Maggie Dent Explains: Why Do Teen Boys Make Poor Choices?

Teen boys are a breed of their own. They are going through A LOT of changes, many of which we’ve never been through ourselves (teen girl problems, sure but teen boy issues, not so much).

Often our teen boys appear to be lazy, unmotivated, rude and, put frankly, not to give a shit about anything. To further the complications, teen boys also tend to be pretty bad at making decisions. They can be impulsive, irresponsible and forgetful.

Not all teen boys are like this and not all teen boys are like this all the time, but most of us teen boy mums will admit that our sons have some serious attitude when they reach the early teen stage. This irresponsibility, irrationality and impulsivity can also lead them to make some pretty stupid and dangerous decisions.

Parenting expert Maggie Dent shed some light on why our teen boys are often lazy, moody, confused and make such poor decisions:

I have received many desperate emails from mainly mums asking me what could have possibly happened to their beautiful boy, some even contemplating whether their lad had been stolen by an alien and replaced,” Maggie shares.

Many parents ask me: ‘Where did I go wrong? How can I fix this?’ and express concerns that unless their lads start to apply themselves at school they will ruin their lives forever.”

Maggie cites several common teen boy characteristics that parents may be concerned about.

  • Forgetfulness I (left my phone on the bus)
  • Rude attitude (Why should I?)
  • Laziness and lack of motivation (What’s the point?)
  • Increased disorganisation (I thought the test was tomorrow.)
  • Poor choices (including irresponsible, dangerous and irrational decisions)
  • Mumbling, monosyllabic responses and backchat (Whatever!)

You may find that you can tick every single one on the list or you may only notice 1 or 2. Just remember, this is all common for teen boys, especially 14-year-old boys.

14-year-old boys - teen boys poor choices
Source: Adobe Stock

An explanation for forgetfulness

As Maggie explains,

Research suggests that boys and men tend to prefer to be single-focused rather than multi-focused and with so much happening all at once –body changes, hormonal changes and brain changes – this time is especially confusing for teen boys! Plus this is the window of the natural awakening of sexual awareness and desire, and as the penis is outside the body, it can make some moments awkward in the immature boy-soon-to-be man.

For many 14-year-old boys this is also the window where their brains do the most significant brain pruning and for those boys who already had some challenges remembering things and finding things like milk in the fridge or their socks, then becoming even more forgetful can make them feel really useless, even stupid.

Yes, they will forget to clean their teeth, do their chores, totally forget to attend the orthodontic appointment you set up, and often have no idea what day of the week it is.

They may also consume far too much Milo or even steal the tin and hide it in their room. They struggle with big ugly feelings and can be known to punch a hole in the wall if a sibling has eaten the last biscuit in the tin!

This is not intentional. This is not deliberate. This is a sign of an early adolescent brain doing some early modifications.”

The “too cool” attitude and the masks of your teen

What about the newfound attitude? Maggie explains that this is all part of the package of teens finding themselves.

Teen Boys Make Bad Decisions - Maggie Dent
The overexaggerated eye roll. A staple for teen boys. Source: Canva

With an increase in moments of perceived failure, boys create a fake mask and hide behind it in order to protect themselves from not just the chaotic world but also from themselves!

There are many masks – the smart alec, the clown, the jock, the bully, the cool dude, the shy mouse – usually with long fringe hiding their face. They especially need this mask at school as it is really much like a war zone for boys – so many rules, expectations, different teachers, classes and being challenged to do tasks they are not sure they can conquer.

Many boys are struggling with heightened levels of anxiety that they mask and have no understanding they even are having as they simply mask anything that may suggest vulnerability of any kind.

Teen Boys troubling behaviour
There’s a lot going on inside our 14-year-old teen’s brains. Source: Canva

At the same time as the brain pruning there is an increased production of testosterone and a hunger for creating dopamine, the feel-good neurochemical that comes from having fun, doing risky stuff, watching scary things, gaming and doing physical activity that they love.

Boredom, being threatened by figures of authority, lack of movement and being asked to do things that they consider have little relevance to them are serious good brain chemical killers.”

