I spend a lot of time thinking about boys - their aversion to haircuts, their obsessive interest in technology and why they constantly leave their dirty socks lying around. I worry about how my two sons will handle being, according to what they tell me, the only boys on the planet who do not have an X-box. I marvel when my second grade son drops to the ground to try doing push ups and tells me he’s working on his six-pack. I worry about all four of my sons navigating a school system that sometimes seems to be dominated by more communicative and organised girls.
With these and other concerns about raising four boys, I dove into Rosalind Wiseman’s new book, Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Your Son Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World. Author of the best-selling Queenbees and Wannabees, Wiseman interviewed over 160 boys (ages 10 to 20) to present an eye-opening portrait of the life of boys from middle school and beyond. Among her unexpected findings are these six things that all mums of teen boys should know.
1. Boys only act like they don’t care about friends, family or schoolwork.
Even when they care deeply, boys learn to avoid showing fear, love, sadness or even giddy enthusiasm because they feel pressured to “act like a man.” From the never-smiling Batman to the grim-faced protagonists of video games like Halo4 and Assassin’s Creed, boys’ animated heroes are a terse, non-emotional bunch. Parents, who urge their sons to “get themselves under control,” coaches who talk about “throwing like a girl” and peers who mock colouring, singing or the Disney channel, all push boys to assume this default setting of manly indifference. But with support and communication, parents can help boys overcome this pressure and grow into, as Wiseman puts it, "authentic, strong and emotionally engaged men."
2. The idea that boys are easier or “less complicated” is a myth.
Boy-world is filled with constraining social dynamics and roles just as girl cliques are, says Wiseman. These include “masterminds” who rule their own small social groups with put-downs, deciding what’s funny, what’s stupid and when to get up from the lunch table. The remaining “wingmen” find ways to fit into their group by taking on roles like “the entertainer” (the jokester, who can end up struggling to be taken seriously), “the bouncer” (big, physically brave, often manipulated by others) or “the conscience” (who always worries about getting caught). Friendship prevails, but it can be riddled with conflict, insults and festering resentments.