Boys 101: Unique Challenges - Part II

Ask any parent of a boy and they will have experienced this challenge:

Unique Challenge #2:  Aggression (in many forms)

Let's face it, boys can be aggressive.  This aggression comes out in many forms... sometimes a boy is mean to another person in the family.  Sometimes you might notice that they flash into anger really quickly for no reason.  Sometimes you might overhear them playing a videogame and they sound very agressive (using tough language, swearing, yelling).  Also, any stick or object left lying around the house can be made into a gun... what's that all about?  Why are they so aggressive and should you be worried?

First, know it is normal.  Be clear, normal does not always mean acceptable, but it is normal.  You can expect this type of behavior from most boys from time to time for a variety of reasons.  However, just because it is normal doesn't mean that you can not intervene if necessary.  First, let's look at the warning signs that the aggression is getting out of hand.  If any of these are occurring, your boy's aggression is getting out of hand and should be address right away.

  • More than 1 intervention at school in a school year: You have heard from the school staff more than 1 time that your boy is too aggressive.
  • Property damage within the home:  Boys might destroy a log or a stick outside, but when that violence comes inside, this is of concern. (Property damage should be more than a small broken object and require some time and energy by an adult to repair).
  • Any legal involvement:  If the police are called at any point, your boy is too aggressive.
  • Violence toward animals or pets:  This is a significant concern as most boys will not engage in this type of behavior.  Squashing a spider, however, is not a strong concern, but harming a mammal or other domesticated pet is a problem.
  • Ongoing significant boundary violations despite corrections:  If your boy continues to violate your boundaries or the boundaries of any other family member after being spoken to about this behavior, they are getting to be too aggressive.

If any one of these patterns are happening, seek immediate help from a professional who works with boys and aggression.  Those of us who do have experience working with families experiencing this type of aggression and can help you intervene successfully.

Where does this aggression come from?  First, adolescence arrives for boys as they are flooded with testosterone.  This powerful neurotransmitter (in the brain and the body) triggers the growth of body hair, broadening shoulders and other adult male physical characteristics.  It also brings on other emotional changes:  increased sexual urges and ... yes... aggressive impulses.  So, on one level, your boy can not help that these urges have increased.  However,that is no excuse for their behavior and they must learn to manage these impulses successfully.

Second, boys are surrounded by images of aggressive men.  Most movies and videogames as well as other media, features aggressive male behavior.  Can you imagine a videogame about negotiating with or listening to another person?  Boys would definitely find that boring.  They like to see things happening and like to be in the drivers seat.  They like to take action, which translates, at least in the media, as aggression and... at times... violence.  Boys are raised with this all around them.  Even parents who try to keep their sons from being exposed to this material find it difficult to block it's influence completely.  It's all around us.

What can be done about a boy's aggression?  Fortunately, many things.  Of course, we have been dealing with this phenomenon as a species for eons.  Boys have always become increasingly aggressive, and we have developed social ways to manage the aggression.  Unfortunately, many of these methods are not available anymore.  For example, many indiginous (and previous) cultures used this time as an opportunity to take the boys out, away from their family and teach them how to hunt and fight.  Men would remove the boys from the rest of the group and help them channel their impulses toward protecting and providing for their family.  There is no mechanism for that anymore... unfortunately.

In other times, boys were put to work outside in the fields or in other settings where their spike in energy was productive and helpful.  Nowadays, few of those settings exist.  Where they do, they are helpful, but where they do not, boys are left with their impulses in a setting in which these impulses are not tolerated.  So, here are some tips for helping your boy manage his impulses successfully:

  • Sports:  Getting a boy involved in sports can help with these aggressive impulses
  • Time with men:  Helping a boy spend more time with their father, uncle, grandfather, mentor or other strong male role model helps them learn to channel this behavior.  This is sometimes difficult for mothers to navigate, I have noticed.  
  • Time in nature:  A boy can't break nature.  They can pound on things, run fast in a field and hike until they are exhausted, and nature will continue thrive.  Get them outside and moving around. 

These three suggestions can help a boy manage their normal aggressive impulses.  But what about their normal sexual impulses.  This leads us to the final, and sometimes most difficult, challenge when raising boys...  read on as I discuss pornography and other sexual behavior.



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