs that expose the teen to oily films on their faces."
Many acne products are over hyped by TV or infomercials. It is best to see what your dermatologist recommends. "The biggest trend for teens is to be seen by dermatologists earlier rather than later for acne and skin problems," Dr. Schlessinger says. "It used to be that a trip to the dermatologist was a last resort. Now, clear skin is 'di rigeur' for high school kids, so it makes the teen with acne stand out in comparison. Newer treatments are available now that make regimens more simple and 'teen-ready'. One new drug, Xiana, combines a retinoid with clindamycin. This takes two very common drugs used topically and combines them."
Teaching your son good grooming habits takes sensitivity and consistency, but remember that by teaching these habits, not only will you and your son get immediate benefits, but someday your son's future wife is going to thank you!
- Buy your son an easy-to-use electric razor rather than teach him how to use a disposable. Young teens generally don't have a thick enough beard to warrant the risk of cutting themselves.
- Buy a good hair care system that takes the guesswork out of hair care for your son. Shampoo, conditioner and hair gels are a good start. Make sure they are packaged in a way that appeals to the male teen.
- Find a hair salon that caters to men. Not only will they be able to teach your son how to care for their hair, but guys feel more comfortable there than going somewhere that is too "girly."
- Teach your son that less is more when it comes to cologne.
- If your son develops acne, take him to a dermatologist. Oftentimes, teens will listen more carefully to an authority figure than they will their mother.
Along with letting your child seek his own heroes and role models, there are things you can do to allow him to be male. Whether or not you have a man around to show him the ropes, your son can grow up to be an emotionally healthy male just as many boys of single moms have already done. Did you know that Tom Cruise, Ed Bradley, Alexander Haig, Bill Clinton, Alan Greenspan, Bill Cosby, Dr. Benjamin Carson and Les Brown were raised by single moms?
The following tips have been compiled from my own experience, the expertise of "current or retired" single mothers and single parent advisors.
- Accept your son's differences.
- Never make him the man around the house. True, you want to teach him to grow to be man, but there is a distinction between being the "little man" and being responsible for things that adults are supposed to do. Your child is not your confidant, your knight in shining armor or your rescuer. Especially important for the newly widowed or divorced, correct people if they suggest that now your son "is the man around the house," or that he should "take care of Mommy."
- When you look at your child and see his father's face, it's okay to get a little emotional. After all, if your ex gave you anything of value, you're looking at it. Let your son know how important he is to you.
- Point out the positive qualities in men you see on a day to day basis. This means that even if you're buying your son baseball shoes, and the salesman is especially attentive or friendly, point this trait out by mentioning what a helpful person he is, or "Isn't this man very nice?"
- Be a little creative in helping your child learn guy stuff. For instance, many single mothers report concern over their son's using the potty while sitting, or playing with their makeup. Chances are, your child won't spend the rest of his life peeing sitting down while wearing mascara. Homosexuality doesn't exist because you didn't monitor the morning makeup sessions! But if you want to get a head start on defining the differences between secondary sex characteristics between males and females, try this: Set out a little basket just for him. Fill it with a mock razor, gentle shaving cream, watered-down cologne, his toothbrush, toothpaste and a comb. Let him know this is what most guys do every morning to their faces.
- As your child matures, investigate local boys groups or clubs that he could join such as Cub Scouts. Don't be intimidated by such sponsored events as Father/son boat races or picnics. Let the troop leader know that with the number of single parent families, you would be comfortable if the den would acknowledge parent-child events. But the biggest benefit of scouting that should be experienced by all boys is that initiation ritual that welcomes them into the pack. The especial handshakes might remind you of reruns of the Honeymooners when Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton demonstrated their Racoon Lodge handshake. But this is an essential boost to the self esteem of little boys, that feeling of belonging to a group with whom they can closely identify.
- Teach him your values, but let him express them uniquely. He's a male and will respond to emotional situations somewhat differently than you might.
- If your boy is really active, get a chinning bar for his room for rainy days. Exercise is critical for all children, but in cases where boys can't seem to center themselves as comfortably as girls, they might need other means of releasing excessive energy. Check out your local Target store for an expandable closet bar, the kind that has suction cups on the ends. Install between the door jambs of his room, and when he gets rowdy, have him "do ten." Make sure you tighten the bar so it safely stays in place and show your son the correct way to grip so he doesn't loosen it from the doorway. Start low, but raise the bar as your son grows.
- Role models are important and will be found in every aspect of your son's life. Boys need men, but not necessarily fathers. Just because a father lives at home does not mean a boy is being "fathered."
