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Father of boys: the uncut truth

I currently work in a primary school, have two boys in secondary school, one in year 7 (aged 11) and one in year 8 (aged 13) and have been part of their life since day one. I have changed the nappies, fed the ankle-biters, bought the tee shirt. I have “life experience”.

Regarding the parenting of boys, here’s the essential bits of what I have learnt so far…

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Remember, behaviour is learnt. And it’s learnt from you. This is quite important. You are the role model, the centre of their world, the primary exemplar, the shining beacon of all things acceptable to which they will ultimately adhere. No pressure then.

If you think it’s highly amusing to mightily break wind or forcefully belch in the confines of your own home, your child will think it’s highly amusing to do so in front of the waiter at a posh restaurant, with your in-laws at the table! The same goes for swearing, yes you didn’t mean to let that 4 letter word slip out, and yes of course that means they really will keep have to keep repeating it to everyone.

Yes, they will test your patience and make you do more than roll your eyes. They will make you shake your fists at the sky, bellow, swear and shriek until your eyeballs bulge and flecks of dribble drip down your chin. You may even retreat, curl up into the foetal position in a dark cupboard and cry for your mother (or is that just me?).

Either way, staying calm under pressure is a good option. There will be a point at which you will inevitably “blow up”. Try not to reach it. Use your partner as a method of intervention if you can. If all else fails, you could use some/all of this piece of sage advice that comes from an American judge who dealt a great deal with today’s youth. His opinion? “Go home and mow the lawn, wash the windows, learn to cook, build a raft, get a job, visit the sick, study your lessons and, after you’ve finished, read a book. The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something. You owe your time, energy and talent so that no one will be at war, in sickness and lonely again. In other words, grow up, stop being a cry baby, get out of your dream world and develop a backbone not a wishbone. Start behaving like a responsible person. You are important and you are needed. It’s too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday. Someday is now and that somebody is you.”

Always maintain a sense of humour with parenting

There will be dark days in the relationship with your children, especially around December 21, when daylight hours are seven hours, 54 minutes and 11 seconds. Ha ha ha. If you can deflect any discord that arises with a well-timed quip, it may diffuse the situation and also stop you from saying something you may otherwise regret at a later date. Young ones can be naturally inquisitive and there may be specific worries about climate change, greenhouse gases, deforestation etc that will inevitably be picked up from the school curriculum. Try not to be alarmist, but realistic.

As Frankie Boyle says: “kids are worried about rising sea levels because they’re shorter.” He also added: ““I think it’s good that we call young people Generation Z, as if admitting that it’s pretty much all over.” He’s only joking. But it's a good life lesson to teach them to take things with a pinch of salt, it may lighten the mood and come in handy.

Bringing up children is hard

You may feel you can never get it right. And, even when you think you are getting it right, there is always someone else who is getting it more right than you. Boy tweens are time consuming, tiring, messy, infuriating, annoying and exasperating. Sometimes, they can be funny.

They won’t look after their clothes or belongings, they will continuously lose the most expensive items and they think only in the “immediate” or “very near immediate”.

Try to resist the urge to react by shouting. This is easier said than done. Tweens and younger boys soon learn how to push boundaries. These are called “buttons”. Once they have found the “buttons” they will prod them incessantly until they show signs of wear and tear. They love prodding. They will do it to their hearts’ content. Learn to “pick your battles” and “deal with it”.

Obviously, the best reaction through all of this is to remain stoically calm, level-headed, almost whisperingly indifferent, because (usually), once you’ve had your slanging match, a terrible sense of guilt will prevail. You’ll feel sorry, they won’t. And, ultimately, all you’ve done then is teach them to shout.

Age gap between adult and child

This is something to be celebrated, not criticised. “You would never have got away with that in my day” is a bit trite and tired, your day is ostensibly incomparable with today. I think it’s pertinent to establish a sense of decorum and distance – there are not many things more cringe than a middle-aged man with a slight paunch and a balding pate trying to perfect “flossing” or “orange justice”. Think dad dancing at a wedding. You're their parent, not their 'mate' however tempting it might be to recapture your lost youth through theirs, try to resist the urge.

What are boys like?

My wife and I used to joke that boys are like dogs, but that’s essentially not far from the truth.

My two are loyal (in theory anyway), unconditionally loving, led by food, straightforwardly uncomplicated, and in need of their regular fix of outdoor exercise to function successfully.

This should always be in the back of your mind. It may be difficult, according to one’s personal circumstances and the time of year, but never underestimate the power and benefit of being outside. This also ties in with that most evil of modern traits, screen time. Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a bleeding liberty. In my experience, the answer is to be strong and stay strong. Stick to your guns in the battle of negotiation, think about it, once you cave in to something, they’ll be no going back. And when they hit the teenage years and their cranial wiring goes askew, a time limit on social media and gaming will pretty much be a necessity.

Life today with boys

There is a lot expected of children in state education at primary and secondary school. Be aware of this. Your child may hate a particular subject (or all of them!) and might come home ready to let off steam. Focus on what’s right for them and if there’s a gap somewhere, sport, music, drama or whatever, try to fill it. Chief inspector of schools, Amanda Spielman, was quoted recently in The Guardian newspaper about wanting to focus on a broad, rich curriculum.

She criticised some schools where, for instance, every child takes GCSE sports science, regardless of their interest in sports science, in a bid to improve league table results.

She said: “we must guard against restricting education excessively. Exam results are important but have to reflect real achievement. We should not incentivise apparent success without substance. This doesn’t represent a good education for any child.”

Parents, then, not only need to be parents, they need to be social workers, clairvoyants, behavioural analysts, the font of all knowledge and fun-loving, good-natured, mild-mannered peacekeepers. Good luck with that!

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