Thoughts on Teens, Especially Boys
From Wikipedia: Sea Lawyer: An argumentative, cantankerous or know-it-all sailor. A sea lawyer is adept at using technicalities, half truths, and administrative crap to get out of doing work or anything else he doesn’t want to do, and/or to justify his laziness.
A rules lawyer is a participant in a rules-based environment who attempts to use the letter of the law without reference to the spirit, usually in order to gain an advantage within that environment.
My rules for the family sea lawyer:
1. If you think we would have said no if you had asked first, then it’s against the rules whether or not you asked.
2. If *I* think you should have known we would say no if you asked, then it’s against the rules.
3. If you don’t ask first, it’s against the rules.
It is vitally important to insistently teach these types that deceit by omission is every bit as dishonest as deceit by commission. It’s important for everybody to know this, naturally, but it’s the ‘insistently teaching’ part that is specific to the sea lawyer.
Helps for the sullen:
Disconnect from the internet, movies, well, really, everything with a screen. Try it a couple of weeks at least and see if you don’t notice an improvement. However, it works best in combination with the next point:
Make bedrooms and closed doors off limits during the day except for specific periods- quiet time, getting dressed, etc. But don’t let them go off and spend large chunks of time alone in their rooms. A couple years ago the wife of a sort of courtesy relative announced that their marriage had grown cold, they had grown apart, and so they were temporarily separating to work things out and learn to love each other again. But you don’t really become closer by moving away. You become closer by spending more time together. People did try to tell the couple this, but they weren’t listening. It was only a matter of months before the separation became a divorce and then one of the parties remarried. People tend to become closer to those with whom they are in proximity. The same thing happens in families as in a marriage- to get to know one another better, to increase opportunities for communication, you have to increase, not decrease, the time spent in proximity.
Do chores together. I am not good at this one, but my husband is. I think more relationships are built doing dishes together than almost any other way. Hokey team-building exercises should all be replaced by volunteering at soup kitchens or getting together to make freezer meals.
Diet really does contribute toward attitude and outlook on life. This is an issue they are going to have to figure out on their own, too, however. So it’s helpful to find a way to engage them in making healthy choices. Rather than ‘eat your vegetables,’ try explaining the nutritional basis for making those choices and then giving a threshold of healthy choices that have to be made first ‘I don’t care what they are, but you have to eat X servings of healthy greens before you go for the pasta and baked potatoes. You have to have X servings of protein before having a dessert. Keep the frankenfoods out of the house as much as possible. If there aren’t any cokes in our house, I can’t be nagged about permission to drink them. Of course, where we live there is no easy, convenient way to get to the store to pick up a candy bar and a coke. If you live within walking distance of a grocery store or gas station with a coke machine, you’ll need additional guidelines on when that is allowed.
Folly is bound up in the heart of…..
Proverbs should be part of your family’s warp and woof.
Read through Proverbs over and over. An easy way to do this is to read through the Proverbs chapter that matches the day’s date. You can do this for years and it never gets old.
You can also add a specific assignment- as they read, have them keep notes on a sheet of notebook paper divided in half vertically. At the top of the left side of the page write down the heading ‘Fools’ and at the top of the right side of the page write down the heading “The wise”. As they read each day’s chapter have them make a list of any of the marks of a fool or the wise beneath the appropriate heading.
As Cindy at Ordo Amoris taught me, avoid ‘character-training’ programs. You really just need Proverbs and a good understanding of history. Read lots of biographies.
Boys in particular:
They need physical work.
We send ours out to chop wood, weed the garden, and clear trails in the woods for at least an hour every day. We live in the country so finding physical work that breaks out a sweat is easy for us. In town, I’d have a boy mow the neighbor’s lawn, carry in all the groceries, Dig up a backyard garden or sandbox, volunteer at a community garden, run laps, clean a park.
We downloaded a free Navy Seal training regimen to the Kindle (it’s not free anymore), and our son did this for a couple of months-
You might find something here:
free Kindle fitness downloads
Outside advice: I have never heard this tape (now CD), but friends of mine recommended a message given by Chris Davis, formerly of the now disbanded Elijah Company, about mothers teaching resistant sons. I don’t know if it is still available anywhere.
