Girls, if you think boys make you crazy, try parenting one.
Author and parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman uncovered a lot of myths about Girl World in her bestseller, “Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and the New Realities of Girl World.” Now, she’s tackling the guy side of the equation with her newest release, “Masterminds & Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World.”
Wiseman’s book covers a lot of ground and is a welcome addition to the parenting book genre, which can be somewhat lacking in common sense advice on communication with boys. The basics are there—dealing with the awkward social order that is high school, lying, video games, girlfriends and more.
What’s more important is Wiseman gets to the “how and why” about boys, which can make a big difference in how you communicate with the ones under your roof. One of the biggest surprises Wiseman encountered during her research?
“Really, what was so striking to me was how cynical the boys were,” she says. “They felt like no one was listening to them.” Wiseman acknowledges that it’s hard for most adults to “crack through to boys,” and that her role as an educator gives her an advantage of easier access, more often. Still, the level of cynicism was not something she expected.
“I felt like the boys had given up,” she says. “They were surprised, like, ‘Are we really going to talk about this?’ It was really depressing, the intensity of it.”
The good news? Boys, despite the sometimes sullen outlook and one-word responses to questions, really do want to talk—to you.
“I did the book because I knew boys had complex feelings and social lives, and behind the façade, there was a lot going on there,” she says. “Boys needed and wanted advice and didn’t know how to ask for it.”
Busting the “Act Like a Man” Myth
Wiseman devotes the first part of her book to the “Act Like a Man Box”—the adjectives and actions that define for boys what they think it is to be manly, to be popular. Like it or not, it’s what boys face through school connections, media messaging and even what the most well-intentioned parents say at the dinner table.
Consider this: For all the social media messaging on girls and positive body images, and backlash against unrealistic Photoshopped magazine covers and Barbie dolls, not much is said about action figures and their physique. Older parents today grew up with a paunchy Adam West as Batman, while young boys today get the chiseled Christian Bale version. And body image is a big deal when it comes to boys.
When asked if fighting that image was a bit like fighting Darwin, Wiseman is quick to point out that while “boys want to be physically strong and that is important to them, it still doesn’t mean that the strongest boy does not also want a deep emotional connection with people.”
Want your son to talk? Stop asking so many questions.
Most well-intentioned parents do this. The kids get in the car after school, and the rapid-fire questions start. “How was school? Who did you eat lunch with today? Was football practice tough? Did you talk to that girl you’ve been texting?” Wiseman says in her book that it doesn’t matter what age the child is, where they go to school, their ethnicity or religion—all boys can attest to and even mimic their parents in this mode. Are you guilty? Don’t sweat it.
“Here’s the thing: I think many parents are going to relate to that part of the book,” she says. “It’s easily solvable. As a parent, you can do something that’s highly irritating (to your son), but if you acknowledge this, very, very quickly the boys come to you.”
A parent’s best move? Two little words
What’s the best way to acknowledge a mistake? Saying “I’m sorry” can go a very long way in making your relationship with your son better, Wiseman says.
“It’s clear to me that if we own up to what we do to contribute to why boys won’t come to us (tease them in public, for example), very quickly these boys move toward us,” she says. “When parents say ‘I’m sorry,’ it is so powerful for boys to hear. They really want good relationships with us.”
What can the genders learn from each other? (It can involve food, people.)
There are many reasons girls and boys communicate differently, but there are also lessons form watching both groups, Wiseman says.
“I think what boys can learn from girls is that openly asking for advice and help from your closest friends, or acknowledging when you need help is a really important skill and it’s also a sign of deep friendship,” she says. Girls, on the other hand, can learn that even when an explicit apology is not spoken from a boy, they do have ways of conveying the sentiment. “Boys understand that when somebody (who has experienced a disagreement or fight with someone) says ‘Good game,’ or offers somebody part of their food—that offering of food is a really deep apology.”
Share a pizza, talk to your boys, save the world.