Dealing with teenage boys

The rebellious streak, unprovoked anger and general moodiness exhibited by many teenage boys leave many families not knowing how to deal with a child who will not cooperate

The good news – well, sort of – is that this behaviour is biologically normal. The way in which boys and girls develop physiologically has a big impact on how they interact with the world and, in many ways, boys are wired to be problematic.

Many families say they have difficulties communicating with teenage boys. The reason for this is that language skills in boys develop more slowly than they do in girls. Girls are more articulate at a younger age than boys and are able to express themselves and their emotions more clearly.

Boys’ inability to express their emotions through words makes them agitated. Their frustration leads to a cognitive shutdown and emotional outbursts, which can sometimes become physical.

What worries many families is the risky behaviour that their teen sons may get involved in. Researchers have found that the area of the brain that processes reward is more active during adolescence, while the perception of danger is decreased. This means that teenage boys are likely to find a certain level of pleasure in risk (a behavioural tendency which may be as a result of latent evolutionary instincts that compel males to leave home and fend for themselves) and engage in risky behaviour in order to impress their friends in an effort to be rewarded with acceptance.

While there is scientific evidence to explain teenage boys’ behaviour, it is a real concern that their actions can result in negative long-term repercussions. Going too far in pursuing risk can cost a child their future, tear families apart and negatively impact the lives of others. Hence boys need a lot of structural support in order for them to develop constructively.

This means that many families need to learn and anticipate that these behavioural change will occur. Many teenagers feel that their families “just don’t understand” them. This is because adolescents don’t understand themselves either, therefore those who are close to them need to recognise that deviant behaviour is not inherently bad, but can become so if left unattended.

A key factor in childhood development is that teenagers are gender-biased in how they learn. Boys learn from men and girls learn from women. This requires that teenage boys be engaged deliberately and continuously – not just when they have done something wrong – as a way of creating solid communication channels. More importantly, children learn through modelling. Even when you don’t think that they are paying attention, they are learning more from watching their parents than from listening to them.