A group of fathers were surprised to discover the struggles their sons face as a teenager today, especially when it comes to navigating traditional ideas of masculinity and making good decisions about drugs and alcohol, during a social experiment set up by “Good Morning America.”
In the “GMA” experiment, teens spoke openly about the negative effects of the traditional ideas of masculinity when it comes to their relationships with those around them. Unbeknownst to them, their fathers listened in to their conversations from behind a glass mirror.
“There’s a lot of pressure on being a teenage boy, guys go through a couple of things not many people talk about,” Nathaniel Harrison, 15, told ABC News’ Deborah Roberts during the experiment.
“Girls can like sleepover at other girls houses and stuff, but when you say that you are going to sleep over at a guys house, then everybody’s like ‘Oh really, well what are you going to do there?'” he added. “And its like we’re just hanging out, we’re friends.”
Griffin Reiner, 15, agreed with his peer, saying “people just don’t think its acceptable,” to become emotionally close or connected to other boys.
“I’ve never seen anyone in my school, any guy in my school start crying or like freak out about anything,” he added.
Griffin called being a teenage boy today “confusing,” and Nathaniel described it as “frustrating.”
Pressure to party, ask out girls
Author Olisa, 15, told Roberts that “you’re pressured” especially when it comes to making decisions about alcohol and drugs.
“Kids are definitely like drinking, smoking, like doing pills at parties and stuff,” Griffin said. “I used to do that stuff but then I stopped, because I understand, like that it’s not good for me, specifically.”
Author recalled an incident during his first year of high school when he felt pressured into smoking marijuana with a friend.
“I remember my friend was like, we were freshmen, and he was like, ‘Oh yeah, come smoke weed with me at the park,” Author said. “And I was like, ‘Nah, man.'”
The teens also said they feel pressure or expectations when it comes to their relationships with girls their age.
“We always feel that pressure to maybe ask that girl out, or just talk to her in general,” Nyles Adams, 14, said.
Nathaniel added that some people may not realize how scary it can be to open up about your feelings.
“It takes real courage and real bravery to walk up to somebody and tell them how you feel,” Nathaniel said.
Most of the boys said they felt like they could not talk to their fathers about some of the struggles they were facing.
“I don’t tell them much,” Griffin added of his relationship with his parents. “But when I do tell them stuff, its more to my Mom than too my Dad.”
Nyles added that he and his father “used to be closer” but it their relationship has become different as he’s grown.
All of the boys were surprised when they found out their fathers were listening in to their candid conversation.
Some of the fathers told ABC News that they were surprised especially when hearing their sons talk openly about how prevalent drugs and alcohol are in their young lives.
“I am relieved to hear that his peer group don’t engage in that kind of stuff,” the father of Nathaniel said.
Jon Reiner, the father of Griffin, said that he is “glad that he feels that there’s someone that he can confide in,” in response to his son’s observation that he feels he can talk to his mother about struggles in his life rather than his father.
Anthony Adams, the father of Nyles, said that he struggles with the balance of being a parent and still being a friend to his son.
“Being a friend and then being a dad, there’s a big difference in between,” he said. “And you got to know where to balance it off.”
Expert: Parents should teach teens resilience
Dr. Logan Levkoff, an expert in parent-child communications, told ABC News that it is important for parents to enforce rules for their teens that are in their best interest, even if it may be different from what a teen says they want.
“As parents we want kids to love us, we want them to trust us, we want them to be our friends, and often times as they get older we have a really hard time putting restrictions on things,” Levkoff said. “This is where we have to recognize that our kids may say one thing, but they may indeed mean another.”
Levkoff added that one of the most important skills parents can teach teens is “resilience.”
“While we want to protect our kids, it is important for them to feel hurt or disappointment,” she said. “Our job as parents is to teach our kids resilience, and to teach our kids how to overcome those challenges.”
Levkoff said that when your teen is feeling distressed emotionally, “pretending that those feelings don’t exist is unhealthy.”
“Putting a bandage over it doesn’t acknowledge all the feelings that are very real,” she added.
Levkoff said one of the most important things that parents can do if they are concerned that their teen may be struggling with anxiety, is to “trust your gut.”
She added that if your teen is “avoiding social activity,” or taking a step back from activities they once enjoyed, “that might be a sign that something is going on.”
If you do suspect your teen is struggling with anxiety, Levkoff recommends asking questions “that are meant to illicit a more thoughtful answer” than simply “yes” or “no.”
“If parents suspect that something is going on, I think asking questions about friendships, I think asking to see phones and social media usage of your children and their friends is absolutely within a parents range of authority,” she added.