My son is eleven years old and in fifth grade. Just recently he asked me to stop walking him to the bus stop in the morning, and he’s been grappling with the transition to calling me “Mom” out in public, instead of “Mommy.” Clearly, my boy is growing up, as he should be. But he is still a young boy in need of a great deal of instruction and support.
Here are 3 conversations we can have with our tween boys (and continue to have over many years) to help keep our connection strong as they navigate their way toward adolescence.
1. The Body Conversation
Ideally, a man will have the most intimate conversations with a young boy about what changes to expect with puberty. Only another man can truly understand the physical and hormonal changes that take place in a growing boy. But moms can still be a wise fount of information and guidance. For sons of single moms especially, a mom’s gentle teaching and willingness to discuss can be a priceless blessing. Help your son understand the physical changes to come—hair growth, muscle development, voice changes, and added inches in height. Talk to him about hormones and assure him that changing feelings toward girls is normal and expected. Keep communication lines open so that when he has a question he has a trusted place to find answers.
2. The Technology Conversation
Generally speaking, boys are more drawn to early technology use than girls, especially when it comes to video games. But even games that seem harmless can have a powerful effect on the growing brain of young men. Talk to your tween about video games and violence. Beware if your son becomes aggressive or overly competitive or emotional after playing. Increase restrictions if your son shows a weakness for the pull of technology. Beyond video games, you need to talk with your boys about appropriate social media etiquette, the temptations of pornography, and what to do if he sees something pornographic online. Inform him of the manipulative tools of marketers and app designers whose job is to sell products and keep him tethered to the screen. Finally, put boundaries in place to preserve his healthy interaction with these tools, even if he objects.
3. The Man Conversation
Our boys will be boys for but a moment; really, we are raising men. That means we need to train our sons in the ways of responsibility, excellence, and effort. It’s wonderful when our boys are able to articulate their feelings and express themselves—characteristics far too rare in generations past. But we must also seek to preserve the qualities of a man that has, in recent years, been put on the back burner. I talk with my son about how to be a gentleman, how to look out for his sisters and classmates, how to resist peer pressure when his conscience says he must, and how to be respectful when he disagrees with someone. We talk about how easy it is to get caught up in trends and popular practices when what we need to do is slow down and examine long-term consequences of our short-term decisions. Give your son opportunities to take risks and make mistakes. Encourage him to try things where he may not immediately excel. Such experiences will build his resolve and give him the strength to recover from failure.
Tell us! In what ways is your tween boy still “little”? In what ways is he growing up?