Just in time GillBill!
This sounds like it really has not been an easy time. First of all, it is never too late to explain things like this, so do not worry about that. I often work with adults with learning disabilities who when I first meet them are very unclear on what is appropriate conduct with other people, but with the right sort of conversations and lessons about ‘rules for living’ pitched at the right level they often come to understand or at least be aware of what is and is not ok.
I would make sure you go to someone at your son’s school to clarify what they have covered or intend to cover in terms puberty, growing up, and appropriate and inappropriate touch. These topics are an essential part of sex and relationships education, and since this is a required element of the curriculum, you are well within your rights to request that it is covered if it has not been.
I suppose there are a few elements within your query to consider here. In terms of your son becoming impatient and frustrated within you, this is something that I think we see in 99% of teenage boys, especially towards their parents, so maybe put this down to the raging hormones and the difficult attitude this often brings, and look forward to when this phase passes… which it generally does.
Of course, what is making this all the more difficult for you is that it is coupled with inappropriate behaviour towards your friends. I suppose, from I psychological point of view I would look at your son’s behaviour towards your friends and ask myself ‘what is reinforcing about these interactions?’ His behaviour would appear to be led by him having a new level of attraction towards adult females (which would be part and parcel of puberty), and when in their presence, he has the impulse to be near them and touch them. For him to repeat this behaviour, it will likely have at some point been reinforcing, i.e. he is successful in being close to and/or touching the adult female, which is enjoyable (forgive my clinical language!). These situations often occur out of someone like your son getting inconsistent responses. I expect some of your friends are slightly more guarded, while others are unsure how to react and let the behaviour occur to a certain extent, out of politeness… not wanting to push their friend’s son away, which is a forgivable way to be! However, if your son learns that at on some occasions, he gets the enjoyable outcome he seeks, but he is not certain when this will be, he is more likely to keep trying his luck! (in behaviourist psychology this would be called ‘an intermittent and variable schedule of reinforcement’)
So how do you crack this? Well, it seems the approach here would need to be twofold. In my opinion it may be beneficial to start to help your son understand that this sort of behaviour is not appropriate, and could get him into trouble, and to support him to develop alternative ways of interacting with people. This might be done by engaging in some conversations/explanations as to why he might find himself wanting to do this (e.g. as we get older, we start to get physically attracted to other people) and asking the school to do so also. An integral part of this would be discussions about consent. Secondly, trying to ensure that your son understands what a communication that some does not want him to touch them looks like, and ensuring this is delivered to him in a consistent way within your home. A good way to do so might be by saying ‘no’ while using the Makaton sign for ‘no’ (a hand held up in front of you, palm facing out, and moved from left to right). It would be good to inform each of your friends that comes over of this sign when they arrive and ask them to use it if your son becomes inappropriate. This may also leave them feeling more empowered to say ‘no’ to your son without worrying that they are hurting his or your feelings.
Another way to potentially help your son to better understand appropriate and inappropriate conduct with other people would be through the use of a resource that I mentioned in an earlier post – ‘books beyond words’. There are two titles that might be particularly useful to go through with your son Hug Me, Touch Me and Making Friends. These books portray a story of people who struggle to know what appropriate ways to approach and or touch other people are, and since there is no text, they easily stimulate conversation about what is going on in each picture. You could use these not only to gain insight into your son’s understanding of what is and is not appropriate, but also as a means of explaining why certain behaviours such as touching someone who does not want to be touched by you is not ok.
I have not really covered issues of puberty such as body changes in this post, as it seemed your greatest concern is how you help your son refrain from approaching people inappropriately. However, some of the posts above touch upon bodily changes, and if you wanted to consider a resource covering changes in the body (as well as other elements of sex education) that can be used outside of school, you might consider the Family Planning Association’s (FPA) DVD pack called Jason’s Private World.
I hope this helps GillBill, thank you for reaching out!