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Recently I was in a webinar that aimed to tackle the issues surrounding technology and its effects on students. Some members of the forum started openly criticising boys for their poor behaviour. Whilst their criticisms were not directed specifically at our boys, I was offended at their general statements. We can be too quick to criticise boys and we forget that their frontal lobes are still developing. We also forget that their brains are “wired” differently from girls and that they don’t see the same levels of reason that we do (my 9-year-old son is a perfect example!). Sadly, our frustrations with our boys’ misgivings can result in us overlooking all of the wonderful things that our boys do!

Working with our young men can be so rewarding and I am reminded of this each day. For the vast majority of the time our boys turn up to school with a smile on their face. They acknowledge adults and teachers as they walk by and look you in the eye when they shake your hand. Our boys wear their uniforms with pride and are respectful to their teachers. Their enthusiasm can be seen on the sporting fields and during their service activities.

Unfortunately, from time to time, boys will make a mistake. As adults, we need to accept this reality. If a boy makes a mistake, we need to help him to learn three things. Firstly, it is acceptable to make mistakes. We all do, and it is an integral part of learning and becoming a well-adjusted young man. Secondly, boys need to learn to be honest, own their mistake and accept the consequences. Thirdly, and sometimes most importantly, our sons need to know that we will forgive them when they make a mistake. By not forgiving our boys’ mistakes, we are not modelling for them the skills of forgiveness and tolerance. We need to view our boys’ mistakes as a learning process and remember to acknowledge all of the good things that they do.

As parents and teachers we walk a fine line with our rules, rewards and consequences. As psychologist and author, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg acknowledges in his book “Surviving Adolescents”, we need to negotiate with our teenagers the rules in our homes, boarding houses and schools. If the boys do not feel that they have some ownership in shaping them, they can become rebellious. However, the flip side is that if we do not create the structures that are important for wellbeing and flourishing, we end up with entitled teens who never see the value in setting limits. Carr-Gregg calls these entitled boys “Prince Boofheads”.

The most compelling consequence that we can impart on our boys is restricting something that they enjoy. We all know that a consequence needs to “hurt” a little, however, too often we get frustrated when our boys do not learn from the consequence and re-offend. When this occurs, we need to reshape our thinking to establishing a rewards system for desirable behaviour. For example, if your son is allowed to use technology in the morning, he should be rewarded for being ready before the parent who is driving him. Once his bag is packed and he has everything he needs for the day he might be allowed some time on his Xbox. This contrasts with allowing him access to his Xbox when he wakes up and having to remove the privilege of using his Xbox in the morning when he is not ready on time. In both cases he can access his Xbox, we just need to consider how we can offer his access as a reward for desirable behaviour as opposed to a punishment for his undesirable behaviour.

As parents and teachers, we don’t always get it right in finding the balance between rules, rewards and consequences. However, the more consistent we are, the more our boys will trust us and in turn, when our boys do the wrong thing, we can use our trusting relationship as the basis on which we establish and promote positive future behaviours.

Mr Mark Oliphant
Head of Senior School


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