Young Roosters: Some of us notice that at some point, formerly sweet, thoughtful, considerate boys seem to turn bossy, asserting their wills over smaller children, their sisters, their mothers- it takes different forms. You might find wrestling play suddenly becoming a little rougher- sometimes because the bigger boy doesn’t know his own strength, especially if a growth spurt is ongoing. Sometimes it’s a kind of officiousness- you ask him to do one thing, a small act of service, and he brusquely, perhaps a little arrogantly, goes far beyond what you asked, and probably beyond what you wanted- I might ask for the laptop to be carried from one room to another, and will find it plugged in, set up, even furniture moved to accommodate ease of use in the boy’s opinion, all very rapidly. While it sounds like service, there is something arrogant about how it’s carried out. This is a male-child asserting his will over his tasks, his surroundings, his environment. I want my son to be a leader, so I don’t want to squelch that. But I do want to squelch arrogance and disrespectful behavior towards women and elders.
I know the Pearls are controversial, but if you have a 13 or 14 year old boy, see if you don’t recognize something of him in these scenarios. Personally, it both cracked me up and made me nod vigorously in recognition. There was an abrupt period of time when we had to triple our admonition that ‘if you’re the only one having fun, it’s not teasing or playing, it’s being a bully.”
Here is part of the Pearl’s response:
“Have you ever raised chickens? We have eight hens and one rooster. Many times I have gone out to work in the garden and noticed our rooster making a pest of himself. The hens will be busy scratching the ground, and then he runs over and shoves them away. The little hens just turn and start scratching some other place. The rooster waits a few seconds and again shoves another one around. Of course, every time I open the hen house door I run for dear life, or he will be trying to shove me around. That crazy old rooster doesn’t know how many times I have pondered putting him in the cooking pot. When Mike is outside, the rooster steers a wide path. On occasions Mike has had me let the hens out while he hides around the corner just so he can give the rooster a heart attack. I figure it takes a bigger rooster to intimidate a smaller rooster—and of course, enjoy the intimidation. It is a mystery to me why the rooster feels compelled to be such a jerk, but Mike thinks its real funny.
I said all this to tell you, I suspect your little roosters are feeling their natural hormonal competitive instincts, and as of yet haven’t learned to harness their urges to dominate…”
That sounds about right to me. Obviously, personalities vary, and it will come out in different ways, and some boys will not crave to dominate their environment the same way as others. Our son is one of those who wants to dominate.
Hunting: I think hunting has been a fantastic outlet for his personality. There are few ways you can dominate more than hunting, killing, and preparing the meat for your family’s table. It’s also an area he can dominate all he wants without crossing the line into my turf, except that it really annoys him that I won’t let him kill bullfrogs, rabbits, and a few other select animals for the irrational-to-him reason that I like them alive better than I like them on the table. =)
Target shooting is also immensely satisfying- there is a goal, and you hit it. Wham. Over and over. It’s measurable, it requires focus, and skill.
Sisters: If your boy has big sisters, there comes a time when you may need to tell the big sisters to cut back on their big sistering. They are used to telling him to wash his face, tuck in his shirt, say excuse me, stop belching in public, comb his hair, put away his toys, wash his hands, eat with his mouth closed, and so forth. That was fine when he was four. Even if he still needs to be told those things at ten, twelve, fourteen, and he will need to be told all of these things, in addition to being told to wear deodorant (start worrying when you don’t have to remind him of his)- there comes a time when he doesn’t need to be told them in public, and especially not by five big sisters, one after the other.
A Charlotte Mason Education- this is for everybody, not just boys, not just teens. An education about ideas and habits, but mostly ideas, is important. Boys and girls need something to think about beyond themselves. They need to grapple with the good ideas, the Great Conversation. It’s good for them to read of great generals who once were stubborn, troublesome youths; of musicians and artists who attempted to reproduce ideas in sound and visual images; of martyrs who died for their cause, and even of madmen who killed for a cause. Having a picture gallery of great art in their mind’s eye gives them something real to think about and visualize. Studying the great discoveries of science and the challenges their discoveries faced and overcame, learning to focus, pay attention, and retell what they are studying- all these elements of a CM education give them a large and spacious place for the mind, gives them a vision for a vast and wondrous word beyond their own immediate world.
More outside advice: I think these things are working for us. Of course, I just have the one son, and he’s only 14. I never feel confident that they’re turning out well until the ‘kids’ are in their twenties, and you shouldn’t put all your trust on raising kids on:
anybody you don’t know in real life
somebody you know, but their kids are not adults yet
These two sources (internet friends and people without grown children) are useful, just don’t let them trump your own knowledge of your own family and your common sense.
This is one of the main reasons why I read Cindy’s blog, Ordo Amoris. She has grown up sons, and quite a few of them.
That is also why in real life whenever I meet a family with grown young men I admire, I ask their mothers what they did. Most of the ideas above developed from things I learned from Cindy and from conversations I’ve had with mothers I know IRL.