This is part 3 of a three-part series.
In parts one and two of this three-part series, we addressed common challenges and fears that can be associated with parenting a middle school boy. We assured you that feeling uncomfortable and uncertain about your parenting techniques is normal, and that it’s healthy and developmentally appropriate for your son to distance himself from you during this time, however difficult it may feel.
We also examined the role that “acceptance” plays in an adolescent boy’s life, and the instinctual desire to “belong” to a group. Today we look at “C” of the “ABCs of Middle School Boys,” as outlined by Fessenden’s School Psychologist Dr. Jonathan Goldberg.
“C” is for Change
Change is inevitable. Whether you’re an infant, a child, or an adult, we constantly experience change in varying degrees. Sometimes change can be welcome, but it can often cause growing pains and require a great deal of patience and determination. Middle school boys experience change on multiple levels; while they are growing physically and becoming bigger and stronger, they are also undergoing intellectual and cognitive development that can manifest in various ways.
Here are a few considerations related to change that will help you in your journey of parenting a middle school boy:
According to Dr. Jonathan Goldberg, the average onset of puberty for a North American male is 11.5. During this time, “boys are starting to experience all of the joys of pubescence. They’re really looking forward to it, but it’s scary—especially if it isn’t happening.” You might notice that your middle school boy has a hyperextended idea of masculinity, just to name one example. Stroll through a toy store and you will see that children want to relate to exaggerated images, which is why characters like “The Rock” can be so appealing to them. Dr. Jonathan Goldberg says, “larger than life, hulking people are who they often want to be, so they may gravitate toward things that are associated with male stereotypes, like tackle football, gaming, and even music.”
He adds that there is great diversity for boys when it comes to puberty. While some children may grow a foot during their middle school years, others may grow a few inches. It is not uncommon to observe social-emotional hurdles in children who are slower to develop physically. Regardless of the pace at which your son develops, this is an important time to broach a conversation about puberty and changes, according to Dr. Jonathan Goldberg. He acknowledges that it can be an awkward discussion, but emphasizes that it is a discussion that needs to be had. “If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to have that conversation because if your child isn’t getting information from you, he’s getting it from his friends and the internet.” Dr. Goldberg adds that having this discussion could be a wonderful way to validate a child’s maturity and to signify that he is coming into his own.
Middle school boys are developing rapidly. Their neurons are firing, and transmitters are flowing. The Swiss Psychologist Jean Piaget talks about moving from “concrete and constricted” thinking to the “formal operational stage,” which typifies a child’s transition into adulthood. Boys start to see the world in different shades and colors, which crosses over into the academic world—reading comprehension increases, verbal skills improve, and more sophisticated conversations are shared.
According to Dr. Goldberg, this is a double-edged sword. To be able to think abstractly is to be able to think about one’s self abstractly, and that can lead to becoming self-conscious. He shares, “Self-awareness, self-consciousness, and metacognition—thinking about what one is thinking about—can make boys become very egocentric with a social edge.”
Boys at this age are beginning to develop stronger executive functioning skills, which enable them to self-regulate their behavior, pay attention, retain information, and self-monitor. At this age, students can concentrate for longer periods of time and dive into the process of learning. With this progress often comes a desire for them to want to develop faster. Unfortunately, boys don’t fully develop until they are 22. They’re still going to forget things at home and they’ll be disorganized, but it’s important to enable them to learn from their mistakes, according to Dr. Goldberg. He states, “Boys learn so much more from natural consequences. If he forgets his skates at home, don’t drive them to school, even though that’s what you want to do as a parent. It’s okay to let him fail a little bit.”
Middle school boys often think that they are unique snowflakes and that they are on stage at all times. This heightened sense of vulnerability often comes with increased anxiety and self- consciousness, but it’s all part of developing an identity. What are some things you’ve noticed in your middle school boy?