Parenting 11 Year Old Boys: My Experiences And What To Expect
If you are reading this article then the chances are you are the parent of an 11 year old boy. Perhaps you feel you have hit unchartered waters and you are looking for advice on certain aspects of parenting? Perhaps you feel your angelic son is changing and you are not quite sure how to handle the change? Or maybe you simply want to know if your own experiences are 'normal' or not?
Of course, there is really no such thing as 'normal'. Every child is different, with their own distinct personality. One child might react in an angry outburst when things just aren't going their way, whereas another child might retreat into themselves and deal with their problems internally. Still, as a parent to my own 11 year old boy, I have experienced that turning 11 is a period of considerable change. No longer do you have a young child to contend with, but a 'pre-teen' instead. Not quite a teenager (although he might well think he is!), but a boy who is growing up and venturing into his own life, seeking his own independence.
In the United Kingdom, 11 is the age when most children leave behind the relative cocoon that is junior school and prepare for secondary school instead. Secondary school marks the beginning of a child stepping out into the world, finding his own independence and acquiring responsibilities. At secondary school, a child must reach up to a new level, as there is little molly-coddling or parental involvement. As children begin the journey into secondary school, many become increasingly conscious of what is 'cool' and what is most certainly not. Although this is perhaps not a value we might want to instill in our children, the truth is that children are often treated by their peers according to how they dress, how they behave and the types of things they are 'into'. As we grow towards adulthood, we may grow in confidence and abandon these rather shallow theories, but children of 11 not usually mature enough to accomplish this. 11 year olds don't usually want to be 'different' - they strive to 'fit in', by wearing the latest fashions, embracing popular culture (such as music, tv programmes and video games) and by doing what their friends do.
Influence of Peer Group
This leads on to another aspect in the parenting of 11 year old boys (or any 11 year old, for that matter). Around this age, from my own observations, there is a definite shift away from being influenced wholly by parents and instead being heavily influenced by peer groups. So many times, at this age, my son has dismissed my opinions and guidance because his friends have a different perspective. I have often been told, 'no, it is true because so-and-so said so' or 'everyone does it.' Much of the information may be questionable, to say the least. And while 11 year olds may still listen to a parent and take their advice, I have found it is harder to break through the barrier that is their peer group.
Striving for Independence
Depending on where an 11 year old boy lives, he is likely to be walking to school alone by now. Certainly my own son began walking to school aged 9 and a half, although we do live in a safe area and the walk to school is short and mostly along roads with relatively little traffic. I remember when he was 7 and decided he was old enough to walk to the local shop alone. He went on and on about it, utterly convinced he was ready for it. In the end, I said he could - and instantly he retracted. He didn't have the confidence to go it alone after all, despite all the talk - in fact, it was quite a long time before he actually went through with it.
Deciding when to allow a child to go places alone has no hard and fast rules. It depends very much on the area the child lives in, the roads they will have to cross, and the general safety level. Assuming you live in a relatively safe area, I feel 11 year olds do need to be given a little more independence. My son walks to and from school alone, can walk to friend's houses in the local vicinity and also goes to the local park with friends. 11 year olds should be given an exact time to be home by, as they have to learn that trust comes with proving that they can stick to the rules. If they can't stick to the rules, then perhaps the privilege should be taken away, because what you don't want is a teen, two years down the line, of whose whereabouts you have no idea.
Don't Forget to Talk to Him!
Boys don't always talk a lot, and the older they get the less they have to say (especially to their parents!) Girls are far more likely to babble on about friends and school than boys, so it is important to make the effort to converse with your 11 year old son so that you gain insight into his life and the things that happen when you are not there. Even when all family members are at home, proper conversations can be a bit of a rarity in many households. Our modern world, with all its gadgets and media entertainment, can very often lead to each family member going off and doing their own thing, especially when bedrooms contain TV sets and games consoles. Children's bedrooms are often a private retreat, containing enough entertainment to make joining family downstairs seem uninspiring. I know that my 11 year old son likes nothing better to come home from school and hide in his room with his Xbox until I insist he comes down. This is all very well, but I definitely believe this has led to less communication within many modern families - with everyone leading separate existences, even within the same household, it is more important than ever to make sure you take the time out to talk to your children and ensure you have an idea of what is going on in their lives.
Keeping up communication is important for all children, but as a child becomes older it is essential to make a conscious effort not to let it slip. Because older children are more independent than younger children, they do not rely on you as much for physical needs. Therefore, the interaction that comes from having to deal with the younger child's every requirement becomes much less as they get older. However, although 11 year olds might be able to accomplish a lot of things for themselves, they are not so mature when it comes to emotional issues. Older children still need to feel secure, loved and important in their parent's eyes, in order to grow into confident, well-balanced individuals.
I find that my son talks the most to me, and reveals more personal information such as things that happen at school, when we are walking together without his younger brother being present. These occasions are not particularly common, since his younger brother is a preschool child of three. When his brother is there, much of my attention is taken up watching out for him and dealing with his needs. It is only when he is not there, and I have my 11 year old all to myself, that I notice how different the walk is.
