I guess my son felt the glare, the vocal scoff and the response through clenched teeth were not enough “signs” for me to gather that he was mad. To further drive home the point, he had to march up the stairs with pounding feet, kick a toy in his path followed by slamming his door shut forcefully. His brother came in their shared room to get something, an innocent victim in this war, completely oblivious to the “signs”. The next thing I hear is my younger son protesting while my older son is screaming orders, the door opening and my younger son being thrown out. My older son had turned his small frame instantly into the strength of a club bouncer. My younger son was now fully aware of the “signs” and was ready to give his brother a few of his own. At this point, I pulled my younger son away before more damage ensued.
In the day of psychology, mass media fear of young adults and school shootings, the last phrase “can’t control myself” was a terrifying confession for me to hear as a parent. Cue husband – oldest of four boys, quite rascally and mischievous, grew up making his mom believe he was a perfect angel, all the while raising hell when she wasn’t looking. It was this boyish charm that lured me in at age 15 ;-) As my maternal fears began to climb to irrational levels, my husband waltzes in and says, “that is what boys this age do” as if that explains everything.
Yet, somehow it did. Or at least, it gave me pause. “They do?” I asked back, clearly perplexed as I come from the “civilized” gender (wink! wink!). He then goes on to explain that when he was around our son’s age, he got into a lot of fights. Most boys did. The testosterone kicks in, turning little boys into men, and they leave childhood fighting.
Being an old-school parent in many ways, I suddenly realized why parents way-back-then sent their boys to the chopping block around this age and through their teenage years. They needed to burn off some steam and learn to be constructive with it in a way that benefited the home or community and to control their impulses. With flat screens replacing active play time more and more in our culture, less tweens and teens are actively doing something about their changing body in ways that help.
I resent being a referee, and throwing a flag for unnecessary roughness is not my idea of a good time. However, I have fantasized about getting a whistle and cutting out some fabric to use for a quick reaction and attention grabber … not to mention a visual representation of how a line was crossed. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if all you had to do was blow a whistle, drop a brightly colored square on the floor and your brawling boys knew there was a 10-yard penalty and instantly went into separate rooms to calm down?
OK, so back to reality. What is a parent to do with a tween boy who is raging with testosterone? I don’t have a chopping block, but I do have dirty floors, laundry that needs to be carried up and down the stairs, toilets that need cleaning, dishes to be put away and so forth. And he has a father to battle in arm wrestling, practice throwing around punches and to have a Nerf gun war.
I have also learned it is a time for more structure despite the push for independence. With freedom comes great responsibility. Knowing expectations and being able to see results and the ability to check off tween honey-do lists boosts their confidence and keeps them connected. Make them a part of the process. Allow them to herald it is family meeting time to discuss the agenda for the day, the next couple of days, the week. Let them help you with the family calendar. When you discuss things, ask them what they think. You’ll be amazed at their intelligent response. It is also a great time to expand their horizons and find ways for them to give back to the community – whether it is their neighborhood, their school, church or even their city. Keep it local so you can be more easily involved, also maintaining connection. Will they resent the idea? Most likely, but once they start helping out they’ll enjoy it, even if they don’t let you know they have.
How do you help your tween or early teen deal with their anger? Their need to physically react to the emotions they suddenly feel? To feel in control despite developmental changes they can’t control?
How can we help them feel constructive and valuable, rather than shame and our disappointment for the hormonal changes taking over their bodies and mind?
Please share your ideas and comments! I would love to hear them (and so would other parents of tweens).
photo credit: "Lego Hulk Smash," by Fantaz via Flickr