Can Teen Boys Feel Empathy?

And Then They Grow Up….

(Photo credit: Logan Fisher)

Something happened this week in my home.  Something so rare I am afraid I may make other parents of teen boys jealous.  But then again, telling you about this rarity make give some of those same parents some hope for the future.  What I have to tell you might shake the teenage world as we know it.  It is so earth shattering, earth shaking, earth quaking that what we know about the adolescent boy might forever be changed by the news I am about to share in this one column.  Are you ready?  I’ll try to say it quietly so as not to startle those understandably skittish parents of teen boys.   Come closer so you can hear me.

My sixteen year old spent the entire week being…dare I say it???  Being….oh I can’t believe what I am about to write!  Being…human.  Human?  Hmmmm.  That might not be the correct word.  Let’s try another one…kind?  Or how about…thoughtful?   Of course there is always….Pleasant.  Heck why don’t I put them all together.   Ok.  Let’s try this again.  My sixteen year old spent the ENTIRE week being humanly kind and pleasantly thoughtful.  Yes.  That’s right.  I said ENTIRE, and I meant ENTIRE.  He didn’t have one moment of his typical hibernating-bear-meets-man-eating-lion-meets-the-king-of-the-world-centers-around-me behavior.  Not. One. Moment.

What could have caused this scarce occasion?  It could be that in two months, Aidan turns 17 and is turning a corner on adolescent selfishness.  It could be that he is trying to prove that he is responsible with the impending license looming, but to be honest with you, I am not sure either of those are the reasons.  I think the real reason is much more profound which is why the revelation is to me so earth shaking, so moving.

I think, in fact I am pretty sure, this new found sweetness has to do with empathy.  Did you hear the collective gasps?  Empathy?  In a teen?  NO WAY!  But, dear readers, I am certain that this is true.  Let me explain. Lately I have been feeling low.  I mean REALLY low.  I know what you are thinking.   All moms have ups and downs…but this particular low has been bottom dwelling.

Many changes have taken place in this house during the last year–most out of my control–and the pile has begun to weigh me down sitting on my chest like one of those barbells that super lifters lift.  You know the ones I am talking about.  The ones with the weights on each end that look like an 18 wheeler’s tires.  I have done my best to try and keep my chin up and to keep a smile on my face for the sake of my family.  (Don’t all moms do that?)  But if truth be told, it has been very difficult to hide the misery that I am wallowing in lately.  Could Aidan’s personality shift be due to the fact that he has sensed that his mom needs some positive energy?  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Listen to this list and YOU decide!

  1. On Saturday, my husband suggested a jaunt down our local highway to visit my very favorite store (a store that has a particular December holiday in its name.)  He thought that maybe it’d cheer me up.  As we were packing the baby bag, Aidan said, “Where you going mom?”  I said, “Shopping in Colonie.  Nothing you’d be interested in.”  To my surprise he answered, “Actually, I’d love to come.  Would you mind?”  Mind?  Would I mind?  Since when did that matter?  I stood speechless. He took the toy from my hand and finished packing his little sister’s bag.  On the way down the highway and on the way home, he sang happily to the Sesame Street CD that played repetitively never once asking to listen to his own music.  He had full-sentence-conversations with us at lunch and happily filled the cart with knick-knacks for an hour and a half at my favorite store.
  2. All week when I said, “Do you have homework?”  Instead of the usual eye roll and heavy sigh.  I’d get an enthusiastic, “Oh yeah!  I should probably do that now.  Thanks for the reminder mom!”
  3. Every Tuesday I typically take the baby to visit my parents.  This week, Aidan asked to go with us.  He ASKED to go.  On the way home he told me how much he enjoyed going and suggested that he come every week.  That evening, he genially carved pumpkins with his baby sister and step father.  That moment is worthy of a column in itself.  One I promise to write.  You can see a few pictures of our fun above.  It was just special a special moment.  Purely special.  One that was full of happiness.  One that lifted me.
  4. Yesterday, after receiving bad news in the mail, I was particularly teary, unable to hide the anguish that was mounting.  Standing at the microwave watching the vegetables steam, tears streaming down my face, I felt two arms wrap around my shoulders from behind.  “I love you mom.”  Aidan whispered quickly.  He hugged me firmly and walked away, and just like that the tears were gone.
  5. Today, before leaving to spend the weekend with his dad, I took Aidan for a quick parallel parking lesson.  We talked about his day.  He took my pointers and used them.  He tried over and over to perfect this tough driving maneuver, never once losing his temper or complaining.  Getting out of the car he thanked me for taking him and once again hugged me sweetly.  “I love you mom.”

I was mute, the breath taken away from me quickly by the gesture of warmth and encouragement.  I could only smile a very real smile and nod vigorously as he got in the car to leave.  However had my voice not disappeared during that tender moment, the words I would have spoken would have been simple and to the point.  I would have answered quietly, “I know you love me Aidan.  I know.”


Logan Fisher

Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.

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  • 10 Comments on “Can Teen Boys Feel Empathy?

    1. Your children will never cease to amaze you and make you proud, sometimes when you least expect it. There is nothing better for a parent….

    2. That was a beautiful story that kept me on the edge of my seat reading so fast that I had to go back and read sentences again because I wanted to see if I missed anything! Thanks for sharing!!!

    3. Logan,
      I am writing this with tears in my eyes, because I completely understand your feelings. Usually, my 14-year-old daughter barely gives us the time of day. Today’s column made me see that there is hope for a “human” daughter again in a couple of years. Thank you!

    4. Loved this week’s post. So happy you had a wonderful week…sometimes they come just when we need them the most. Congratulation’s to Aidan for being such a good kid and knowing his Mom needed a little TLC.

    5. Another tear jerker-I think it is becoming a Tuesday night tradition! I am so happy that your week had such highlights and you got some of those wonderful moments photographed as well. Clearly, your son must love you and have some real interpersonal skills to be able to detect your feelings and act in an empathetic way. That should be a testament to you and your parenting. Let me survive parenting through the teen years, although I have a while to go. Oh, I have never been to a Christmas Tree Shop. I must go! Sounds right up my alley!

    6. Wow, Logan. That one made me tear up. He is a great kid. Keep up the good work:)

    7. your stories always touch my soul girl… ALWAYS. but you probably already knew that due to our bizarre soul connection. praise GOD for aidan and his love for his mama- and knowing when she needs it and stepping up to be the young man God created him to be so that he can give her just that…. xoxo

    8. Of course he is like this.. of course. He was raised by a loving mom. Who loves him more than life. This should be of no suprise to you. You did good kid.

    9. WOW! I am so impressed with Aidan for behaving like a young man. It does give me hope that my 13 year old’s “avante evil” period will one day come to an end. Thanks for sharing this! :)

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