Boys in middle school undergo the second greatest physiological and hormonal change in their lives next to birth. Impulse and instinct go hand in hand as our boys begin the process of learning to be adults. They want to be independent young men but struggle in their efforts to make their own plans, build healthy relationships, and respect the values and feelings of their friends.
Finding the center in this process is often challenging and emotional. Here are some suggestions regarding what every middle school boy needs most from the adults in his home.
Boys need us more than you might think based on their “I got this” attitude. They may seem in control of their world while they practice learning independence, however, we know they need our love and support more than ever. Even discipline or consequences that are framed around their safety are necessary for parents to communicate. Boys hate to disappoint us, which is one of the reasons they often hide bad news from us or lie. They would rather spare us the pain as well as avoid their mistakes and the potential for conflict. Keep lines of communication open with your son so feels 100% supported at home.
At this time in their development, our boys may struggle with relationships. They try to be independent adults and often find the challenges of juggling school, family, and friends very difficult. Meeting their friends is a good first step. Remember that our boys have a very strong desire to fit in with their peers and will make poor decisions just to be well liked. At The Haverford School, we work hard to build strong, confident young men who can lift each other up versus push each other down.
Growing up is tough. Talk to him about growing up, decision-making, choices, peer pressure, relationships, and puberty. Also, be willing to listen without judgement. Our boys need a lot of encouragement as well as appropriate guidelines for household expectations. Positive reinforcement is more important than negative feedback. We are all in this together.
In addition to support and unconditional love from their parents, middle school boys also need support from their teachers and coaches as they build scholarship, friendship, and character. When evaluating schools for your adolescent son, here are items to consider in each of these areas.
To build on scholarship, schools must understand all aspects of the adolescent mind and the challenges that it presents. At Haverford, we know that students who have more time to reflect on the work they do in class exhibit better retention of material and greater success. This research encouraged us to create longer class periods. Now, teachers and students have more time to wrestle with a topic and complete a lesson in one class session versus spreading a concept over multiple days.
We also know adolescent boys move at a fast pace and may forget to take inventory of their current academic situation and request guidance or assistance. Therefore, we built more time in the day to see teachers and receive direction, advice, and recognition of their efforts.
While we know girls tend to be more verbal than boys, boys are just as emotional. They may not give hugs and scream, “I love you” upon meeting after a long summer break, they find their own method of delivering the same message. Whether a smile, non-verbal grunt, or back-handed compliment, boys develop their own language to scratch the friendship itch that is so vital for their existence. Guys know a punch in the arm is the same as a hug or a non-verbal smile equals acceptance and “I love you.” Their rules that govern their hegemonic masculinity are cultural but we understand their language and help them find friends as well as build meaningful relationships.
At Haverford, we take the time to build relationships, which are so vital to the success of our boys. Independent schools excel greatly in this area with smaller classes, dedicated triple threat faculty (those who teach, advise, and coach their students), and invested parents.
Whether through leadership, service, teamwork, or kindness, we work to build young men better than those who preceded them. As they learn from us, we learn from them. We define their character as more than just achievement but by their learning through their effort and resiliency. By eighth grade, we not only hope, but also expect, that as young men of character, our boys can define their passions, set and achieve their goals, and are eager and ready for our Upper School. Once they arrive, their teachers, advisors, and coaches will polish what we built, all in an effort to prepare our boys for college and for life.
Jay Greytok is Head of the Middle School at The Haverford School, where he started teaching in 1988. He is a graduate of The Haverford School and Syracuse University, where he was captain of the rowing team and competed internationally. Greytok earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania and presented his thesis on stereotypical behavior in boys as related to boys’ education. He earned an MBA from Saint Joseph’s University and a Ph.D. in education.