Browsing articles in "Development"
Oct 31, 2009

Getting Our Boys to Talk: Teach the Language of Feelings

Why Don’t Boys Talk?

  • Boys don’t talk because they think it’s safer not to talk.
  • Boys don’t talk because they don’t want to reveal their vulnerabilities and be perceived as weak.
  • Boys don’t talk because they have not learned how to label or express their feelings in words.
  • Boys don’t talk because of their fear of being misjudged and permanently labeled.


Boys create a shield to protect themselves, to hide any appearance of having “soft” emotions. This shield takes the form of boys’ maintaining a veil of apparent competence, which makes it difficult for them to communicate freely and effectively about their fears or feelings, or even to ask for help. For boys the biggest insult is to be called a “wuss,” “fag,” or “mama’s boy.” Boys have a profound fear of failure and discomfort with intimacy that comes from their need to avoid being identified with such labels. For fear of being perceived as soft, boys reject qualities that they think will call attention to their feelings.

When parents do not teach boys the language of feelings, they are placed at a disadvantage in their ability to attach labels to experiences. By failing to ask questions that may reveal a boy’s fear, parents give their sons a non-verbal message that fear is not an acceptable feeling for a young boy to have or admit that he has. A fascinating study by Robin Fivish shows that mothers use fewer words, particularly words that describe feelings with their sons than they do with their daughters. Parents omit many feeling words while they talk to their sons, and what we don’t say can be as or more powerful than what we do say. The absence of a vocabulary describing a range of feelings makes our attempts to talk to our sons in adolescence even more difficult.

So what can parents do?

Parents must get the message across to their boys that understanding their inner lives empowers them, rather than makes them weak in order to help them to create a road map to guide their inner life. Boys need to learn the nuances of what they are feeling, for example, to be able to distinguish between anger and sadness or anger and frustration. Parents should provide their sons with the skills they need to connect with their feelings and channel their anger into productive alternatives. It is not difficult to see how boys, without these skills and vocabulary, turn to violence as a means of expressing themselves and proving their competence.

This narrow definition of masculinity places boys inside a box that limits their emotional and relational development. Healthy psychological development is typically marked by progressive acquisition and integration of new skills and qualities. In contrast, traditional male socialization, as described by psychotherapist, Terrance Real, reflects a process of disconnection marked by successive “disavowing” and loss of qualities essential to boys’ emotional and psychological well-being. This lack of emotional connection can influence boys to behave in disrespectful and antisocial ways toward their parents, teachers and peers.

If you are at all concerned, check out your observations with another adult/or a mental health professional. Don’t dismiss what you see. We need to call attention to the dangers inherent in “shrugging off” inappropriate behavior. One school administrator told us that instead of having “metal detectors” in school, they would be better off investing in “depression detectors.” An antidote for depression is understanding your emotions. This understanding has a protective value against depression.

Every family has operating principles and values that are unique to it and will affect what strategies work and which do not. We encourage you to be confident in teaching those principles and values that are specific to your culture and heritage. Even with those strategies that do work, flexibility, variety, and a sense of humor are critical to getting through to your sons during these turbulent years. Trust your instincts, and initiate and maintain emotional connections with your sons.

Where do we go from here? Strategies to Teach the Language of Feelings:

  • Label a feeling from an early age and interpret experiences from a feeling level to promote emotional intelligence. Teach the impact of behaviors and actions on others- for example, ask your son, “When you did that, how do you think I felt?”
  • Teach your boy to handle toughness and tenderness. Work to harness his energy in a way that includes his sweetness, vulnerability, loyalty and commitment, protectiveness, honor, and integrity. These are also genuine characteristics of boys. Praise them and acknowledge their acts of kindness.
  • Early on, parents need to try to teach their sons empathy, and they need to mentor them on relational skills. Initially, you do this by talking about your own feelings and theirs. Your personal stories will reach your child in a way that lecturing never can. No one listens to a sermon.
  • Teach by example. Try to resolve disputes calmly and reasonably without yelling. Talk about the reality of their lives and your own personal experiences. Share with them your successes and your failures. As our sons watch us handling our own challenging situations, they are learning how to handle theirs.
  • Share your feelings about the day, issues, and relationships. Remember regardless of what they may say, our sons still care about what we think. Discuss openly with your partner his or her feelings so children know it’s okay to express feelings out loud without feeling shame or embarrassment.
  • Remember that depression in boys may look different than what you expect. Pay attention to symptoms of male depression, such as losing interest in activities that he has previously enjoyed, increased isolation or agitation, and/or harsh self-criticism and self-medication with alcohol or drugs. If you are at all concerned, check out your observations with another adult/or mental health professional.
  • Be careful to avoid putting permanent labels on our sons because they have shared one particular comment or displayed one type of behavior. Instead, we need to give them the message that what they tell us they feel today will not forever define them.


Anyone who says these years are easy has never lived or worked with an adolescent boy. However, we believe that these years are also filled with wonder, tenderness, and opportunities for personal growth for parents. They contain experiences and moments to be treasured for those who stay involved, who stay connected.

Oct 28, 2009

Online Social Networks and Tweens

The only thing moving faster than tweens growing up is the ever-changing technology landscape! It’s hard enough, as adults, to stay abreast of moving-at-the-speed-of-light technology, but in order to offer guidance, we need to try to stay one step ahead (or at least a half of a step!).

There is no doubt that online social networking is here to stay – it’s one of the hottest, evolving trends for people who share similar interests. New social networking websites are being introduced all the time. In addition to the teen/adult focused sites that, not surprisingly, some tweens use (such as facebook, myspace and bebo), the more popular tween-focused social networking sites include: allykatzz, imbee, stardoll, whyville. clubpenguin, and webkinz, to name a handful. Each site has some basic similarities, but each also has it’s own “personality.”

When you think about it, there’s always been some form of communication that preteens overused to keep in touch with their peers. In the early 1900s, it was letter writing. Then, it was the phone. So, now it’s the internet — the bottom line is, kids have a strong need to socialize with each other!
Development Stage Impacts on Tweens’ Social Networking Needs

When considering approaches for parental involvement, it’s important to understand your tween’s position on the development continuum. According to the Byron Review, “Children and New Technology,” young tweens…are still immature at self-regulation, and their ability to inhibit and control impulses and emotions is still well below that observed in adults. This is the time when children begin exploring websites beyond the boundaries originally set for them by their parents.” Management of their “media diet” should begin to move from heavy control to supervision and increased discussion about online behavior. The goal is to support your tween to develop critical evaluation and self-management skills.

With older tweens, according to the Byron Review, they’re experiencing “a significant drive for social interactions. The focus of the child’s social world changes from the home and family to the external world, to peers and idols as individuation (the process of disengaging from the family unit, and beginning to become an autonomous, independent adult) begins.” It’s a time “to move towards collaborative management…empower them by discussing risk and mediate interpretation of challenging content.”

From a preteen’s perspective, social networking can be an exciting experience and a wonderful learning opportunity. The chance to share, learn and compare with another peer can be fascinating. But, as parents, we need to provide our preteens with insights and tools to be aware of basic safety precautions, online etiquette, and an appropriate amount of screen time.
Social Networking Isn’t All Bad!

Once safey, appropriateness and commercialism are addressed, used effectively, social networking sites can offer benefits for tweens:

  • Gives preteens an opportunity to interact with friends (both “real world” friends that they convene with online as well as “cyber” friends that they meet through low-risk socializing).
  • Allows tweens to distance themselves from real time, in-person interactions, to effectively take a break. While a steady diet of only this type of interaction would be too much, it offers a complement to school, where children interact with each other every day, throughout the day.
  • Enables tweens to construct their thoughts in a written format, giving them a chance to edit before they share their ideas.
  • Offers a means to gain basic computer literacy experience. As homework demands increase and use of the computer and internet become tools to help support learning, having keyboarding and general usage skills can be of value.
  • Provides a way to share creative works. This could also be an opportunity to become familiar with document software and  21st century journaling!
  • Promotes familiarity with marketplace activities. Some of the sites offer educational potential in the form of introducing earning opportunities and strategies for gaming success.

