herald

Friday 21 September 2018

Is kissing your teenage son in public ever a good idea or will you just mortify him?

At what age should hugs and kisses in public come to an end and parents cease embarrassing their kids in front of their pals? Arlene Harris finds out

EVERYONE has heard of the Irish Mammy and her relationship with her precious son.

With three boys of my own, I'm sure I'm guilty of a few cringe-making moments. But last week Victoria Beckham served up a clanger of her own when she was photographed squeezing and hugging her 14-year-old son, Brooklyn, as they posed on the red carpet.

Every mother knows that public displays of affection are a no-go area when boys hit puberty (unless, of course, it is with a girl of the same age – but let's not go down that route). So we asked three mothers about their relationship with their teenage sons, and how the instinctive need to fuss over their boys must be curbed to keep the youngsters' street-cred intact and ensure mothers and sons continue to have a happy, open relationship.

Janette O'Rourke from Rialto is married to Tom Mitchell and has two sons – David (23) and 13-year-old Ben (main photo). As the owner of and one of the tutors at Kay's School of Floristry she often works late, so her teenage son has no choice but to be with her at work. However, despite the time they spend together, she feels that while they do have a good relationship, it is much less demonstrative than it was before.

"Ben has always been an affectionate child, hugging and kissing me goodnight or when leaving for school. However, since he started secondary school, I find the kisses and hugs have turned into his arm across my shoulder or a high-five, and when his friends are around I might just get a simple nod of the head or even a text.

"The school run was a time when we would have had our best chats as he filled me in on what was happening in his life and the lives of his friends, but now our school run chats have turned into wondering what's on this weekend or Ben asking can he go to Dundrum or somewhere like that – and that's only if he isn't on his phone on Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook

"After school or at weekends, when Ben has friends home he does come across as more confident and occasionally would push the rules a little as to what he is allowed to do. But in fairness, I would always wait until his friends are gone home before I would correct him or explain what is or is not acceptable.

"All-in-all, he is quite a confident and mature young man and would be partial to some very deep and meaningful conversations. He has talked about doing psychology when he leaves school, and I definitely think this is something that would suit him. He would rarely be embarrassed about any topics we would discuss.

"My only advice to other mothers of teenage boys would be to try and be your sons' friend as well as their mom. Never show shock when they tell you something shocking – instead, take a deep breath, think first and then discuss. Listen to their comments and make suggestions rather than issue orders. And I would advise parents to speak openly about alcohol, drugs and sex so nothing is a taboo subject. Encourage them to bring their friends home and get to know them and their parents."

Deirdre Sullivan from Walkinstown is married to John and they have three children – 14-year-old Sean (insets above), Cian (11) and Cara (5). She has a good relationship with her elder son, and says that while his teenage years got off to a rocky start, she can see a more positive relationship emerging.

"I am proud to say I have a good relationship with my son – when he is getting what he wants, that is. Hitting the teens was hard for both of us and was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster – some days would be good, but then on the other hand the arguments could be unreal.

"Earlier this year I took a friend's advice and decided to 'pick my rows', and this has been one of the best things I have learned as a mum of a teen; otherwise, we can get so caught up in the little things that we can end up being at loggerheads constantly. Homework, however, is still a constant row. But I can see our relationship changing all the time, and although he is only 14 we seem to have more in common now to chat about, even if it is just football. We are also more inclined to discuss a decision rather than me decide who, what, when and how – I suppose that's the give-and-take part.

"Sean would not really behave differently when his friends are about, but maybe I do. I'd be more inclined to take a step back (so as not to embarrass him), but I'd add in my tuppence when the friends are gone.

"Sean is ultra-confident and does not embarrass easily, but he is more inclined to get mad and annoyed. I do try not to embarrass him by asking him to do things when we are in public, and would tend not to be too affectionate with him either. I tend to let him make his own decision to hug me goodbye – or not, as is often the case.

"I'm not sure if I should be offering advice on teens, but from what I've learned so far, I would say don't get caught up on little things. Pick your rows and do not force them to hug or kiss you in public or around their friends – let them initiate the affection."

Bee Flanagan is a divorced mother of two teenagers – Lucy (15) and Ryan (below), who is nearly 13. She lives in Ratoath, Co Meath, and is a Life and Youth Coach delivering her www.palsprogramme.ie to teens and young adults to help them learn life skills in the area of self-confidence and self-belief.

"As a toddler, Ryan asserted his independence by learning to walk at 11 months and had a strong-willed personality in certain situations. Ryan was only four when we relocated to our new home, so during his early years he was feeling vulnerable and dependent, as any child would, but over the years his confidence has grown and he has a huge interest in acting, which I believe has helped him to be less shy. I am a naturally chatty person and would always have conversations that go beyond hello and goodbye when out and about, and this was often embarrassing for Ryan, but I think he's used to it now. However, I have to treat him differently when he is out of his comfort zone and around his friends as mothers can be so embarrassing at times.

"As he enters his teenage years I feel a more mature connection with my son, and also an understanding that he needs to grow and develop in other areas. Communication is vital with all children, but I feel especially with boys. They are generally slower to open up about how they feel and take more time to absorb and digest what is going on around them. Sometimes it is just before bed that all the informative chat takes place and I get a good feel about what is happening during his day.

Keeping the lines of communication open in all situations helps build a secure environment for both parents and teenagers. So at the end of the day, it really is good to talk."

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