My son Ryan is 13 and like the old cliche about teenagers goes, he is becoming more moody and difficult to talk to. Not surprisingly, this causes me to get frustrated and annoyed.
After perusing a few chapters of “Masterminds and Wingmen,” I can see the problem may lie more with me than with him. The book is meant to demystify the boy culture so that parents and boys alike can learn to communicate better and understand one another on a deeper level.
Though I haven’t read it entirely, one of the things that stands out sharply is how necessary this type of information is. The author, Rosalind Wiseman, posits that there are countless books about empowering and understanding girls (she actually wrote one), but relatively few for boys. She claims we — parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches and other role models — barrage boys with mixed messages from an early age. We tell them to share their feelings, that it’s OK to show their emotions, to talk to us but when they do and “weakness” is exposed, young guys are often told the opposite.
Suck it up, toughen up, be a big boy, and don’t be a crybaby are just a few of the things we tell our boys when they dare to expose their vulnerable side. Add in the cruelty of their peers (middle school is perhaps the worst display of this) and the dizzying array of potential ways to risk humiliation and ridicule and you’ve got the perfect storm for complete shutdown. Why would a kid take such a risk?
A cursory glance at several chapters had me cringing. There was the part about how we talk to our boys and I recognized myself in all my unflattering glory when the author advises against asking boys any questions whatsoever after a long day of school. She says to give him at least five or 10 minutes of “chill out” time, which (come to think of it) seems to work well with my husband, too. Immediately launching into 20 questions: “how was your day? Was the test hard? What’d you have for lunch?” is arguably the least effective way to connect with a boy following hours of separation.
I know this but it’s such a natural tendency for me to want to bridge the gap between when he left early in the morning and the end of the day. What I really want to know is simply, “are you OK?”
Part of the problem is that so many interactions occur for a boy during a school day that connecting all the dots, picking out parentally-kosher highlights and regurgitating them in a succinct and cogent way is like asking an adolescent boy to spin gold from wool. He just can’t do it. Or at least, the vast majority of boys cannot.
Wiseman separates boys into common social groups such as “Masterminds” — the guy who quickly identifies people’s weak spots and uses them to his advantage — and “the Fly,” who buzzes around the outskirts of a group. I don’t know which group Ryan fits into but I intend to find out.
Then there are the parental groups — get set for more cringing — which range from “the Bear” (picture the overprotective mama bear here) to “the Boys-Will-Be-Boys” parent, to the most desirable “Rock” parent.
The book covers video games, sports, girls, anger, popularity and much more. Far too much to discuss in this forum. I am looking forward to reading it, passing it on to Rob and talking about it together.
But back to the way Ryan pushes my buttons when he doesn’t communicate well. Even Charlie Brown’s Lucy could figure out that speaks volumes about me and my “baggage” than him. I am learning to not take it so personally, to appreciate the moments (albeit not as frequent as I would like) when we do connect.
These moments come at the times when I least expect them. Like when we’re driving to run errands and he starts talking about Marvel comics and upcoming superhero movies (the boy could expound on this for hours) or how he reached a new level on his favorite video game.
The other day, I had an article to write and I asked Ryan if he would turn on the computer for me. When I sat down in front of the screen, I saw he had a Word document already up and on it he had typed, “good luck with your story, Mom. I know you can do it.”