13 Things Your Teenage Son Wishes You Knew About B.O. and Other Boy Stuff
Moms and sons don't always "get" one another—especially as boys reach puberty. But we've got the lowdown on what boys are really thinking, as opposed to what their moms think, or what their moms think they're thinking.
You just don’t understand
Every mother of a boy comes to understand certain universal truths about what it’s like to raise a son. (These are the 11 things about raising boys mom wish you knew.) For instance, the volume will always be loud, the bathroom will always be smelly, and the love will always be unfathomably infinite. But what moms don’t know about their own sons could fill volumes—or at least the pages of a new report put out by Old Spice, The Struggle Is Real: A Wild Guide for Growing Up for Moms and Sons. The report reveals the results of an online survey of 550 moms of boys ages 10 through 17 and 550 boys ages 10 through 17, which Old Spice conducted with its research partner, Wakefield Research, and which dovetails with the launch of Old Spice’s new Wild Collection of “man fresheners.”
As the self-described “authority on all things manly,” Old Spice remains committed to making sure that all men smell fabulous, according to a spokesperson. Of course, that invites the question: When exactly does a boy become a man?
Is it from the very first armpit stink (as many moms might be tempted to believe, according to mom of four boys Deborah Gilboa, MD. (aka Dr. G), parenting expert, author, and board certified attending family physician at Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill Health Center, who partnered with Old Spice to parse and present the results of the survey)? Or is it the day he begins showering without being asked (as believed by the largest group of moms surveyed)? Or is it the day he gets his driver’s license? Shaves for the first time? Gets his first job?
There’s no right answer, but at least now we know the truth: Moms are clearly aware of the stink in their homes and look forward to the day their boys are mature enough to wash it away without being asked. Whether or not boys can tell that they smell, they’re looking forward to shaving, driving, and going to work, and they don’t put much stock into their desire to bathe as a litmus test of manliness.
Please talk frank about the stank
The majority of both moms and boys feel that any conversation about body odor is awkward. But boys feel equally just as awkward talking to their friends about body odor as they do to their moms. That said, it can be a challenge for anyone to smell his own smell, according to Dr. G, and given a choice between remaining blissfully unaware of one’s body odor, on the one hand, and enduring the awkward conversation, on the other, “no one is going to choose walking around smelling funky.”
That puts the ball back into Mom’s court, explains Dr. G. Ultimately, boys are more comfortable opening up to Mom than to Dad (the Wild Guide puts the difference as 51 percent being more comfortable with Mom versus 49 percent being more comfortable with Dad). Besides, as Dr. G says, “Moms always know best.”
A rank stank’s no match for a prank
If boys are relying on their moms to talk to them about body odor and what to do about it, then moms need to find a way to broach the topic despite the awkwardness. “Use humor,” advises Dr. G. “Appeal to your son’s funny bone.”
The majority of both moms and sons believe that humor is more likely than anything else to grab a teenage boy’s attention in an advertisement. Humor is also more likely than anything else to distract a teenage boy from the awkwardness of a conversation about body odor, says Dr. G. In other words, when you think it’s time to talk about the stink, it’s best to make a joke out of it. “When your tween high fives you after a soccer game, point out the greenish gas emanating from his armpits,” Dr. G suggests. “If it’s even a little bit funny, he’s less likely to feel embarassed and more likely to hear what you’re really trying to say.”
Did you know that smart people tend to have a dark sense of humor?
Make it about being manly
Now that you’ve got your son’s attention, Dr. G says, you have to say the right things and avoid saying the wrong things. The right thing to say is that you’re proud of him, that he’s growing up, that he’s becoming a man. The wrong thing to say is anything that involves shame.
“Try to present good hygiene as a grown-up practice,” Dr. G advises. “Everyone starts smelling funky as they mature. Yeah, it’s awkward, but own the awkward. There’s simply no reason for shame.” And no room for it either. There are benefits to being kind to ourselves, and this is a teaching opportunity.
Once you’ve gotten your son on board with the notion that stinking to all high heaven is just a normal part of growing up, talk to him about the science behind the stink: sweat doesn’t smell until it mixes with the bacteria on our skin, says Dr. G. We “manage” that bacteria (as opposed to eliminate it, because some bacteria is good, Dr. G points out) by bathing with soap and using deodorant (or antiperspirant, if sweat stains are becoming an issue).
Then head to the store and make a “study” out of trying out different products. The Wild collection offers four different scents, for example. “Have your son try each one with his eyes closed,” Dr. G suggests, “and then let him rank them and pick out his favorite.”
Did you know you can smell better just by eating better?
Enlist a pro for stuff you don’t know
Your son trusts you, and he needs to continue to do so. If you find yourself out of your element, check with a professional. For example, if it’s his breath that smells, you may want to take your son to the dentist, suggests Dr. G. “The dentist can determine if bad breath is the result of an infection, as opposed to some lack of dental hygiene.” Find out the surprising foods that can give you bad breath.
And when it comes to getting into the nitty gritty of what puberty is all about, including its stages and what boys can expect at each stage, don’t be a hero, Dr. G advises. If you don’t know, call or email your son’s pediatrician for advice. In fact, it’s a good idea to ask the pediatrician to talk to your son about puberty.
