He’s 14. He’s gobby, cocky – sarcastic, even. Thinks he knows everything. He smells. He grunts. What’s not to love about the teenage boy?!
Fourteen is a tricky age for boys. They’ve embarked on “The Wild Ride” that defines the challenging teenage years (from about age 12 to 17). But let’s start with some positives, because teenage boys are kind of fascinating – in a grungy, monosyllabic, spotty sort of way.
They can be funny (the old understated nod of the head), insightful (young men of few wise words), creative (especially when they want to get out of doing something), and loyal (particularly to their mates!). These are good qualities overall, and parents would do well to keep them to the forefront of their adult minds as they navigate this minefield. Truth is, you’re going to need something positive to hang on to!
Puberty generally begins for boys at around age 11 to 12, and is physically done by 16 or 17 (except for the brain, which is the last organ to develop, usually in the mid to late 20s). An individual boy’s development will be affected by both heredity and environmental factors, including diet and exercise, and – the biggie – his brain development will lag way behind his physical maturation, something you’ll find hard to miss!
He will have had a 20-fold increase in his testosterone levels between the ages of 9 and 15, and this testosterone tsunami will “biologically masculinise all the thoughts and behaviours that emerge from his brain,” according to American neuropsychiatrist and author Dr Louann Brizendine.
His sleep clock will alter – by age 14, his new sleep set point has been pushed an hour later than that of girls (a change that carries through to menopause!). He’s staying up and waking later. Because of the way the school day is set up, he’s likely surviving on five to six hours of sleep a night when he should be getting about 10 to function optimally. Maybe schools need to push out start times? Certainly you need to cut oxygen to the internet by 9pm or 10pm at the latest.
The teenage brain of a boy is a work in progress, meaning adolescent boys’ behaviour can become very erratic. Parents struggle to fathom why they are clever in some areas and really crazy in others. Truth is, they don’t have enough myelin – the fatty coating that enables nerve signals to flow freely between different parts of the brain – to have good judgement. The frontal lobe that controls higher mental processes such as decision-making, memory, impulse control, risk evaluation, and planning is simply not built yet. His brain is only about 80% developed.
So you have to sort of be his mature brain until his own forms. Be the ones who think through consequences for him. Remember he’s experiencing huge changes and he’s frightened underneath that annoying, cocky exterior. Our best advice is:
- Stay close to him. It will involve huge efforts for minimal returns. Your attempts at breaking through the monosyllabic responses will be met with hostility – disgust, even. Learn to suck it up and try again another day.
- Have one technology-free family meal a day. Modelling communication is the best tool you have right now. Find out what he’s listening to, thinking about, interested in.
- Don’t bang on about things too much. Say what you need to say, give him a consequence, and then shut up.
- Give him statistics. Remember his forming brain is elastic – equally able to absorb positive information as negative. And boys love facts.
- Talk to him about sex – particularly consent. And stay across his emerging sexuality so you can support whatever that turns out to be.
- Keep loving him even when you want to wring his scrawny, smelly neck – this too will pass.
By Ruth Kerr and Richard Aston, parents to four adult children in a blended family. Ruth and Richard co-authored Our Boys – Raising strong, happy sons from boyhood to manhood based on their 15 years’ experience working at Big Buddy – a social agency that matches well-screened male mentors with fatherless boys.