The Age of Discontent

Menstuff® has compiled the following information on young boys.

Eight years old: Age of discontent

Has your eight-year-old son suddenly become aggressive, fearful and tearful? It's a common trait, but he will need help

Douglas Munro was, according to his literary critic mother Eve, the sweetest boy: curious, intelligent, affectionate. “Then just before his eighth birthday there was a real change. Either he wouldn’t meet our eyes or would stare with what looked like hatred — the childish equivalent of giving us two fingers. At the same time he became remarkably clingy and would kiss me goodbye in the mornings with all the passion of a lover bidding a final farewell. He seems to be utterly miserable without being able to explain why.”

Molly Innes, a writer, says the same of her son Dominic, who has likewise just turned eight. “He has always been a lovely boy but, although he still is most of the time, he is suddenly getting terrible moods when he seems to be boiling with rage. One night he had tears in his eyes as he told me he wanted to ‘smash up the house’. And instead of running happily into school, like he used to, he wants me to wait by the gate until he is inside the building; yet when we sit down together and try to work out what is wrong he says he doesn’t know.”

Davina Roberts, a television producer, who is also experiencing the sudden onset of both tantrums and a new clinginess in her eight-year-old son Tom, says that “it is as if his fears have suddenly stopped being about monsters in the dark but about the real world — about whether London will be bombed by terrorists or what if he can’t get a job when he grows up? At other times he just screams at me that he hates me and wishes he’d never been born.”

There’s something odd going on with eight-year-old boys, a sense of profound unease that to their parents, who thought the next milestone would be adolescence, seems inexplicable.

In fact none of this behaviour surprises Eli H. Newberger, one of America’s leading experts on family development and author of the bestseller The Men They Will Become: The Nature and Nurture of the Male Character (Bloomsbury).

He talks about the “gnawing loneliness” of the eight-year-old boy. “At this age a boy is becoming aware of a world composed of individuals and his own need to form friendships and operate successfully within it. So far his closest relationship has been with his mother, but as he looks at the male world around him he understands that this is not a role model for his friendships with other boys who operate a different set of rules that he doesn ’t yet understand. In some societies this removal of a boy from the influence of his mother into the male world is even celebrated by ritual. In the modern Western world this initiation takes place in the playground and it can be a particularly difficult transition for the more sensitive, thoughtful — feminine, if you like — boy. While girls of this age talk and talk, boys’ friendships adhere to a pecking order of dominance, and the boy is worried about where he will fit in. It is a time of great confusion and loneliness.”

At the same time physical changes are also taking place. “At around seven to eight years the adrenal gland is switched on in both boys and girls as their bodies start to prepare for puberty,” explains Peter Swift, paediatric endocrinologist at the Leicester Royal Infirmary Children’s Hospital. “The androgens — male hormones — kick in to sensitise the body and promote a fresh growth spurt. Different children react differently to this — some might act with more/less maturity, or perhaps erratically. The body will then quieten down again until puberty — 7, 14, and 20 are all big stages in terms of physical and emotional development.”

That boys are more emotionally affected than girls by this physical development is not surprising, Newberger says. “Boys are becoming very aware of their bodies, particularly in a male world where success is often measured by physical prowess. They’re also increasingly aware of their limitations. But unlike girls, they don’t have the emotional fluency to express how they are feeling, which leads them to internalise their concerns or express them physically rather than verbally. Their confusion is manifest in rages and aggression, as well as passionate clinging to their mother.”

This is partly because boys develop more slowly, but also because, even if we are unaware of it, we bring up boys differently. “When we discuss an event with our daughters we tend to talk about how people were feeling, but with our sons we stick to recalling facts,” he says. “But the shorter time a boy is left to rely on the physical rather than verbal expression of his feelings and desires, and the sooner he learns emotional language and self-control, the more likely he is to turn into a decent, likeable man.”

We should talk to our boys as much as possible, Newberger says. Best of all is to guide them towards a creative passion — music, or art. “Creative activity is non-competitive, which can be a relief after the playground, a cure for worry and a great outlet for pent-up feelings.”

However, Newberger sounds a note of caution: depression among teenage boys is a growing problem and the seeds are often sown in this pre-teen period. A government survey in 1999 among 5 to 15-year-olds found that young boys are nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression as girls – depression in children also increases the risk of teenage suicide significantly.

In boys, depression is more likely to be expressed as anger and aggression. If a boy is having more than occasional bad moods you may want to visit a GP.

Mothers sensing their sons’ increasingly ambivalent relationship towards themselves may feel that it is best to stand back and let their boys go. “Absolutely not,” Newberger says. “Take an interest in their new interests. Above all, stick with them.”

Source: Miranda Ingram,  

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