Boys are generally more impulsive than girls. Risk-taking is natural for boys and forms a normal part of their growing up. However, dangerous risk-taking behaviours can have serious negative consequences. Adolescence is an especially important period for boys as the brain is far from mature and undergoes extensive structural changes well past puberty.
Many boys have well-developed cognitive capacity, but are still developing their emotional maturity. As a result, this period is sometimes referred to as ‘high horsepower, poor steering’.
Some neurological aspects to consider during boys’ adolescence include:
- The prefrontal cortex. Responsible for cognitive processes, it’s the last area of the brain to fully mature. This process occurs later in boys.
- Serotonin levels. These levels are substantially lower and decline temporarily in boys’ brains during adolescence. Serotonin facilitates the neural pathways between the limbic system (emotion) with the frontal lobes (the brain’s thinking centre). Compounding this is a surge in testosterone around the age of ten, which interplays with serotonin.
Unmanaged risk-taking desire can lead to dangerous behaviours including binge drinking, smoking, drug taking, aggressive driving and bullying/aggressive behaviour.
Associate Professor Susan Towns, Head of the Department of Adolescent Medicine at The Children’s Hospital Westmead, reflects that even though we know many things about boys’ neurological development, dangerous risk-taking doesn’t just happen. There are signs early on that may show a boy is more vulnerable. These signs are usually a combination of factors including:
- Developmental issues
- Inadequate parenting support
- Personality traits or developing mental health problems such as depression or anxiety
- Bullying or peer pressure
So, how can you manage this as a parent?
Professor Towns emphasises that the best parenting approach to support boys through adolescence is one that is loving, but firm – high warmth, high structure, high supervision and high guidance done in a supportive way.
Boys respond to limits and boundaries – they respond to structure.
It’s common for adolescent boys to push the boundaries, but as Towns states, the key role of parents is to determine what’s appropriate and what’s not.
Approaches that can encourage rebellious and negative risk-taking behaviour in boys include laissez-faire parenting, where there is a lot of love nurturing, but not enough boundaries or structure, and ‘authoritarian’ parenting, which is low on warmth and nurturing, but high on strictness and discipline.
Based upon the work of Professor Towns, here are some wise boundaries you can provide for your son:
- Ask them to tell you what time they will be home.
- Have an agreement where trust develops if they keep to the rules.
- Have house rules and household chores.
- Know how much money your son has.
- Know who their friends are.
- Be introduced to their friends.
- Talk to other parents about their sons’ boundaries and ideas they have on parenting.
- Talk to the School when you have any concerns or need support.
Adolescent Psychologist Andrew Fuller writes about the importance that parents think about how they can help their son take risks in ways that allow him to safely have a go at new and challenging experiences, particularly during his early adolescence.
We don’t want boys to feel as though they can’t chase after their dreams, but it’s a matter of being safe and supported. It’s important that you, as a parent, feel you have the tools and knowledge to do this. For more information about understanding boys, visit our Raising boys page.
To learn more about the educational journey offered at Trinity, you can watch a video on ‘A day in the life of a Junior School student’ here.