How to Positively Influence Your Young Adult Son- (without bugging him too much)


Recently, I’ve had opportunity to talk with several moms who have sons nearing or at young adult age. (Let’s say around the ages of 17-22) The mothers have asked me how we have handled influencing our late teen and young adult sons and how to do so that the sons will listen. In one instance, the mother wanted to discuss purity issues with her son,  and in another situation it was simple neatness, sociability and courtesy skills that the mother wanted to address.

Let’s face it- a mother notices many things before a dad does (“women’s intuition” ) and it is natural for her to want to help guide her son. I think it goes without saying that the major portion of training and instilling morals and manners is during the early years of a boy’s life. Still, there will be times later on when Mother wants to positively influence her son, to help him  ”fine tune” his habits, his attitudes, his behavior, and this article will offer some suggestions as to how this can be accomplished.

Suggestion 1: If you have a serious subject matter that you want to address with your son,  have your husband, your son’s dad,  talk to him first.

By the time a young man is 17,  in my experience, mom’s input means….not a lot. You’ve presumably given your son love, education and  training and he probably is perfectly clear about what you think. Now, he wants to be a man. Guys learn to be men from their other men and mostly from their dads. Mom was likely the favorite during infancy and toddlerhood. Even as a preschooler your son probably loved you most as evidenced when he grabbed bundles of dandelions, walked right past Dad and presented them to his “girl”- YOU or looked to YOU for approval after some accomplishment. Then at some point he started emulating Dad more and more. Do you have memories of your young son pushing a plastic toy lawn mower behind his father as he cut the grass? Copying his every move?  Did you ever witness your son selecting the same color pants his dad was wearing or change into dress shoes or athletic shoes according to what Dad was wearing? Even making the same motions or using the same speech as his father? This was your son busy learning, even at this young age, how to be a male, how eventually to be a man.

Gradually your son began to look around him at other men too, and started to think about what kind of man he would become. His attention shifted to see what he could be to what he wanted to be. The importance of your opinion naturally lessened somewhat as he sought to make sense of his place in the masculine world. By age 12 or 13 he probably knew what you wanted of him and thought about certain things, but had yet to decide if your feminine opinion was masculine worthy…Dad’s thoughts and actions then became the litmus test. Dad’s approval and guidance then became most important (not solely important, mind you, but most) to him.

And so, even though your son might have been bellowing out hymns in church since toddlerhood, by early teens he’d glance to see what his father did and act accordingly. You may still have been singing your heart out, he may have been fully aware of your desire to have him sing, he may even have enjoyed and wanted to sing, but if his father wasn’t then he likely wouldn’t either. If, on the other hand, your husband sang mightily, chances are your son would as well. As another example, your son might have been trained well by you to clear his spot at the table. From the time he was five he might have taken his plate to the sink after a meal, but if his father just pushed the plate away or commented about “women’s work”, it is likely that is the attitude your son would have picked up at this time as well. In a similar way, if your son saw your husband demonstrate respect and love for you, it was easier for him to also show you that love and respect as well.

So, when you want to address something of substance with your son, talk to your husband ahead of time.  (I am assuming you have a good relationship with him- otherwise, other strategies must be employed- like having a grandfather or uncle address the issues first).  Ask your husband to focus on just one or two things you hope your son will understand and implement. Then let your husband address the issue with your son in his way, in his style. Don’t script the conversation for him. Your input is to notice what needs to be discussed and point it out to your husband. You trusted him enough to marry him, and have this son with him. Now trust him to handle this important matter on your heart.

Suggestion 2: When you do deal directly with your son, be subtle

There will be times when you converse with your older teen or young adult son and you want to help him see a point or steer him in the proper direction. Something will come up in conversation- not an outside issue that you’ve previously noticed and is bothering you, per se, but rather something you become aware of and that evolves. When you have this type of conversation with your older teen or young adult son you will want to offer suggestions when possible, and not make directives, unless the subject is of grave moral or physical danger (ie: all subtlety is off if he brings his girlfriend over and you find them engaged in promiscuous behavior on your sofa or he comes home drunk and was driving). Barring serious moral issues, be subtle and Socratic always respecting him and his opinion.  Ask questions, mirror his responses and let him come to his own conclusions, drawing him in the direction of goodness and Truth.

