Boys 101: Unique Challenges - Part I

From time to time, when people discover that I am a psychologist who works with boys and men, people describe how they need help understanding their son or other men in their life.  Sometimes parents pose questions to me and other times they just describe difficult situations that they are dealing with.  Either way, I have realized over the years that boys, in particular, pose some unique challenges to parents.  Many of these challenges are easily overcome with a little planning.

Unique Challenge #1:  Grunts and other interesting forms of communication

Let's face it, growing boys are not typically good communicators.  While some boys might be quite articulate, in general pre-teen and teen boys are generally not.  In response to a question, a parent might get a look, a grunt or a very short response (yeah, okay, sure or fine).  This can pose challenges to parents who are working on coordinating schedules or are hoping to help their boy navigate the complexities of the adolescent social world.

How do we handle these unique forms of communication? 

  • Location, location, location: Well, first, evaluate the context that the communication is happening in to ensure that you have the best shot at getting a more articulate response.  Boys are very sensitive to context.  For example, if they are hanging out with their male friends... they are less likely to be articulate and more likely to ignore you or grunt a response.  In this context, their connection with friends is the most important thing to them.   Not necessarily to you, but to them.  Because boys are sensitive to this context, they are sensitive about responding to their parents in this situation and looking "weak" or "uncool."  They want to maintain an aura of control and strength.  Mom, Dad or guardian entering the room and saying "What time would you like to go to a movie with the family?" or "When are you going to finish cleaning your room" is a blow to this sense of control.  Now they are a kid being checked up on my their parent or guardian... not cool.
    • Good pro-conversation settings to start with:
      • In the car... with both of you staring out the window.  This creates a sense of shared experience and gets away from the threatening eye contact they might want to avoid.
      • Doing something physical with them - Using muscles and being active tends to activate a boy's ability to interact because their body and their energy are being engaged.  Try throwing a ball with them.   Try walking, hiking or biking together. 
    • Good conversation starters with boys:

      • "What did you do today?" (focus on action)

      • "How is [name of male friend] doing? (specific question)

      • "What was a cool thing you did today?" (focus on successes)

Just because a boy uses this form of communication does not mean that you have to settle for it.  Boys have to learn to communicate with those in their lives.  They have to learn to communicate what they want and what they don't want, for example, in order to advocate for themselves in the future.  Grunting does not work for that.  Just think what the workplace might be like if all the men communicated by grunting or short answers.  Nothing would get done.

Therefore, after the situation has passed (not in the moment), have a talk with your boy about this form of communication.  Help them look at themselves and notice these grunts and communications.

Read on for other challenges...



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