He does what? 5 things all parents need to know about teenage boys

I have been working with high school boys now for as long as most of them have been alive. Throughout that time, I have identified some behaviours and traits that stand out. I guess some of these will apply to girls too but perhaps not all. Here are five that are common to almost all boys. Not your son obviously, but pretty much everyone else’s.

  1. They have not read the set book for English

Whether it’s ‘The Great Gatsby’, ‘Macbeth’ or ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ your son hasn’t read it. He may have studied the SparkNotes, watched a YouTube summary or viewed the entire movie version, but he will not have read the actual book. Sadly, it is quite possible to get through the English curriculum, and even get an ‘A’, without having to do something as onerous as opening a book. Why would you if you don’t need to? Of course, if your son is planning to read English Literature at university it might be different. For the rest, the suggestion that they should read the prescribed text from start to finish is a revolutionary idea.

2. They cheat

Whether it’s classwork or homework your son will be quite happy to copy from other boys. He will be also be preparted to let other boys copy from him. True North on the moral compass for boys seems to be ‘can I get away with it?’ I don’t think too many teenage boys have come across Kohlberg’s ‘Stages of Moral Development’ (and we know they won’t have read it) but it suggests that at best their morality will be based on the norms of the group. In a boy’s world being part of the brotherhood (which involves ‘sharing’ your work) supersedes the need for integrity in this area. Anyway, isn’t collaboration a 21st Century skill?

3. They watch porn

Young men have tried to look at pornography ever since it has been produced. The only change is that today it’s easier to access and in colour.  I heard someone, in response to a querry about what age you should give your son a smart phone, answer, “As soon as you are comfortable with him watching porn”. This is not to say all boys are addicted to pornography (some are) but all boys have watched it. Some from as young as 8 years of age, according to Justine Ang Fonté (see podcast below). They may have done a bunch of other stuff too, but that’s for another time.

For an intelligent, open conversation about boys and pornography listen here.

4. They lie

Don’t believe me? Ask your son if he has read his English set work, copied someone else work or watched pornography. Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman expressed the sentiment, “If your teenager isn’t arguing with you then they are lying to you.” If you don’t give your son the space to challenge, disagree or question the rules, then he is going to politely lie to your face as you are laying down the law and then quietly (or loudly, but out of earshot) get on with doing exactly what he wants.

5. They don’t want to disappoint you

When I speak to boys in trouble their biggest concern is not what punishment they might receive but the fear of letting you down. It is precisely because they will let you down that they lie and cheat. Boys feel pressure to live up to the expectations you have of them. This means they may feel obliged to cheat if they feel they cannot achieve their (your) goals legitimately, or lie to preserve the image you have, or they feel you want, of them.  

“If your teenager isn’t arguing with you then they are lying to you.”

Create the space for your sons to be themselves, to set their own goals, to argue with you and to make mistakes. Just like you, they need to be allowed to move past their failures. Like you, they are a work in progress so don’t expect them to be perfect or the finished article. This allows for open and helpful conversations where you can guide them from a position of truth. Most of all they just need your love and support. Judgement and criticism are likely to have the opposite effect to what is intended. After all, let those who are without sin cast the first stone…

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