TEENS & TWEENS
By CHARIS PATRICK
We all know that boys and girls are different ... it is stating the obvious. In my home, when I ask my boy to bring a cup from the kitchen, I probably have to ask a few times before he’d comply and then he’d just leave it on the table.
When I ask my daughter for the same thing, she would bring the cup straight away and ask: “Do you want some water?”
There may be feminist movements or gender equality campaigns but ask any parent and they can tell you that boys will be boys. They are filthy but adorable, naughty yet angelic, strong yet helpless. Boys are an intriguing bundle of contradictions, especially during their teenage years.
Clinical psychologist and author Anthony E. Wolf says: “Once adolescence begins, teenage boys go to their rooms, close the door, turn on the stereo, and come out four years later. Be reassured: It’s not anything they’re doing wrong, it’s just a natural (and annoying) part of a boy’s adolescence.”
One mother describes her teenage boy as “living in the land of the “Four I’s,” – acting as if he is “Invulnerable, Invincible, Immortal and Infertile – taking huge risks on a daily basis. What could be more challenging than that?
Why does this happen? Teen boys suddenly find themselves trying to live up to a huge new level of social responsibility. They are expected to “be a man,” to become leaders, wage earners, and models of self-sufficiency. They are expected to succeed in the working world, to be the risk-takers in initiating social and dating relationships, yet remain sensitive and open to females as equals and partners.
Because they feel totally unprepared to meet these challenges, the result can be either fight or flight, which translates into aggression and rebellion, or retreat and withdrawal.
Getting through to boys
Below are some pointers to help us understand and connect with our teen and tween boys:
Boys take longer to mature than girls. Simple but true. If we understand this, it will reduce some of the frustration we feel when we compare our sons with our daughters. We have to be careful especially with first-born sons with their sisters who are a couple of years younger.
A younger sister maturing earlier has a good chance of being on par academically and socially with her older brother. She inevitably becomes a threat. This is a common source of sibling rivalry, leaving many eldest boys discouraged. They end up giving their sister a hard time “for no apparent reasons.”
Give them time to mature and develop. Most boys take their time growing up – sometimes a decade or two! Bottom line: Parenting boys takes patience, persistence and perseverance.
The here and now
Boys generally live in the here and now, especially teenage boys. Avoid nagging your teenager about how his current behaviour is going to impact his adulthood.
A 16-year-old who can’t see life beyond next week will not care about what’s going to happen to him when he is 26 or older. For example, if you want to encourage your teenage son to eat less junk and more real food, it’d be more effective to point out that eating healthy will give him good skin and he’d look better, rather than talking to him about benefits like preventing illnesses.
The real culprit
Many parents complain that their boys, especially tweens, don’t take instructions very well. They either turn a deaf ear, have delayed response or are plain forgetful.
This is indeed frustrating, as tween boys are misread as having an attitude problem. However, it is not entirely their fault. During early puberty, the brain undergoes major reconstruction. Hence, simple recall can be a problem for boys. It takes a little longer for them to find the right information in the brain until new connections are made. Some even have problem finding the right words to use.
More often than not, it is not that our tween boys are inexpressive or not smart; their developing brain is the culprit and presents them with challenges.
Solution? Say it short and write it down. Give instructions, one at a time, and teach the boys to create a “to-do” list and time-table. This way, it becomes clear and concrete for them.
In his blogpost entitled “Simplicity of Raising Boys,” Australian parenting educator and author Michael Grose suggests: “There is only one thing a mum and dad needs to remember. Boys like to please their mums, and they want their dads to be proud of them.”
Well, use these two tips in the right proportions and you will have a good recipe to calm the boisterous boys and bring out the best in them.
Charis Patrick is a trainer and family life educator who is married with four children.