A Boy's Life: Part 1

I've been reading a couple of books about the development and learning of boys. The author in question is Michael Gurian, founder of the Gurian Institute. He is an expert in the field of child and family development, and also provides professional development for educators. I've learned quite a bit so far and wanted to summarize some of the major points that can be helpful to both teachers and parents. I'll be writing a number of posts, in multiple parts, about what I've learned. This first part concerns the range of normal behavior we should expect to see from 9-10 year old boys.

1. It's normal for the boy to engage in little pulls toward independence- small experiments with backtalk, or "forgetting" to follow an instruction, or even a hint of disdain for the parents' way of doing things. These will often be couched in humor or sarcasm.

2. It's normal for him to have or be seeking one best friend.

3. It's normal for the boy to be a little curious about sex (this curiosity may be enhanced if he has older male siblings or has been sexualized early by media or another influence).

4. It's normal for the boy to develop one or more strong academic or athletic focuses.

5. It's normal for the boy at nine or ten to start channeling primary fellings - like fear, pain, shame, and guilt - through anger, thus letting us know he's hurting or scared by these feelings.

6. It's normal for the boy to experiment with cheating at board games or other activities.

7. It's normal for the boy to begin have a "public" and "private" life - he hugs mom at home but sometimes wants to be a "free agent" in public, acting as if she's not a huge authority over him.

8. It's normal for the boy to develop dinstinct interests in other peers' lives, habits, and acquisitions.

9. It's normal for the boy to begin to notice in startling ways how imperfect his parents really are.

10. It's normal for the boy to become immensely moral - even surprising us with his truth telling - yet simultaneously he may start experimenting with boundaries.

11. It's normal for the boy to look toward manhood but still be very much a boy. It's even normal for some boys to wet the bed once in a while at nine.

12. It's normal for the boy to become very conscious of how he receives respect, and to feel humiliated easily but to cover up those feelings.

It's worth noting that I've observed most of these behaviors in my fourth and fifth graders. I'm continually surprised at how a certain negative behavior (e.g. name calling) is a means by which many boys draw attention to other underlying problems. The key for me has been to maintain patience (even if you're really feeling frustrated) and find out what is causing the behavior you are seeing. There is always a reason.

Gurian points out a strategy that I've employed and is quite successful: calmly asking questions rather than interrogate. Most kids will elicit a truthful response if you maintain your patience and cool. Interrogation usually comes off as hostile and that's what the boy will focus on, not the subject of your questioning. As Love & Logic will tell you, empathy with compassion will take you a lot farther than demands for absolute compliance and obedience.

The last point I want to make, which reinforces the above, is the level of praise and criticism a boy receives. Gurian recommends a 7 to 1 ration of praise/criticism. Much of the self-esteem of pre-adolescents comes from the one-to-one interactions with his closest social groups: parents, family, peers, teachers. Excessive criticism can be harmful.

Gurian, Michael. 1999. The Good Son: A Complete Parenting Plan. Tarcher Publishing.

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