- Enjoy your time with your baby or toddler by not worrying about whether they are missing out on anything by not having "dad" around. At the same time, try not to avoid "daddy stuff" totally. Even though many children's books feature animal families raised only by mom, it's okay to read stories about all kinds of families to your child. Place a high value on male and female relationships in order to give your child a realistic perspective.
And remember, try not to have negative attitudes toward men, even if you became a single mother out of the most excruciating circumstances.
Mothers of Troubled Teenage Sons
Recently I have been spending more time educating mothers of troubled teenaged sons. What I have found is that the progressive and open attitude of these mothers is hopeful and inspiring. Hopeful, because there is much that a mother can know and do that is essential in this crucial developmental period of their son’s life. Inspiring because the steps a mother might have to take to truly help their sons are difficult, painful and as I will outline, counter-intuitive.
The most common factor I find in these situations is there is often a lack of a strong male figure in the lives of troubled teenage boys, and these suggestions are with that in mind. It’s not easy being mom. Here are 10 suggestions, given in hope that you suffer less as a mom, and that your boys become men and not just old ‘boys’.
I know you hope that too.
- Know your role as a mother: Understand clearly what it means to be a mom. Look at your own beliefs regarding being a mom. Be realistic, not emotional. Step back and consider the greatest gift you could give your son may be the most difficult for you to give as a mother. Explore the idea of ‘good enough’ mothering.
- Educate yourself regarding male development: Being a mother, you can never experience what it’s like to be a teenage male. You can understand intellectually, and if you understand intellectually you will be far ahead of any uneducated efforts you might make. Read books and articles on male development and men’s work. See the list of suggestions at the end.
- Set boundaries and keep them at all costs: Teenage males need to know where they stand, and they can only do so if you take your stand. Sons often define themselves against you, for better or worse. You must maintain a solid place for them to define themselves. Set realistic boundaries and keep them, even if it’s painful and scary.
- Work with your own reactivity: All human beings are filled with reactive patterns, which means we are all programmed and conditioned to think and act in predicable, knee-jerk ways because of our past. Get to know your own patterns of thinking, feeling and speaking. That way you have self-knowledge. Your son will expose your ‘stuff’ to work with. This means you will also grow from this as a person. This is called ‘mom-work’ and represents some of the deepest, richest explorations possible.
- Don’t take it personally: You are part of a Mom/Son pattern that is bigger than you as an individual. This dynamic was created billions of years ago with the first birthing. Mom/Son relationships have been unfolding for millennia. If you never existed as a person, the pattern you are a part of, would. This means whatever you experience as a mom is a natural part of the Mom/Son archetype (pattern). Try to step outside the personal dimension of your relationship and see it from a bigger perspective.
- Keep an adult/mature perspective: This goes back to # 4 and 5. When we are reactive we have regressed, which means we are relating from less mature, programmed types of communications. We can blow it when we become emotional and overwhelmed. When we are aware of our ‘triggers’ we are better equipped when it comes time to deal with emotionally charged issues.
- Back off and set them free: Do not create a ‘nest-bound’ son by being a mother who confuses parental ‘support’ with your own fear and neediness. It is absolutely necessary for the mother to coax, then nudge, then … if necessary push their son OUT! Push them out at all costs. Tell them in advance, and do it with full knowledge and communication of your love.
- Create a life independent of your son: The empty nest syndrome is a term given to mothers whom have defined themselves by the ‘mother role’ and little else. When the children fly away, they are left wondering ‘what now?' They have been ‘mom’ so long that when mom is unnecessary they feel their whole life becomes unnecessary.
- Expose them to deep and mature masculine perspectives: I would summarize the main problem with boys toda as follows: Historically, older men once guided boys through the transition of ‘definition’ and into manhood. Now, in our times and for a variety of reasons, there is a lack of this process and boys are growing older but not growing up. They remain ‘undefined’, undirected and uncertain because they are without strong male guidance. Now the term ‘man’ includes boys who are the age of manhood but have never entered manhood. There is a world of difference between an old boy and a deep, mature and grounded man.
- Direct them toward strong men: There is a group of men who have willingly and very seriously shouldered the task of ushering the young males of today into the manhood of tomorrow. This is a group of men that all boys and men should be exposed to. I mean that without qualification. This is a group of men, dedicated to creating and supporting an environment for deep, honest and necessary male exploration.
Single Moms Raising Sons: Preparing Boys to Be Men When There's No Man Around
The Single Mother's Guide to Raising Remarkable Boys