There’s been a lot of talk recently about a growing segment of teenage boys—known as “boofheads”—getting away with entitlement, laziness, and aggressive behaviour toward their parents. The blame has been given to the parents for being too weak, pandering to every wish in the name of their children’s “happiness”.
A new book by child psychologists, Michael Carr Gregg and Elly Robinson, has named this the “Prince Boofhead” syndrome. They say some teenage boys are so pandered to by their parents that normally unacceptable behaviour like swearing and physical aggression to their parents, as well as expecting their parents to wait on them, has become their norm. These “spoilt” kids have become used to their parents shielding them from every disappointment and picking up after them. It’s spilling into their adult life as they continue to be aggressive and demanding with the women in their lives.
At the root of this problem, the authors say, is “permissive parenting”. And I totally agree.
But this does not mean we should try to counter this by shifting back to the dark ages of punishing our kids and controlling their every move.
The root of the permissive parenting problem
Kind, calm and gentle parenting is needed now more than ever. But it requires the key ingredients of clear boundaries, rules and routines for our kids.
What’s more, I believe that the crucial missing ingredients in many families are parents who are actually present and involved with their kids. Too many mums and dads are missing in action—busy with their work, on their phones or laptops, out shopping, and so on. Life has become too complicated, costly, and busy for many parents to just sit down and play with their kids, or take them out biking or playing sport, or anything really.
Deep down, parents feel guilty about this. So, they try to make up for it by pandering to their child’s every wish, buying them more stuff and not pulling them into line when they’re rude or selfish.
So, when it comes to getting through life’s ordinary challenges like school work, activities or social life, many parents are too quick to jump in and fix whatever problems their kids have. As a result, their child doesn’t learn to cope with and bounce back from daily challenges.
What’s more, when kids reach those crucial moments where they need to be coached through difficult behaviours, like getting on with others or learning new skills at school, parents are absent until the crunch. And then they’re too quick to try to fix it all.
To counter permissive parenting, be present
Permissive or “weak” parenting is targeted by Carr Gregg and Robinson, as it should be.
But don’t confuse being kind, gentle and calm with your kids as weak. A huge part of mindful parenting is being present to our kids—listening to their struggles, empathising with their emotions, helping them find solutions to challenges. And, crucially, being right there to guide them about what behaviours are and are not okay.
For me, this means having a list of non-negotiables, things that I won’t tolerate such as hitting, violence or disrespecting others. I can tell them, in the moment, these behaviours are not okay and why they are not okay. Repeatedly. Over time, they learn what is and isn’t acceptable. Being right there, I can also help them find more useful ways to handle their emotional challenges.
For example, a common challenge in young children is hitting. When they get angry with us or with another child, they lash out as their emotions overwhelm them. It’s even more pronounced if they’re tired, unhappy or over-stimulated (e.g., at kinder or daycare). If parents are close by, we can coach them about what to do when they get angry and why hitting is not a good response.
POST CONTINUES BELOW: Dr Michael Carr-Gregg joined the This Glorious Mess podcast to talk about raising teenage boys.
Here’s the mindful parenting method to deal with this:
- Intervene to stop them hitting (if you can).
- State what you see: “You’re angry. You want that toy and I won’t give it to you, so you feel angry.”
- Set the limits: “If you feel angry, it’s never okay to hit. You should stamp your foot and use words to say what you need. Hitting just hurts me and makes me sad.”
- Then stay with them while they cry or shout to let off their emotional burden.
- Once they have calmed down, talk it through again and explain why hitting hurts others. Ask them to come up with other ways to deal with feeling angry (if they’re old enough to understand this).
This is strong parenting, even if we don’t shout, send them to time-out or punish them. We stay with them and coach them so they can learn what behaviours aren’t okay, and what to do instead. Sending them to their room to let off steam makes them feel unloved and bad, and gives no chance for them to learn.
I recommend working out with your partner what are the non-negotiables for your family. What rules and limits will you set for your kids? You both must agree to stick to them, and define how you will do so.
For example, here are some of the non-negotiables we have for my 4 year-old daughter:
- Speaking respectfully and kindly
- Being gentle and not hurting others
- Not damaging things intentionally (accidents are okay)
- Sticking to the evening routine (dinner, bath, teeth, story, sleep)
- Sitting at the table to eat; no feet on the table
- No lollies or soft drink (yes!)
- No screen time (yes, that too!)
- Eating what dinner is agreed to and cooked for her
This may sound like a lot (or maybe not!), but we give her plenty of choices and empowerment. For instance, she chooses what she wears, how she spends her play time, which one of two options she eats at mealtimes, what books she wants at story time, and so on.
Putting a stop to power struggles
Parenting can often feel like a power struggle. Your wishes against your kids’ wishes. This is because kids feel powerless. Nearly everything in their life is decided by their parents or other adults.
Most kids, especially stubborn ones (like my daughter!), try to assert themselves in certain ways to feel less powerless. For my daughter, it was always refusing to get dressed. The way around this was to give her choices—let her choose between acceptable outfits. There’s nothing wrong with giving limited choices between things we are fine with.
Other times, our kids don’t do what we say because it’s just not fun. They want to keep playing, not go to the bath/go to school/tidy up! Their short-term view of life means they don’t want to stop their game—they can’t imagine they can do it again tomorrow. In this case we need to help by making the next step more fun (e.g., “I’ll race you to the bathroom!”).
But, in the end, the way we parent needs to manage our kids and help them manage their emotions so they do what we need them to (eat, sleep, brush their teeth, go to school and so on). None of this is about letting them do whatever they feel like.
6 tenets of strong parenting
In sum, taking a strong parenting approach means:
1. We must define clear boundaries and rules for our kids about things that matter, and calmly and consistently teach them what they are.
2. Our kids get to choose for the things that don’t matter. This is not a sign of weakness or spoiling; you’ve decided what matters and you’ve stuck to it.
3. We set a routine for the daily essentials (sleeping, eating, washing, etc.) and ensure our kids stick to it.
4. The more present and hands-on we are in managing our kids, the less likely they’ll grow up rude, aggressive or selfish.
5. If we are kind with our kids —and in general—our kids will learn to be kind, as well.
6. If we treat our kids with respect they’ll be more respectful back. Involve them, explain things, use polite language with them and consider their needs in all things.
Do we have a generation of “boofheads” on our hands? Perhaps. But the answer is not to revert to old-style punishment, shouting and threats to control our kids. They’ll just reject us and learn to be aggressive.
Now, more than ever, the world needs kind, respectful and emotionally-resilient kids growing into adults. You can raise such a child through thoughtful, kind, gentle and mindful parenting.
Suzie Brown is a mindful parenting trainer and the founder of the Feed the Parent (www.feedtheparent.com) mindful parenting blog and online course. She is mum to her 4 year old, spirited daughter, Lila, and lives calmly by the sea in Ocean Grove, Victoria.