Seize the awkward: raising teenage boys

My twin sons turned sixteen this year and sometimes I barely recognize them.

For some parents, adolescent changes seem to happen overnight. For others, the transition is more gradual. Little boys start growing taller, their voices drop a few octaves and hair appears on their upper lip. They stop walking around naked. They shut their bedroom doors when they’re on the phone or going to sleep.

You wake up one morning and it hits you. They’re becoming men.

Daddies with daughters experience something similar.

You’re as close as you’ve always been, but they need privacy and room to grow in a way that’s very different from before. They’re changing and it’s not always a smooth ride.

My sons used to eat fruits and vegetables. Now they prefer pizza and wonder aloud if asparagus at the dinner table is a passive-aggressive form of child abuse.

For years, they read books – all kinds. I remember hours of silence thanks to Junie B Jones and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Now, they thumb through Sports Illustrated and call it a day. When I suggest a reading hour, they insist comedy videos with subtitles “count.”

Where did these creatures come from?

And how do we get them to stop picking their pimples?

I’m finding myself in the middle of familiar activities that are now altogether weird. Like walking together in the city, a route we’ve taken over a dozen times, only now I’m distracted. It’s become quite obvious that at some point, I’m going to have to tell my precious boys to please, for the love of all that is holy, stop adjusting their junk in public.

“That’s private behavior,” I said.

When they were younger, that worked. Now they mumble “Sorry” and go right back at it.

“Are you okay down there?” I finally asked.

I tried to look disgusted, but they don’t really care what I think anymore. They don’t embarrass properly. Do teenage girls find public fondling acceptable? Is anyone concerned about hygiene issues? Teenage boys take showers that go on for days…if they’re not cleaning, what are they doing in there?

When my boys were toddlers and yanking too much on their dangly bits, I told them,

“Gentle hands.”

My husband and brother admonished me.

“Katie,” they said, “do not tell a man how to touch his own testicles.”

Fair enough.

I’ve adhered to that suggestion for a while now, but they’re becoming too familiar with themselves in broad daylight. I have to say something before police are alerted. So I downshift to sarcasm and surprisingly enough, these are the statements that got my kids to friendzone themselves.

“Stop flirting with me.”

“If you need something to do with your hands, why not pray?”

“Please leave Lord Vader alone. You’re scaring Nana.”

One down, a hundred more awkward issues to go.

Like that time they wanted to watch Fast Times at Ridgemont High and I agreed. I remembered it being funny, completely forgetting about the scene where a young teenage girl (read: under 18) sneaks out of her bedroom at night to meet an older guy (read: over 18). The two characters then drive to a deserted ball field, walk into the dugout and the guy proceeds to commit a felony.

Great family entertainment.

“I guess parents didn’t check on their kids all night long in the 80s,” my oldest remarked, with a touch of wistful envy.

My kids can recite my lectures about sex and other social issues in their sleep, they don’t need to hear one on movie night. So, before the nude sex scene commenced, I did what any enlightened mother would do. I calmly walked up the stairs to “use the bathroom.”

“No need to pause it,” I told them, as casually as I could. “I’ve seen this movie before.”

When I reached the top of the stairs, I could hear my boys laughing together. One called out, “Mom, they aren’t playing baseball!”


I am normally quite comfortable discussing sex and other sensitive topics with them. We have a box of condoms in the hall closet. We’ve talked about birth control and the value of living a disease-free life. They can, and do, ask me just about everything. Nothing’s really taboo when a mother answers questions about auto-erotic asphyxiation and ends the discussion with, “orgasms feel good enough without a near-death experience, so please jerk off in the shower like normal teenagers.”

We discuss it all.

But I don’t want to watch a man caressing the nipples of some actress in front of my kids. I use those moments to go to the bathroom or refill my drink. It’s gotten to the point where my boys immediately know what’s happening. As I leave the room, they laugh and say, “Mom! They aren’t playing baseball!”

And I thought toddler years were tough.