I'm concerned about my son. He’s 22, loves the computer and loves playing computer games. He's a great kid, and he's nice to be around, except he's very opinionated. He thinks that he has the answer for everything, although his answers are usually not too far off from the way that I feel. The problem is that he's missing the sensitive side of giving opinions or criticism. He believes in telling the truth the way that he sees it, not sparing any feelings. He defends this to me by telling me that “some people like it.” Putting this all together, he doesn’t have much of a social life.
I'm afraid that he's chasing away girlfriends or potential relationships, because he doesn't know how to say things in a way where feelings aren’t hurt or taken well by the other person. For example, he wouldn't say, "You look nice today," just to make someone feel good. If he doesn't believe they look nice, he'll tell them straight out, because he believes that's honest. At best, he'll say 'whatever'. He doesn't know how to converse and he's very blunt. I understand some teens are like that with adults, but as a young man he’s like that with everyone.
Will he outgrow this? Is there something I can do to help him learn that there’s an appropriate way to express his opinions?
To begin, I’d like to invite you to change your perspective just a bit.
From what you’ve written me, it seems to me that you value social relationships and all the different nuances that go into developing and maintaining those relationships. That’s great, and I’m certainly not going to challenge your values regarding this situation. However, it is possible that your son simply has different values than you. As a parent, you have -- to the best of your ability -- raised your son to be a man who can handle all the joys and sorrows that make up life, and to be as successful as he can using his talents and abilities. Yet, a very human side effect of such rearing can be the assumption that your child values the same things you do, or at least values them at the same level you do. Sometimes that is true, other times it isn’t.
So the answer to your first question of, “Will he outgrow it?” really depends on several things. Certainly the process of maturing into adulthood may change his behavior and attitude. Those of us who have lived at least a few years in the adult world know that chronological age can have very little to do with maturity. Young adulthood, or “emergent adulthood,” as it is sometimes referred to today, is often an extension of the exploration and discovery of the self that begins in adolescence. Both the college experience and the world of work are full of “teachable moments” and opportunities for growth.
The other thing you must consider is whether or not your son considers his behavior a problem, and judging from what you wrote, he doesn’t. He seems to believe that bold-faced honesty works; therefore, he has no real motivation to change. You can certainly take the initiative in pointing out the consequences of his behavior, but young adults often value the feedback of peers and friends when it comes to what is or isn’t acceptable.
Granted, there could come a day when your son meets someone with whom he really wants a friendship or romantic relationship, and he may come to you for advice. That could be your opportunity to impart your wisdom to him. However, oftentimes it takes being hit with the proverbial brick to actually initiate change. His communication style may cost him that friendship or relationship, and while such a consequence is unpleasant, it could teach him something about how others perceive them. It’s those hard-learned lessons that often lead to changes in character. As a parent, I’m sure there’s a part of you that would like to spare your son the hurt, embarrassment or other painful emotions that inevitably come with these life lessons, but that’s part of how these lessons stick with us the rest of our lives.
My final thought on your first question is this: Your son may not be a social person, or he may not understand how to communicate in a social relationship, and this lack of tact when he speaks could be a defense mechanism to protect himself from others, or a type of “self-sabotage” so he doesn’t have to work at developing a relationship.
The answer to your second question, “Is there something I can do?” is “Yes, with a ‘but.’” Yes, there are things you can do to help your son, but at the bottom line, your son will have to do the work.
What can you do? Love him. Set the example for behavior you believe is appropriate. Perhaps when he sees the natural result of respectful communication, he’ll pick up on some of the social cues. Respectfully challenge his behavior and point out possible ways he could have communicated differently. Talk to him man-to-man. A father-son relationship, like a mother-daughter relationship, has extraordinary influence, especially when it is based on love and mutual respect.
I wish you, and your son, all the best.