We know from recent Ditch the Label research that young males are less likely to tell somebody or seek support when they need it; societal constructs of masculinity have long denied many boys and men around the world freedom of visceral expression.

They are taught from a young age to suppress their emotions, to ‘man up’, to ‘stop being a girl’- and many young men conform, for fear of being labelled ‘gay’ or ‘feminine’ – adjectives that have come to be synonymous with weakness.

Unfortunately, thanks to this firmly rooted ‘stoic’ culture, it can be extremely difficult to know how to broach sensitive subjects with your teenage son, encouraging him to be open about his experiences or emotions without provoking a negative reaction or embarrassing him might seem an impossible task.

With this in mind, we have compiled ten tips to help you communicate with your teenage boy.

1. Pick the right moment and environment.

Choosing the right moment and environment in which to talk to your teen boy is vital. Resist the urge to ‘sit’ him down in a formal manner for a ‘discussion’, or pounce on him as soon as he is home from school (when he might be feeling tired or irritable).

We advise approaching him in a casual, more spontaneous way – for example, while you are watching TV together after dinner, or maybe while you are driving. He is more likely to open up if he doesn’t feel under pressure, or that you are making a ‘big deal’ out of it. Research also shows that avoiding eye contact when talking about serious situations with your son could actually increase his emotional openness and receptivity.

Capitalise on the moments where you are both feeling relaxed and at ease and approach the subject as you would any other conversation.

2. Don’t lecture him.

Make sure he feels comfortable talking to you about his experiences and reassure him that he can confide in you without fear of being reprimanded. If he does open up to you and you respond by chastising him, it is likely he won’t feel comfortable being honest with you in the future. This will also actively discourage him from seeking much-needed support. Have a conversation with him, rather than talking at him.

Try to be as proactive as possible and bring potentially sensitive issues into everyday conversation – regularly ask how they are getting on in their favourite game, for example.

3. Don’t patronise him.

It is important that you don’t patronise your son when talking to him; make sure that he feels like the power is in his hands and that you will be there to guide and support them every step of the way. A good way of doing this is to ask him how you can help him, or what steps he wants to take next.

It is also important to never assume anything about your son. For example, instead of asking if he’s got a girlfriend, ask if he’s dating anybody – don’t gender it, this makes it easier for your son to talk to you about his sexuality, for example.

4. Listen to what he has to say.

Before you try and advise him, make sure you have listened to all he has to say, without passing judgement or butting in with anecdotes. Hear him out, carefully consider what he has told you and suggest that together you find a productive and positive way in which you can resolve the situation and move forward.

5. Try to understand his point of view.

Even if you don’t agree with what he is saying, try and stay neutral on the subject and do not devalue his opinion. If you go against what he is saying or criticise his actions, you are likely to be met with the phrase ‘You don’t understand!’.

Demonstrate that you are eager to see his point of view and listen to what he has to say – he is more likely to respond to you in the same respectful manner when it is your turn to speak. You could try saying something like ‘I understand why you might think/have done that, but do you think *insert suggestion* could be a good route to take?’

6. Keep calm.

Make sure you are able to control your emotions when talking to your son as responding with aggression or tears is likely to provoke an equally explosive reaction and might cause him unnecessary worry or concern.

It is much easier to resolve a problem if you talk about it calmly rather than raising your voice. Shouting is likely to make him feel defensive and his reaction might be to shout back or to storm off, putting an end to the conversation.

7. Make it clear you want to help.

Remind him regularly that you are there to help and support him and that your love is unconditional. He might not show it, but these reminders won’t go unnoticed or unheard.

8. Don’t take it personally.

When people are angry, frustrated or upset sometimes they say things they don’t mean. Try not to take your teenager’s bad mood personally or what he says in the heat of the moment to heart. Sometimes when we are stressed we lose clarity of vision and say things we don’t actually mean just to hurt the other person – words we wish we could take back. Keep that in mind if he says something hurtful and doesn’t react to his comments. Instead, suggest that you continue the conversation when he has calmed down and is ready to talk.

9. Accept when he doesn’t want to talk to you.

If he is certain he does not want to engage in conversation with you, don’t nag at him as you will just push him further away. Accept that now might just not be the right time to tackle the problem. Reassure him that you are there for him when he is ready to talk and that your door is always open.

It might be worth seeking external support too – it could be your teen might feel more comfortable opening up to somebody they do not know. You can contact a therapist, counsellor or someone at Ditch the Label.

If they just need someone to talk to, they can do so via our community or they can DM us directly on Twitter to speak to somebody.

10. Use positive reinforcements.

It is important that you create a home-culture that is open, inclusive, non-judgemental and where regular dialogue is actively encouraged and expression of emotion praised. If you see your son crying don’t disempower him and tell him to ‘man up’ or criticise him for being sensitive. Instead, reassure him that his reaction is completely natural, normal and extremely healthy.

