How do we deal with an unhappy and contrary pubescent boy? Our ten-year-old son has just hit puberty, and it seems to have drastically altered his personality. He went from a generally happy little boy who laughed all the time to a miserable pre-teen who is always fighting with someone – my wife and me, his siblings, his teachers, his friends, you name it. What do you suggest we do about it?
No doubt about it – you’re up against a challenging situation. When a child enters puberty, the physical, emotional, and relational changes involved can be stressful for the entire family. To complicate matters, your son is entering puberty fairly early for a male, which can make it even more difficult to negotiate the transition. This could be the reason for some of the bad‐tempered behavior you’ve been seeing.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, boys start puberty anywhere from ten to fourteen years of age, with most completing the process by fifteen or sixteen. Those who begin very early face some unique liabilities. They may feel a sense of shame or embarrassment, as their bodies begin to show obvious signs of approaching adulthood while most of their peers still look like ten‐year‐old children. Boys who enter puberty late in the game also face adjustment issues, but from the opposite end of the spectrum – their friends look like young men, but their bodies are still immature. It’s easy to understand why many of these kids dread going to P.E. class and the boys’ locker room.
You can help your son through this adjustment process in two ways. First, provide him with plenty of medically accurate information so that he can understand what’s happening with his body. Keep the lines of communication open – and keep it as positive as possible (Asset #2: Positive Family Communication). Let him know that this period of change is only temporary and that you went through the same thing when you were a boy. Assure him that even though he may feel like he’s going crazy, he’s not! Another helpful tool may be to find other trusted adults that can share with him what they went through or just be a listening ear (Asset #3: Other Adult Relationships).
Secondly, provide him with plenty of love, support, and encouragement during this time. Extend him an extra measure of grace as he experiences emotional ups and downs. Give him space when he needs it. At the same time, let him know what the boundaries (Asset #11: Family Boundaries) are, and that you won’t tolerate aggressive, destructive, or disrespectful behavior in your home. This time can be a wonderful opportunity to teach him Asset #36: Peaceful Conflict Resolution. If he’s frustrated, upset, or out of sorts, he needs to learn how to express these feelings in ways that won’t harm other people.