Let’s say that your 17 year old son is debating between two summer jobs- one at the fictitious UberMoneyfor Stitch Co.   (a trendy clothing company you oppose for many reasons), which offers fewer hours, low pay and is halfway across town, and another at a local factory which is less glamorous but much more in line with your family’s values, pays more, and is closer.  Your guided questions can help steer him in the right direction. Let’s see how:

HIM: “So, I got offered this job at UberMoneyfor Stitch and I get a discount for these cool clothes!”

MOM: “Wow. That’s a popular store. I know how much you love nice clothes. But isn’t that the store that has shirtless guys stand outside and flex, trying to get people to come in?” (Call it as you see it directly and immediately, but always kindly and sweetly) 

HIM: “Geez, mom. It’s a legitimate job. I wouldn’t be doing that any way.”

MOM: “I’m glad to hear you wouldn’t be doing that. I’d have to hide what you do from my friends!” {{mischievous smile}} (note the insertion of humor- it lightens the mood, yet the point is made that his taking the job would be embarrassing to you) “So tell me about the offer. How does the pay compare to the factory job you were also offered? ” (You probably know the answer to this already but you are drawing him into a thinking mode)

HIM: “Well, Ubermoneyfor Stitch pays just minimum wage… but I get commission and a 20 percent discount”

MOM: “That’s a good discount. I’d be so tempted to be buying clothes all the time with a discount like that. Do you think you’d be able to save the money you need for your college expenses next year if you chose to work there? “

HIM: “I don’t know. I’d  be getting about 20 hours….”

MOM: “Oh, you’d be getting 20 hours?”

HIM: “Yes.”

MOM: “What about the factory job? Would you be getting 20 hours there too?

HIM: “No, I’d be getting 30 to 35 there.”

MOM: “So, you’d be getting 30 to 35. Well, how does the pay compare?”

HIM: “Well, it’s $8.50 and hour at the factory, but it’s such hard work.”

MOM: “It is hard work. It’s more money but hard work.” (You’re reflecting back what he has told you, and allowing him time to digest the information)

HIM: “It’s such a tough decision.”

MOM: “It must be really tempting to work at a more ‘cool’ place that plays loud music and where you’d meet people your age, rather than a boring factory which requires hard labor.” (Note that you are demonstrating that you understand his perspective and dilemma here)

HIM: ” Yeah. I would rather work at UberMoneyfor Stitch. I just don’t know if I can earn enough money there for what I need.”

MOM: “I think you’re probably right about that. And the company’s values aren’t really in line with our family’s. Would that bother you?”

HIM: “I guess… It just seems more fun.”

MOM: “I understand. I’d probably feel the same way.”

HIM: {sigh}”I guess I’ll stick with the factory job.”

MOM: “I’m really proud of you. I think you’ve made the right decision. It might be harder now but you won’t regret it.”

HIM: “Thanks, Mom.”

This is not manipulation. This is guiding and helping him think through consequences. Compare that to the common Mom response of “You are NOT working at that store!”

Now, let’s take two common issues of neatness and courtesy. Let’s say your 19 year old son is home from college and leaves his clothes and personal items  all over the floor or dresses sloppily. Perhaps he additionally has picked up some bad habits away and speaks too freely and strongly of his opinion which differs from yours….in front of his younger siblings. Or maybe his language has become not vulgar necessarily, but too coarse or flip for your taste. What to do?

In this instance, see Suggestion 1 above, and  Dad’s intervention must be firm and swift. Until the son is earning his own living, paying his own expenses as well as being the right age, he must abide by his parents’ rules. This doesn’t have to made known to him in a rude or overly strict way. It is simply a fact, and should be presented as such. And this fact  can be emphasized by dad in his manly, direct way either quietly or more loudly,  depending on the resistance met by the knowledge and explanation.