The irresponsible, irrational and often dangerous behaviour

A sobering statistic shows that your chances of dying during adolescence, especially for boys increases by 400%, especially in rural areas where four beautiful boys can be killed in a car accident after just two seconds of poor choice making.

Making poor choices has a lot to do with an insufficient amount of myelin – the white matter that grows with age – and boys often make the same mistake again and again.

Many deputy head teachers will attest to this frustrating reality. You need a significant amount of myelin to make better choices, the ability to plan for the future, to motivate oneself for an academic goal especially if there is no guarantee of success, to learn from your mistakes, to delay gratification from feeling good in the moment, to manage impulses – especially the need to fart loudly in class-and to feel empathetic towards your frustrated mum – are all attributes of the executive functioning part of the brain that does not finish developing until around the mid-20s.”

FUN FACT: The decision-making part of your teens’ brain doesn’t actually develop until their mid-20s.

The frustrating behaviour

14-year-old boys are emotionally fragile and cover this with many of the behaviours that make Mum especially frustrated.

While their attitude has a lot to do with the hormones and confusion, it’s also often due to them trying to find themselves, push boundaries and deal with the mega confusion in their minds.

As their mums, we often get this frustrating behaviour first hand and often our teen boys need to take out their frustrations on us because, well, we’re their mums.

We’ve been their punching bags since birth.

We’ve calmed them during those toddler meltdowns, we’ve comforted them on their scary first day of school and we’ve picked them up when their friends were being jerks.

Now, as parents, we reach the hardest level with our boys, but we’ve been trained to do this. We’ve been trained to take the hits, to let them push our buttons and to always, no matter what, be there to let them know it’s all going to be okay.

Our 14-year-old boys can be smelly, unmotivated, lazy, moody and confused at the same time as being frightened, sad, emotionally vulnerable and wanting to do well,” Maggie adds. “A warm unconditionally loving relationship with their mum can be unbelievably important.”

To the parents with teen boys driving you a little batty:

Here are Maggie’s top tips:

  1. Lighten up, relax and know that this is just a stage and it will pass.
  2. Keep reassuring your son that his memory will get better.
  3. Use fewer words when reminding him of things – try Post-it notes or SMS.
  4. Cook heaps of wonderful nourishing food to keep his mood and body in a good place.
  5. Keep in contact with the school.
  6. Let him fail at school so that he knows how that feels.
  7. Know that being 14 only happens once.
  8. Help him be a good friend as good friends are hugely important!
  9. Keep reminding your son that every choice has a consequence.
  10. Remember he has poor brain functioning and it’s not his fault.
  11. Protect your son from people who use shaming actions and language.
  12. Know your son is very sensitive to emotional wounding despite the mask.
  13. Be a positive lighthouse for your son’s friends and ask their parents to do the same for yours.
  14. Love him unconditionally when he mucks up.
  15. Make him accountable when he mucks up.
  16. Surround your son with fabulous men to be father figures/mentors/stewards.
  17. Know that teen boys can be slow to bloom into manhood.
  18. Many boys find change a challenge and they have brain changes, hormonal changes and physical changes all happening at once!
  19. Write him some “mum notes” ( especially after he mucks up) to remind him that he is a good person and you have faith he will become a good man one day.
  20. Help him find his spark– something outside of his bedroom.
  21. Keep the life skills list nearby and keep working on building what he can do!

Yes, teen boys, especially 14-year-old boys can be hard work. But remember, as they get older they mature and become better at managing their brains, hormones and bodies.

If you can hold their hearts gently while they are 14, they will love you forever mumma.”

About Maggie Dent

mum centralCommonly known as the ‘queen of common sense’, Maggie Dent has become one of Australia’s favourite parenting authors and educators. She has a particular interest in the early years, adolescence and resilience, and is an undisputed ‘boy champion’.

Maggie is the host of the Listnr podcast The Good Enough Dad and the award-winning ABC podcast, Parental As Anything. She is the author of nine major booksplus several other e-books and a prolific creator of resources for parents, adolescents, teachers, early childhood educators and others who are interested in quietly improving their lives.

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This information was republished with permission from Maggie Dent. 

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