October 27, 2014 —

All conscientious parents of sons ask themselves at some point, “What can we do to keep our sweet boy from going down a dark path?”

But here is the good news: we should each have hope for our sons. After 25 years of seeing a lot of troubling things, I believe that with all of my heart.

Many kids go through trials during their teen years and some may dabble with alcohol, drugs, and sex. But through actively talking with our sons, we can help them end up on the right track.
  
There are a lot of great studies that show us that the most important way to keep teens out of trouble is to keep them “connected” to loving adults in their lives—Mom and Dad, first and foremost. You can then keep your teen connected to grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers or youth leaders. Keeping teens on the right track isn’t about making sure that they spend enough time with peers (opposite of what we are taught). The truth is, teens feel better about life and themselves when they spend more time with loving adults—not peers. Parents also need to make sure that teens get three things in addition to love: acceptance, affection and admiration.

Show Your Son That You Accept Him
If a parent consistently shows a teenage son that he is accepted for who he is and that he is an integral part of the family, he will establish a sound sense of self. He will learn that he has great value because he belongs to the family unit. This is especially important for teen boys because if they don’t feel that they are accepted in the family, they tend to look elsewhere to be accepted, such as in a gang or with other troubled teens.

Give Your Teenage Boy Affection
Second, when a teenage boy receives affection from his parents, he believes that he is lovable. When a father hugs his son, the message to the boy is enormous: I see you, I love you and I like who you are. Why is this important? Because 99% of teen boys feel insecure about who they are and what they should become. Affection teaches them that they are worth loving, which keeps them emotionally grounded.

Let Your Son Know You Admire Him
Third, every teen boy needs to know that he is admired as a young man and that he is capable of standing on his own. Ideally, this is a male figure’s role – whether it be a father, an older brother, an uncle or a family friend – because you want your son to have a strong male presence in his life. When a strong male figure tells your son that he believes that he can succeed, your son will feels important. And when a teen boy feels that someone believes in him, he’s ready to fly.

If a male figure isn’t available, then a female role model can stand in his place, but she needs to know a trick. She needs to learn to be tough and communicate that he doesn’t need her to provide everything he wants. Female role models tend to keep young boys from knowing what they really can do because we do it for them. We often make excuses for our sons and coddle them, preventing them from standing on their own. I fully understand how easy it is to fall into this trap as a mother because I have an adult son.

If a parent shows a son these three things— acceptance, affection and admiration— the chances of the teen straying into dark territory are very slim.

We can’t control our kids, and it’s good that we can’t. The best we can do is shape the environment in which they grow. We can make a great environment for our kids that will affect who they become. We can make sure they feel loved, valued. We can ensure they grow up with a deep sense of belonging to a unit that wants to protect and nurture them.

A version of this post was originally published on Meg Meeker, MD.

Meg Meeker is a pediatrician who has practiced pediatric and adolescent medicine for 25 years. She is a passionate and popular speaker on pediatric health issues and child-parent relationship and is the author of six books including the best-selling Strong Fathers/Strong Daughters: Ten Secrets Every Father Should Know, Boys Should Be Boys, The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming Our Passion, Purpose and Sanity, Your Kids at Risk and Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Lessons Mothers Need to Raise Extraordinary Men. Meg is an Assistant Clinical Professor at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and currently teaches medical students and physicians in residency training. Meg has appeared on Dateline NBC’s 411: Teens and Sex with Katie Couric, The Today Show, The O’Reilly Factor, Today with Kathie Lee and Hoda, The Dave Ramsey Show, The World Over with Raymond Arroyo, Heartland with John Kasick and Fox and Friends. She has been a guest on over 300 radio shows, and her written work has appeared in The Washington Times, The Huffington Post, People magazine, Forbes magazine and Time Magazine. She is also the co-host of My Family Talk Radio with Dr. James Dobson. Meg has been married to her husband Walter for 33 years. They have four grown children and one grandchild.