Often when situations like this come up, expectations have simply become unclear and Dad just needs to set down some specific musts. Dad tells Son he is responsible for keeping his own room reasonably neat – clothes off the floor, on hangers and items put away by the end of each day (or whatever specifics you decide upon).  Dad may tell Son, for example, that Mom will offer her tutorial on ironing if he needs it and help him select non-wrinkle material for his new purchases, which can be taken directly out of the dryer and put on the hanger. Dad will define what “neat” and “clean shaven” mean in personal appearance and possibly offer a guideline such as this:

Everyday wear  (cargo shorts, tees, etc.) can be as wrinkled as you want, but  for Mass, interviews, when the family goes out together whether it is to another family’s house for a First Holy Communion party or someplace to eat, clothes must be wrinkle-free.

Dad will remind Son that people are always watching and making a good impression is important because people listen to people whom they respect more than those dressed slovenly. Again, don’t butt in. Allow your husband do this in his own style and own way.

In regards to courtesy/pleasantries and older teen/young adult sons, every personality is different, but basic politeness is critical even for the most pronounced introvert and deep thinking man. Mom,  don’t ask incessant questions about what your son is thinking and feeling. Some boys/men hate that. That being said, your son should be able to engage in conversation with others when in public, social situations (or even just when relatives visit), not just by answering when spoken to, but by asking questions of the other person. (You can or you can ask your son’s dad to remind him that when you ask people about THEIR lives, THEIR interests, THEIR opinions, a funny thing happens — the people think that YOU are the amazing conversationalist. ) Excellent books can be found on this topic if your son is the reading type. Zig Ziglar has some timeless wonderful CDs that I had my boys all listen to –

If your son has become slack in the courtesy department, his dad can remind him of the basics – – shaking a hand when meeting a man (firmly), standing when a lady enters the room, opening a door- these polite gestures should be shown to sisters and mom as well. There are a wide selection of books on Amazon on this topic which can help. If you think your son won’t take this instruction well or your husband isn’t up to the task, you can buy one or two books on the topic and leave them in the magazine rack in the bathroom he uses or strewn on a table next to a tv he watches or even his bedroom nightstand. You don’t have to say a word or ask him if he’s read it. I do this all the time. Sometimes I even open the book to the page I want my guys to see, crease it back and then close it. When a son opens the book, it will naturally fall to the place selected. This technique is also very good for broaching sensitive topics such as sexual purity issues.  Even though you have taught morality to your sons when they were small, the practicality of it becomes most relevant during the late teen, early twenties years. Please leave these positive books around for them to find. Here are a few to think about.  I’ve not read them all but they look good. One I have read is this one, which I liked a lot for them. This one is not specifically Catholic but has some great points and suggestions for maintaining sexual purity.

Suggestion 3: If you must criticize or correct your older teen/young adult son, then for every critique you have or admonishment you make be certain you  compliment him twice as much.

Pick your battles. Most people will tune out criticism that flows too freely. Trust your older teen/young adult son if he is trustworthy. Train yourself to believe in him and his capabilities as he matures and demonstrates responsibility and morality.  Your goal for him is self-discipline. Don’t over criticize. Or, as my husband says, “Don’t major on the minors.”

Be positive. Catch your older teen/young adult son doing responsible, manly, good things and tell him you appreciate it. When he picks up his sister tenderly and puts her on his shoulders so she can see the parade or fireworks on the Fourth of July, tell him you admire his thoughtfulness and strength. When he cleans out the garage for you, thank him. When you see him catching his tongue in the presence of his younger siblings, or otherwise setting a good example let him know you appreciate that. When you see him doing something like his father that is GOOD, point that out. We all love compliments and as the old saying goes, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Respect him. Admire those qualities he exhibits. Praise the good things you see. Pray for him. Reinforce the values you taught him and tell him how much you are proud of him and the man he has become.


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