Raising Teenage Boys

At the beginning of August, social media abounds with news of students preparing to start or continue college, to nobly serve in one of the branches of the armed forces, or to travel and help humanity somewhere in the world. Everyone seems to primarily focus on the ‘high achievers’.  You know who I mean …  the students who took every possible honors and Advanced Placement course in high school, and simultaneously juggled an intense, varied list of extracurricular activities.

The high achievers are not the only kids who matter, of course.  There is another category of teenagers who matter very much. I’m writing about the living, endlessly perplexing quandary that is the teenage boy.

I’m going to make a couple of generalizations about teenage boys, so I feel compelled to state that I understand that everybody falls neatly into gender categories. For the purposes of my point about this particular article, gender subsets would just confuse things.

Teenage boys are frequently described as being “lazy” or “unmotivated”. They don’t find time for schoolwork, but they seem to find plenty of time for watching videos, playing video games, and spending time on social media. They don’t quite get in “trouble” at school by being suspended or receiving detention, but by not doing homework and receiving g grades that barely pass, or don’t even pass. They manage to cause plenty of grief and frustration.

Ominous warnings about failing grades and the importance of working hard to assure a bright future all seem to fall on deaf ears with this group. They are seemingly immune to academic stress and pressures, but looks can be deceiving.

The truth is that many teen boys are overcome by demands they fear they just can’t meet, so they remove themselves from the competition. Their parents try everything they can think of to provide motivation. Techniques include begging, pleading, threatening, bribing, scolding, reasoning, screaming, rationalizing, explaining … you get the picture.  Despite all best efforts, nothing seems to light a fire of motivation under these boys.

If you are responsible for one of them, or simply care very much for a member of this group of humans, what do you do to help the situation? I should make it clear that no, I have no cure for adolescent laziness.

I’ve learned though, that adolescent brains simply don’t mature at the same rate, although studies show that girls are consistently ahead of boys in the development process.  So, sometimes what seems to be laziness or apathy is just a kid being a bit of a late bloomer.

I’ve also read that motivation to succeed is closely linked to feeling independent or in charge of one’s own life, which is something most teenagers desperately want.   After all, if you set your own path you’re likely to be more interested in what happens. Federal law itself limits how much say a teenager can have in their own life before the age of 18, because a high school diploma or equivalency is pretty much required.

Even though we might see them as being ‘lazy’ it’s just not that simple and throwing that word around will only make this situation more difficult.


Stop thinking household chores are old-fashioned

In our modern society, it’s easy to think traditional chores are no longer important. Most of us don’t live on a farm or a ranch where physical labor is a practical necessity. Kids today seem so busy with homework, sports, extracurriculars, and hours of activity centered on having an Internet connection, it can feel not worth the effort to get them to cooperate with household chores. In my family, because of my physical disability, I typically can’t just step into the void and handle things myself. Too often I end up nagging in order to make sure things are done when they need to be done.  There are also some things I pay outside companies to handle that my kids could probably do if I could get that level of cooperation.

Logically, I know that successful people are those willing and able to do things that they really don’t want to do – like take out the garbage and clean up after the dog, put away the groceries, and mop the floors. As a single parent trying to keep everyone and everything on an even keel, sometimes I just can’t bring myself to nag anymore. There are certain chores my son is excellent at handling with minimal complaint. I realize though, I have to expect more of him, because the world is going to expect more of him, and whatever goals he develops will require more than the effort of his current day-to-day life.  This brings me to my next point …

Don’t let your teenage boy off easy

As I already stated, sometimes it’s just easier to not push my teenager to do what he doesn’t want to bother doing. He knows how much I love him. He knows that no matter what I’m still going to make sure his needs are met. He’s not going to go hungry or lose his place in our home if he doesn’t empty the dishwasher or put the garbage pails away.  He’s special to me because he’s my beloved son.  He’s not special in that he’s better than anyone else’s son.  I feel like I’m constantly trying to figure out consequences for lackluster efforts in school or other things that reinforce the truth that things in life are not going to be handed to him simply because he showed up. There are no ‘participation trophies’ in real life.

Don’t make him be that which he is not. 

From the very first day of high school, it seems that teenagers are being put in the position of needing to constantly think about what they’re going to do when high school ends. Statistics from the department of education indicate that 70% of high school graduates go on to college. For many students, high school is all about trying to gain accolades and credentials that will help secure admission to the best possible college.  It all reinforces the foolish idea that being average is unacceptable.

Well, being average is perfectly acceptable. So is scoring ‘below average’ if your kid put in his best effort and that was the result. Tests, or rankings, and similar metrics don’t score your child’s value as a human being. It can be really hard for us to remember that but it’s the truth.

Stop telling your teenage son how smart he is

Evidently, repeatedly telling kids they’re good at something often discourages them from putting effort into it.  Even more complicated, telling them how smart they are, makes them consider that to be a defining part of their identity.  Not to risk failing to live up to that expectation, a teenager can just shut down.  It seems so counterintuitive because we want to contribute to them having a positive view of themselves and strong self-esteem but reassuring a teenager of their intelligence is just not the smart thing to do.  Research indicates that instead, it’s much better to praise them for working hard.

Here’s to the teenage boys out there who are growing up in this complicated world. It’s not easy but you can do it, and we’re here for you.  Do you have any tips for parenting boys? If so, I’d love to hear them. Email me at frominhere@gmail.com and share what has or has not worked for you and your boys. I’m always interested in learning something new!

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