5 tips for parenting tween boys
Got a son between the ages of 10 and 14?
Some big changes are heading your way. Big physical, psychological and social changes that can be jarring and scary – for you and your son.
I’m not going to sugarcoat things: parenting tween boys is a challenge. One day, you have a sweet little boy who loves you more than you ever thought possible, the next he’s annoyed by your mere presence.
I spent much of my first son’s tween and teen years feeling absolutely overwhelmed. I didn’t know how to handle his intensity. His moods infected our house. And when he didn’t do what he was supposed to do, I was at a loss. How do you discipline a child who is bigger than you, stronger than you, completely determined and tech savvy?
I cried. I journaled. I muddled through. But I survived, and so did my son.
In fact, by the time he hit his late teens, the moody, unpredictable boy was gone; in his place stood a young man who was kind, decent, funny and excellent company.
I realised I’d spent years or so trying to find the answer – trying to fix what was wrong with my son – when in reality, nothing was wrong. He was growing. His mind and body, and our relationship, were changing. He was going through a completely normal and natural stage.
With the benefit of hindsight, here are my top tips for parenting tween boys.
1. Pick your battles
Your son’s brain is still developing. His executive functioning – the cognitive skills he uses to assess risk, prioritise, and organise – won’t mature until he’s in his 20s. Your son isn’t messy and disorganised because he’s lazy — well, not only because he’s lazy. He’s messy and disorganised because he’s still developing self-control – and because his priorities are not the same as yours.
You could likely come down on your son for 10 things (or more) every day. For the towels left on the bathroom floor, the cereal left to crust on the bottom of the bowl, the homework he hasn’t quite done, the dog he forgot to walk, the video game he’s been playing for the past hour.
Don’t. If you yell at or reprimand your son for everything little thing he does wrong, he will tune you out. So pick your battles, and let some things slide. I choose to focus my time and attention on safety, education and respect.
2. Support his interests
By grade 4 or 5, many boys have mentally checked out of school. The ‘sit-down-and-be-quiet’ mode of learning that’s still so prevalent in classrooms doesn’t suit a lot of boys. Neither does curriculum that’s heavy on reading and writing and light on real-life, active experience. (Editor’s note: thankfully many schools in Australia have moved away from this model.) So they stop trying. They don’t do their homework or only do it half-heartedly.
Look at it from your boy’s perspective: school may not include any of the things he’s interested in, whether that’s video games, football, coding or drama. The single most important thing you can do to support your son’s learning during these years is to support and facilitate his interests. That may mean signing him up for lessons or finding him a mentor. It could mean buying him tools and gear. It will likely mean spending a lot of time listening to him talk about something that doesn’t interest you in the least. But whatever you do, don’t negate his interests or imply that school is more important than his interests. (You can value school and talk about the importance of an education while also supporting his non-academic interests.)
Boys are wired to seek meaningful real-world experiences; do what you can to help your son find ways to pursue his passions in the real world.
3. Welcome his friends
In the tween years, friends become more important than family. It’s natural and normal for your son to want to spend more time with his friends – and the best and easiest way for you to keep tabs on your son’s wellbeing is to welcome his friends. Say yes when he asks if they can come over, as often as possible. Make sure your home is boy-friendly (this may mean tolerating the sound of a basketball being slammed through an indoor hoop again and again, or keeping your mouth shut as three boys crowd around a screen to watch a YouTuber play a video game).
4. Stock up on food
Tween boys eat a lot. Their stomachs are bottomless pits. It is not unusual (or unhealthy) for a tween boy to come into the kitchen looking for a snack an hour after dinner has ended. So stock up on easy, healthy snacks – nuts, popcorn and fruit are favourites around here. Work to develop healthy eating habits, but don’t become the food police. Research shows that rigorously policing your child’s diet isn’t very effective anyway; all it does is create an adversarial relationship between parent and child and create a whole lot of angst and drama around food.
5. Take care of yourself
Parenting a tween boy can be physically and emotionally draining. Seek support from other parents of boys, but don’t focus all your attention on parenting. Give yourself some down time, and nurture your body, mind and soul.
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