Will He Ever Grow Up?!

Photo by Daniel Hooker via Flickr


When do boys grow up?

That question tends to elicit a chuckle; ask it in a group of middle-aged women, and you’re likely to hear someone joke about their not-yet-grown husband. Ask it in a group of men, and well, you’ll hear much the same thing.

But to anxious parents, the when do they grow up? question is anything but funny. Parents of teenage boys wonder if their won’t-listen, leaves-his-clothes-all-around-the-house-and-never-wants-to-do-anything-but-play-video-games boys will ever turn into responsible young men who can hold down a job. Parents of toddlers wonder if they’ll ever be potty-trained, and parents of preschool boys wonder if their guys are prepared for kindergarten.

Moms, in particular, are often anxious about their sons’ futures. That’s because females, in general, worry into the future, Janet says. We look at what’s right in front of us and wonder how that will affect situations we see looming in the future. Which is reasonable, right? When you anticipate what’s coming, you can prepare for it. But only to a certain extent. The future is always uncertain, and sometimes our worry about what might happen in the future keeps us from enjoying and appreciating the present.

Of course, our worries aren’t unfounded. There’s plenty of reasons to worry about boys’ preparation for the future. Consider these stats:

  • Boys are less likely to succeed in school than girls
  • Boys are more likely to get in trouble at school
  • Boys are less likely to graduate from high school & less likely to attend college
  • Boys are less likely to work in high school and college
  • Men ages 18-24 are more likely to live with their parents than their female counterparts

Males Develop at a Different Pace

Boys’ and girls’ brains and bodies develop according to unique timetables. At birth, newborn boys are developmentally about 2 weeks behind newborn girls. Girls typically develop fine-motor control and verbal skills before boys do, and boys’ gross-motor skills tend to develop before their fine-motor skills. By school age, girls generally are able to sit and listen for a longer period of time than boys. Females’ brain tend to mature years before males’ brains. The prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that controls impulsivity and organization — doesn’t fully develop until age 25 in men, compared to age 21 for women.

Unfortunately, our expectations don’t always match our boys’ development. If parents and teachers expect a 6-year-old boy to sit and read quietly for 20 minutes, they’re likely to be disappointed; the part of the brain that handles language matures much later in boys than in girls, so many 6-year-old boys are not yet independent readers, and most struggle to sit still for longer than a few minutes. Boys who don’t meet developmentally inappropriate expectations aren’t “bad;” they’ve simply been asked to do something they’re not yet ready to do.

It’s much easier to work with boys’ natural timetable. It’s a LOT easier — and a lot less frustrating — to teach reading to a boy who is ready to read. In the meantime, you can  read aloud to your son, for instance, while his brain continues to grow and mature. You can point out letters and squiggle them in the sand during play. And you can educate others about boys’ developmental timetable.

How to Support Boys’ Development

  1. Don’t compare your son to others
  2. Recognize that he can do more than you may be allowing him to do
  3. Let your son take risks
  4. Wait before “rescuing” your son
  5. Involve boys in household work
  6. Teach/role model interpersonal and communication skills
  7. Connect them to the adult world
  8. Discuss opportunities
  9. Relax
  10. Delight in your son
In this episode, Janet & Jen discuss:
  • How worry can steal happiness in the present, and affect our relationship with our boys
  • Male development
  • Why it’s important to understand the difference between expectations and reality
  • How increasing academic expectations cause problems for boys in school
  • Why you should delight in your son’s accomplishments, instead of comparing his to others
  • Brain development of teenage boys and young men
  • How to support boys’ development


Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:

How to Raise a Boy with Michael C. Reichert

Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College, by Sandra Aamodt, PhD & Sam Wang, PhD