Safe Online Social Networking

First and foremost, educate yourself. You can hear about sites from your tween and their friends in addition to doing your own research (do a search for “top tween social networking sites” to find out the most recent additions to the mix). Read about these sites and visit them to get the most comprehensive picture.

In addition, consider some basic social networking tips and suggestions as you help your preteen navigate online social networks safely and effectively:

  • Keep the computer out of private spaces, so you can always take a look at what sites your child is visiting (and they’ll know you’re nearby while they’re socializing).
  • Join your child’s online groups, either via sites that require your permission to join or by adding your own profile and insisting that your child “friend” you.
  • Share your thoughts about communications etiquette with your child. Ensure your preteen thinks about the impact of words (without body language) in the form of written communications. Words can be misinterpreted.
  • Ensure that your tween understands the need for privacy and not sharing personal information on line.
  • Finally, reinforce the importance of telling you when something doesn’t feel right about an online interaction.
Apr 28, 2009

Buying Your Preteen Her First Bra

Buying your preteen her first bra is a right of passage.  It represents the onset of adolescence and is an excellent opportunity to bond with your daughter.  Whether or not you buy your daughter’s first bra in a store or on-line, it’s a great opportunity to celebrate the event by going out to lunch, seeing a movie, or completing the purchase with a new outfit for your daughter!  Of course, it’s also important to remember that this might be a private moment for your preteen.  She may be self-conscious about the changes going on in her body and may not want to share this new phase with siblings or other grown-ups.  Being available to your daughter at this time opens up the opportunity for other conversations about growing up and having a healty body image.  It can be an uplifting experience and have a positive impact on your daughter’s self-esteem.

When to Buy
Most experts recommend buying your daughter’s first bra during the early stages of breast development called the breast bud stage. Typically, this stage happens between 8-13 years old, and often mirrors the child’s mother’s experience of growth during puberty.

Girls who develop early or later than their friends may feel uncomfortable with their bodies and become concerned about fitting in with their peer group.  For early developers, a cami or sports bra is a good solution as it can even out the contours of your preteen’s body, making her feel less self-conscious. Late bloomers, may request a bra in order to fit in with their friends. Changing clothes during gym classes, slumber parties and camp can make preteens feel exposed and embarrassed. There is no harm in buying a bra for a late developer if it helps make her feel more comfortable. The most important thing to do at this stage is to reassure your daughter that her development is normal, so she will feel positive about her body.

What to Buy
In this early stage, a bralette (aka training bra), cami or sports bra are good options. Training bras are not meant to offer support, but instead offer comfort and protection while young and often tender breasts are developing. Since it is your daughter’s first experience wearing a bra, it is important to find one that fits well. A good fit means that the bra stays in place across her rib cage, is not too tight and feels comfortable. Feeling at ease while wearing her new bra will help your daughter feel good about her growing body.

As your daughter grows, she will need to buy a bra with more support. Wearing the correct size bra will help your preteen feel less restricted and make her figure look proportionate. In order to achieve this, you will need to know your daughter’s band and cup size. Since the thought of being measured at a specialty bra shop may be intimidating to your preteen, consider using a bra size calculatorto find the right fit.

When buying bras, your daughter should consider the different styles of clothes she wears. Will the design of the bra work underneath all her shirts? Is she active in sports – does she need a sports bra? Don’t forget to buy a few bras so that they can be regularly laundered.

Where to Buy
Luckily, preteens have lots of options when it comes to buying bras. Best of all, if your daughter doesn’t feel comfortable shopping in a store, you can shop on-line together in the privacy of your home. found some stores that we think offer a good selection of bras for preteens and young teens.