What’s behind the blank stare of a teen-age boy?


American parents have heard the statistics:

  • More girls attend college than boys; by 2015 only 40% of college graduates will be male.*
  • Most high school class presidents are girls.
  • More girls choose high school Advanced Placement (AP) courses than boys.
  • Boy athletes still are the social stars in high schools.
  • Boys who aren’t athletes frequently are bullied by the sports lovers.

What’s going on here?

Rosalind Wiseman, a parenting expert whose book inspired the popular film, “Mean Girls,” will speak at a UW-Madison Continuing Studies conference Nov. 15. While she will present her conclusions to teachers, social workers, counselors, and other professionals who work with youth, parents can learn much from her information, too.

Wiseman can help parents understand what goes on behind the blank stares of their teen-age sons and what these young males are thinking when they roll their eyes when adults speak. She relates common themes about the social hierarchies and the unwritten rules of boys’ lives.

For her research, Wiseman went directly to the source to discover what was happening: she met for several years with more than 200 boys from middle and high schools from around the United States. She says she found them actually excited that someone would write a book about what’s on the minds of teen boys. Some thoughts (paraphrased) from the boys:

Why must my mom or dad pepper me with a dozen questions when they pick me up from school (or when they come home from work)?

Don’t they understand that I’m stressed out from school? Not only do I have to worry about homework but I have to block out the humiliation that the other guys (or “mean” girls or coaches) dish out?  OR Can’t they see that I have to fight to hold my social position as a member of the team? How come they don’t get it? That’s why I bury myself in video games.

Why don’t I want to take an AP course?

What happens if I get a lower grade than the girls? What will that look like?
Why do I want to quit the team?

Because the coach yelled at me in front of everyone and said I run “like a girl.”

Why does my mother talk to her friends about what I do or what happens to me at school ?

I think that’s an invasion of my privacy. I don’t want the world knowing I did something stupid.

Wiseman writes direct responses to parents about these and many other concerns. Her suggestions for parents:

  • Model the desired behavior for their sons every day.
  • Talk to them early and often about respect for all people—and explain what that means.
  • Offer to listen to the boy when he is ready to talk, rather than aggressively questioning him about a situation or concern.
  • Create a parent-son bond through a mutual interest. If that doesn’t work, schedule a lunch with him away from home on a Saturday.
  • Talk about serious issues when your son and you are engaged in a chore or riding in a car. That’s when boys are most comfortable with their parents.

Wiseman’s new book, “Masterminds and Wingmen” provides 364 pages of thoughtful advice. She also describes the different roles that boys play in their social world, which include: the mastermind, associate, fly, bouncer, entertainer, punching bag, conscience, and champion. Which role does your son play? And why?

To watch an interview from the Today show click this link: Rosalind Wiseman speaks about the lives of boys

*U.S. Dept. of Education.  ** Photo/Creative Commons license.