Puberty is more difficult for boys to talk about with their moms than even dating and peer pressure, according to the Wild Guide, and Dr. G concurs. Most moms (81 percent) believe that their tween sons don’t understand what’s happening to them during puberty—even if they’ve had “the talk.” And 68 percent of boys surveyed admitted this is true. A majority of both moms and sons (73 percent and 59 percent, respectively) see it as harder to talk about than even dating or peer pressure.
Take it on the road
Although there’s no easy way to talk about puberty, and a good 43 percent of boys and 36 percent of moms believe there’s no good place for mother and son to have the talk (or any awkward talk, really), some places are better than others. Both moms and boys rank the car as the number one place to “talk.” Number two is his bedroom doorway. While you’re driving and chatting with your teenage son, don’t forget this driving etiquette.
Treat him like the man he’s becoming
Don’t assume a good time for you to talk is a good time for him, points out Dr. G. Being mindful of this shows respect. “So make an appointment,” she suggests, “and if he doesn’t seem open to it, negotiate.” By that she means offer to trade 10 minutes of “talk” for 10 minutes of something important to him (X Box, perhaps?). Every good talk shared between Mom and Son builds on Mom’s credibility, which makes the next talk easier. Look at it as an investment, suggests Dr. G.
Recognize his autonomy even while you’re checking it
No one ever said that the teenage years weren’t full of conflict and contradiction. Indeed, when it comes to a teenage boy’s social life, the conflicts and contradictions abound. On the one hand, the majority of moms and boys want Mom to know his friends (65 percent and 55 percent, respectively). On the other hand, virtually all moms and all boys believe that teenage boys, in general, employ “secret social media” as part of their social lives.
Secret social media accounts, also known as “Finsta accounts” (as in “Fake Instagram”) are social media accounts that are kept secret from parents. So, a teenage boy may have a Facebook account that his parents know about, and then an entirely separate Facebook account under a nickname (which his parents don’t know to look for). Finsta accounts are where boys feel they can show their “wild” side, explains Dr. G, which includes having contact with friends Mom doesn’t know—or whom Mom doesn’t approve of, but also includes more harmless activities for which privacy is desired, such as interacting with crushes.
So how is a mom to balance her son’s own desire for Mom to be aware of his social activities, on the one hand, with his need for autonomy, on the other? The answer involves setting boundaries while also making it clear that he has a “choice” in the matter. “You pay for his cell phone,” Dr. G points out. “and you pay for Wi-Fi. Your son is using them because you allow him to do so. For those privileges, there are guidelines in place, and he needs to follow them.”
Ask him for advice
There are definitely areas in which a teenage boy is more of an expert than his mom. Find those areas, suggests Dr. G, and then ask your son for his advice. “Teens like it when we ask their opinion. It shows that we value their opinion.” In addition, by asking for your son’s opinion or advice, you are opening the door to further communication.
Social media is one area that a teenage boy likely has more expertise than his mom. So, ask him for advice on how to use Instagram properly, but then go a step further and ask him if he’s ever seen it used poorly. Take the opportunity to point out to him that the internet holds no real secrets, and even if he’s got a Finsta, he shouldn’t believe that there’s anything truly private about the Internet. Then maybe ask your son if he is aware of the weird negative effects of social media.
He wants you to give him a curfew
Turns out that moms and sons are equally invested in setting late-night limits. Fifty-three percent of moms and 54 percent of boys believe that it’s important for parents to set a curfew. If that seems a bit in conflict with the desire of teenage boys to be treated as adults, just accept it as one of those contradictory aspects of the teenage years. In other words, go ahead and set that curfew. While we’re talking about curfews, there may be other old-fashioned rules we ought to consider resurrecting.
There’s an OK way to PDA
The cold hard fact here is that while 58 percent of moms want to shower their sons with affection anytime, anywhere, even more boys (59 percent) believe that moms should limit their displays of affection to the privacy of their own homes. But there’s a way to bridge the gap, says Dr. G. “Talk it over,” she suggests. “Ask your son when you’re alone if it’s okay for you to hug him, or use his nickname, or whatever way that you wish to demonstrate your affection in public.”
If your son is uncomfortable with public displays of affection (PDA), you can ask him if it’s OK for you to text him an “I love you” instead. Or perhaps you can come up with a code-phrase that means the same thing but sounds a lot like “Go Yankees” or the equivalent. Respecting what your son says on the topic is not only great for your relationship, it’s a great way to “model consent and validation,” Dr. G adds.
If you and your son have differing views on PDA, you’re not alone. Even the Prince William and his mom, the Queen of England, don’t necessarily see eye to eye on the topic.
He’ll be ready to fly the coop before you’re ready to see him go
It may be hard to swallow, but it can’t come as any surprise that eventually the wild, stinky puberty phase and all its awkwardness eventually ends, at which point your boy is a young man, and he’s ready to leave the nest. What may surprise you is that boys tend to be ready at 17, whereas for moms, it’s 18, according to the Wild Guide. But even when your son does finally fly the coop, you could try to see the positive side of an empty nest.