The more at ease he is with being able to openly express his feelings, the less alien it will be for you to talk to him about his emotions and experiences.



When Teachers Don’t Act

All state schools (but not private schools) by law, must have a behaviour policy in place which includes measures to prevent bullying. Some schools will have a separate anti-bullying policy. There is no standardised policy across the UK that all schools must follow – it is decided upon by individual educational establishments so there can be a huge variation from school to school. The policy has to be made available to all staff, pupils and parents. It covers the behaviour and conduct of pupils before, after and during the school day.

UK schools must also follow and abide by the anti-discrimination law to prevent harassment and bullying within their school.

It is important to know that although bullying itself is not a crime and has no legal definition, some forms of bullying are illegal and should be reported to the police. These include: violence or assault, theft, harassment or intimidation (e.g. abusive or threatening calls, emails, letters or texts) and hate crimes. School staff can also report bullying to the police.

  • In most circumstances, you should report any bullying to the school in the first instance
  • Keep clear records of all contact with the school; phone calls, text messages, visits and meetings
  • The school will deal with the situation in different ways depending upon the severity of the bullying. This could include; disciplinary measures, mediation, exclusion or restorative justice
  • Any action must take account of any special educational needs or disabilities that the pupils have

Typical process of complaints:

Teacher > Senior Teacher (Head of Year/Department) > Assistant Head Teacher > Head Teacher > Board of Governors > Local Education Authority OFSTED > Department for Education

If you are not satisfied with the school’s action:

  • Raise the situation with the school governors
  • Make a formal complaint to the Local Education Authority (LEA)
  • Complain to OFSTED on 0300 123 1231 or [email protected]

If you believe that you child is being discriminated against, contact:

  • Equality Advisory & Support Service (EASS): 0808 800 0082 (Text Phone 0808 800 0084) for help and advice.

Discrimination can include (but is not limited to); race, colour, nationality, religion, belief, disability, sexual identity, gender or sexual orientation.


Bullying can of course affect anyone, often leaving young people feeling vulnerable and isolated. This is particularly true for young people with SEN&D (Special Educational Needs and Disability) who may already be experiencing this, thereby creating a double disadvantage.

What the Stats Tell Us

While we shouldn’t assume that all SEN&D young people will be bullied, the facts make for worrying reading. Each year Ditch the Label produces an in-depth bullying survey and from this we know that:

  • 63% of those with a physical disability are far more likely to experience extreme bullying and social exclusion.
  • 67% have self-harmed and 40% have tried to take their own lives.
  • 74% of those with Asperger Syndrome or Autism experience bullying, with verbal bullying being particularly severe.

That this is happening at all should be enough for us to sit up and take notice but considering these figures are significantly above the national average means intervention, action and education is vital and that current approaches are not working.

Bullying can happen in any environment, including special schools, but with many SEN&D young people spending much of their school life in mainstream education, the risks are increased. There are many valuable benefits for inclusion in terms of personal and educational development for all pupils, but it can leave SEN&D pupils vulnerable to the prejudices surrounding disability.

Schools must ensure that they encourage a ‘whole school’ culture of education and respect, which includes the wider community, parents and carers. Negative attitudes towards disability and other conditions need to be addressed from very early on in education and then reinforced as standard throughout school life. SEN&D children may already be treated differently by the adults around them and be doing different schoolwork, so it is vital that this is incorporated into the classroom as smoothly as possible.

Many young people with Asperger Syndrome or Autism can experience huge problems with communication, which makes forming and maintaining friendships difficult. They may not recognise when they are being bullied and additionally, their ability to communicate concerns or to report bullying will be considerably more difficult.

Top Recommendations

Parents, guardian, teachers and other staff members need to be tuned in to the communication style of SEN&D children and young people and the things that they, and their peers are saying. They must be ready to take action where appropriate without stereotyping anyone as a victim.

It is vital to keep an open dialogue with all children around subjects like bullying so that it is never a taboo or awkward conversation. It may be necessary to take a different approach if you suspect someone with SEN&D is being bullied due to their age and level of understanding. For example a direct question may not be the best approach; rather a general chat around the subject giving them the opportunity to voice concerns. If vocal communication is extremely difficult or impossible, then a useful approach can be drawing or using visual prompts like facial expressions.

Every school and college has a legal obligation to safeguard children and young people and this covers the entire day, including breaks and lunch, which can be particularly problematic. But we each have a responsibility to assist in the prevention of bullying.

Parents and guardians can maintain good communication with schools, especially with class teachers and SENCO staff so any issues can be responded to swiftly and dealt with appropriately. This may need to be more than just using a home/school diary.

Ensure that your child knows you are listening and taking it seriously and take the time to reassure them that you will do all you can to sort out any problems. If you feel you need extra support approaching a parents support group that is specific to your child’s condition can be extremely useful.

Ditch the Label are committed to working for a future that is free from bullying and discrimination for ALL young people.

If you would like to find out more or need advice or support please contact us.