parenting a tween boy

5 Reasons Tween Boys Need Your Empathy

I was doing my best to sleep on a thin mattress on the floor of a messy and very smelly cabin. It was six in the morning on the last day of a middle school camp trip I led and I wasn’t feeling well. Several of the boys in the cabin woke up at five and asked if they could leave the cabin. I gave them permission and they left, but not before I gave them a warning to be quiet because the entire camp was still asleep. As they left, they turned the lights on several times, spoke loudly, and even stepped on my mattress. Now, an hour later, I could hear them all the way across the camp, coming back to the cabin. They were loud, obnoxious, and inconsiderate. When they burst into the room, I lost it, gave them a loud lecture, and then kicked open the bathroom door on the way to the shower as an exclamation.

Tween boys are not easy and they have pushed me to the limit more times than at camp. And I know I’m not alone. Parenting a tween boy can be filled with frustration. I’ve seen more adults lose it on tween boys than on any other group of kids. So often, they leave us wondering, “What were you thinking?” But if we take a look at the world through their eyes, it may help us understand and empathize with them. Life is a lot harder for them than we realize and they need our patience and support. Here are 5 reasons tween boys need your empathy.

1. They haven’t developed self-control.

Tween boys need guidance, not insults.

If there’s one thing about tween boys that drives adults crazy, it has to be their lack of control. They have tons of energy that they need to exert, they’re impulsive, and they have minimal defenses for their urges. This comes down to development. They have a surge of hormones without the emotional and intellectual maturity to control themselves. People get easily annoyed with tween boys, but the boys have difficulty understanding why. Next time your tween boy does something stupid or acts wildly, be patient. Understand where he is in life and what’s happening in his body. Control your frustration and be careful with your words. Don’t shame him or call him an idiot. Tween boys need guidance, not insults.

2. Everything feels awkward.

Their whole world is shifting. Not only are their bodies changing and doing weird things, but adults expect them to be as mature mentally as they’re becoming physically. In this phase of life, adolescent expert Chap Clark says that the body of a tween boy is becoming adult-like, but he still has the brain of a child. Tween boys know something has changed, but they don’t know how to operate in this new world. It makes their relationships and social interactions awkward. Help them through this disorientation. Be willing to sit in awkwardness with them. Again, don’t make fun of them for it. They still have the sensitivity of children.

3. They’re surrounded by meanness.

I’m not sure there is a meaner species than middle school boys. Their brains have not developed the ability to connect cause and effect, so they aren’t aware of the impact they have on others. At the same time, they are completely self-focused so they will do whatever they can to get attention and make others laugh. They will rip into each other without mercy—and not out of malice. In fact, many eventually will feel bad about what they did or said when they look back on this time in life. It’s easy to react to this behavior in anger, but remember they really don’t know how they’re impacting others. They don’t need us to shame them. They need us to make them aware of the hurt they are causing. And remember that whatever they dish out, they have probably received just as bad.

4. They’re unaware.

Again, their brains aren’t ready for cause and effect, so thinking through consequences is difficult for tween boys. Their brains still operate on a concrete level, like a child. Yet we expect them to think on a deeper level. As you’re parenting a tween boy, remember that he’s not an adult and he doesn’t understand fully what he’s going through nor does he have the ability to process it.

5. Their moods shift.

Tween boys are hit with a surge of emotions and they don’t know how to cope. Have you ever been hit with an emotion that you couldn’t explain? As adults, it’s easier to take a step back and reflect on what we are feeling and why. An adolescent boy has no way of processing his feelings like that.

Sound off: How difficult is it for you to show empathy while parenting a tween boy?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What do you like and dislike about change?”