This past weekend I have enjoyed observing via social media a good mate being a loving father to his son.
As I have read the occasional update and seen a ‘twitpic’ or two of their father son camping trip, I have been reminded of what a formative time of life it is for young boys as they approach adolescence, and the great opportunity parents and adults have to shape young lives.
But it is not always easy. And boys present their own unique set of challenges as they approach and pass through puberty that can cause some degree of angst for parents.
While every boy is different, there are some reasonably common characteristics that many share. In this post I thought it might be helpful to highlight three of the more common needs boys have as they leave childhood and begin the teenage years.
Boys and girls are wired very differently. This isn’t news but its significance is often forgotten. Because of the way their brains develop, and the effects testosterone has on their make up, boys need to have clear structures in order to feel safe and know how where they fit in.
Ever noticed how girls are happy to sit and talk, while boys like to be playing games that have clear rules and involve physical testing? Boys prefer structure when they socialise. Playing games with established rules provides structure.
Many of the common problems associated with young teenage males such as restlessness, aggression, and being loud or disruptive are often displays of anxiety. Boys get anxious in social settings when they are uncertain about 3 things:
- What are the rules?
- Who is charge?
- Am I going to be treated fairly?
When these issues become unclear the social structure is ill-defined and boys will become anxious. Unlike girls, who often become quite and reserved, boys will display anxiety by trying to dominate and act out.
The simple solution is- give boys something to do. If you want to relate to them, do something with them. If you want to minimise the amount of trouble they get into, don’t leave them to their own devices without instruction. If you want their respect set fair rules and enforce them justly.
From about primary / elementary school boys start to take an interest in what it means to be male. They want to learn and do things that they see grown up males doing. From this age until the middle teenage years boys will tend to associate a lot more closely with their dads or other significant older males.
In the tween and early teenage years boys will naturally want to associate with their dad, assuming their dad has been around previously. At this age that boys are like a sponge and will soak up much of what older significant males have to say, and even more importantly how they behave.
That is why it is vital that dads and male caregivers make time to spend with their sons or young boys. Take time to find hobbies and common interests, to talk about life and values. Many of the conversations that occur during these years will shape the man he is to become.
Also be aware that young boys are learning about manhood by watching and not just listening. Along with learning how to set a good campfire, kick a football, or cast a fishing line, boys will also be learning about how to treat women, participate in the running of a household, resolving conflict, and being a dad by watching how the men in their lives behave.
During the early teen years boys are likely to experience a massive surge of testosterone in their bodies. We now know that their brain is also going through significant change at this time as well. This has many positive effects, but can also produce some frustrating behaviours.
Anyone who has dealt with boys in their early teens will tell you it is like dealing with a gangly, awkward, disorganised child, with a limited vocabulary and regular cases of amnesia. They need lots of patience and plenty of reminders.
Parents and adults will have to make a conscious effort to direct a young male in even the most basic of tasks. Getting organised, remembering to do things, and engaging in coherent conversation can all be to hard for boys at this age. Parents can mistake these behaviours for rebelliousness or laziness. This is often a mistake. Boys are just struggling with how to handle the changes occurring in their bodies and brains.
Parents can help by being very clear about what is expected and assisting boys establish patterns or processes to achieve those expectations. Want your son to put his laundry out on time; show him where it has to go, explain clearly when it has to happen, and put up visual reminders and cues. The occasional verbal prompt in advance can also help.
This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be taught responsibility. In fact at this age the best form of discipline is consequential discipline. Teenagers will learn best at this age if you let them deal with the consequences of their actions. If they aren’t organised enough to get somewhere on time, hand permission notes in, or get their laundry sorted on time, then allow them to take responsibility for their actions. If they are late for dinner they miss out or make their own . If their laundry is sorted on time they have to do their own laundry. Simple consequences, laid out early, and enforced calmly will encourage teens to accept responsibility.
These are my 3 top things that I think every young teenage boy needs, I’m interested in what others would consider their top 3 or think needs to be added. Let us know us know in the comments below.
Image by jamckay