Maggie Dent has always been an icon for me. Her practical, useful and real advice for raising boys (and more recently girls) has guided my parenting journey so far. Maggie was, as always, an excellent contributor to The Calm, Connected Tweens and Teens Summit last month. Here is my summary;  

Boys are different to girls in many ways.  Scientifically it has been shown that testosterone has to flood the foetus to turn it into a boy, which slows down brain development.  This then leads to boys interpreting the world differently to girls. Baby boys will look at inanimate objects (a light, a mobile) whereas girls will look at a face… this impacts their ability to feel loved and secure leading to vulnerabilities.

Boys require emotional coaching – they channel energies towards anger rather than vulnerable feelings of sadness, fear and discomfort.  They tend to mask and cover these feelings and then when they become a teen boy, emotions intensify, and they are more volatile than necessary without emotional coaching. 

While boys may be tough physically and muscularly stronger than girls, their interior world emotionally is far more vulnerable than a girl.   We still condition girls to think they are not as capable as little boys – at least physically – and then the undertone is that kids need to be tough to deal with stuff… this impacts men later.  They’re not supposed to be stoic – they are meant to experience emotions. 

We need to make emotions safe for our boys.  Yes they need good men to be role models but it’s equally important have a good relationship with their mums. 

The role of dad has changed a lot over recent years – they are much more connected and turning up.  They often need to relearn or unlearn the way they were raised in previous generations.

Behaviour is driven by emotions in the body… in the heat of the moment they can’t process those emotions so it often comes out as anger. They often have no idea what is happening as the amygdala is flooded with cortisol.  Allowing them some time to process is a much better approach. 

Research shows in a female, when the amygdala fires up,  the word centre is next to fire.  Females tend to vent and rant… whereas boys are physical.  If you have a boy that is furious, take him for a walk. Get his body moving because that calms the brain and allows him to be able to talk. 

Interrogation is not the answer!  Teen boys are forgetful and disorganised due to brain pruning (normal!) – he needs movement, fun and warm connectedness not tonnes of words!  

The brain shifts around 15 or 16… there more neurons to help with the prefrontal.  He’s confused… he’s getting in trouble for things he doesn’t know why he’s done… that starts the negative self talk… there’s also physical change… and intensity of emotions.  Maggie’s number one tip – focus on your son’s health and well-being.  Encourage him to eat well – good food and often.  They also can hit periods of uncoordination as their bodies grow, which also impact self esteem. Help boys create positive neurochemicals – shut the door on the messy room and encourage a clean up every now and then… reward the good stuff (ie cleaning the room!) with breakfast together – for connection and fun!

Criticism and nagging makes them feel worse and worse which then channels in to anger and more poor choices.  Remember this is a stage and a phase.  They will not always be like this.  That doesn’t mean not making them do chores and have responsibilities and expectations / boundaries – but sometimes it’s worth letting them slide. 

Teach them this is all normal so they don’t feel it is ‘all just me’ – let them problem solve but help them build the skills. 99% of the time when they muck up – they don’t mean to.  Teach them to be accountable for their actions and try to make things right.

Take note of timing for tricky or meaningful conversations – not when they are just out of bed / ready for bed / hungry or preoccupied!   Tone is also really important to communicate our feelings.  

The most important thing is for the boys to know regardless of what has happened, you still love them. A mum note is really powerful – if something feels too big to talk about – write it down and allow them to process and think about it in their own time.  Save this for the big stuff only!   

Parents need to be brave enough to fail – prove it’s part of being human.  It's part of our role modelling for our kids.

The most important thing for boys to know is there is nothing they can do that will stop you from loving them.  We are stronger than that.