I definitely feel that it is important to communicate with 11 year olds about issues such as friendships, school problems, funny moments they have with their mates and events that they are excited or worried about. Knowing your child well creates a bond, so that as they head off into the world of the teenager they will (hopefully) feel more inclined to talk to you and offer you a little window into their world. I haven't reached that stage myself yet, so in part it is just a theory. It does, however, make a lot of sense. Equally, even though your 11 year old might be beginning to want to spend a lot more time with his mates (without you) it is still very important to do things together as a family on a regular basis. After all, as the saying goes, 'families who play together, stay together'.
Since my son has turned 11, I have suddenly noticed a big difference regarding his behaviour towards girls. For most of his childhood thus far, girls have been his enemy, there only to tease, argue with or keep away from. Not all boys are the same - I know a few who have been friends with girls since the early years, and those with sisters might feel differently - but my son was an avid hater of girls......until he turned 11.
Suddenly, girls have changed from being an alien species to fight with or avoid like the plague, to friends who are even deemed suitable to socialise out of school with. This is a very strange new concept to me - all of a sudden my son even began walking to school with a girl from his class. Was this a girlfriend? I tentatively approached the subject and found out that she was not. I even dared to ask what they talked about, since I couldn't for the life of me imagine what they had in common. My son, after all, is an Xbox enthusiast who likes chatting about computer games and football. I never found out what they talked about, since I was glared at and asked why I wanted to know, in very suspicious terms.
So suddenly girls are not the enemy, and for the first time I can see the beginnings of boy/girl relationships. It's all innocent for now - talking, hanging out and just having fun. Sometimes, boys at school have 'girlfriends', but it's really nothing more than a statement. I'm sure all that will come later, but not much to worry about right now.
Many parents of 11 year old boys, myself included, remark at times on the 'bad attitude' of their sons. Although they can be loving, polite, funny and pleasant to be around, boys of this age are often prone to back-chatting, sarcasm and generally acting a little big for their boots. I see it as pushing the boundaries - the majority of the disputes I have with my son are over things that he wants to do, or have, yet which he has been told he is not allowed.
An argument which starts up time and time again in our house is my son's desire to own video games that are unsuitable for his age group. In fact, he does play some games that are geared towards teens, but he seems to think that games deemed suitable for those over 18 are the only cool thing to have. I say 'no', he protests, labels me a terrible parent and generally becomes rather horrible company to be around. My son acts on impulse, and often does apologise later, but it is still an attitude that is not acceptable. His protests are mainly based on the fact that 'everyone else has them'. He is not lying - a lot of children do seem to be allowed these games. Not all, of course - not even half.
The rest of the time his bad attitude surfaces when he has been asked to do something and has decided he isn't going to. Often, it is homework which causes a major personality transplant. He thinks it is a waste of his life. Other times, being asked to help out with a chore, particularly one which takes longer than five minutes, will result in a stroppy tantrum. Sometimes I think my son would make an excellent politican, so skilled he is in the art of arguing.
11 year olds do deserve to be listened to, but still have to understand that there are certain things they have to adhere to. That is just how life is, in all areas and not just at home. If my son gives me a lot of rude backchat, or his behaviour is unacceptable and he doesn't take the hint after a warning, then the consequence is usually the withdrawal of something he enjoys. Often, it is his Xbox that gets banned, for a certain number of days. I find that this works well, as it certainly makes him think twice about the way he talks to people. It is important that children of this age should be respectful, and if you don't nip unacceptable behaviour in the bud then the problems are sure to worse later on - and harder to rectify.
Boys of 11 often exhibit certain behaviour when they are with their friends. Sometimes this can come across as a bit arrogant or rude. Boys like to appear 'cool' and show off in front of their peers - of course, this behaviour is not really cool at all, but you have to remember that 11 year old boys are often rather lacking in maturity. Many boys don't like to be seen as soft in front of their mates, and so go rather overboard in proving that they are not. Of course, often they will revert back to their amicable selves once their friends are out of the equation and they no longer feel the need to act 'big'; however, disrespect should still be addressed.
Obsessions with Video Games
Almost every 11 year old boy I know is obsessed to varying degrees with computers and video games. As I said before, my own son is addicted to his Xbox - I'm pretty sure he would spend all day on it if he was allowed. His friends are exactly the same, and when they come to our house it is pretty much all they want to do, aside from the odd kick about with a ball. It is a characteristic that I really don't like - my son is only allowed to play the Xbox for around an hour and a half after school, but even then I have to virtually drag him off it (and when friends are round they often sneak it back on when I am not paying attention.
So what is the problem with video games? Well, my main contention is that children who become obsessed often lose the ability and motivation to find interest in other things. Video games are ready-made entertainment - the child is basically indulging in someone else's creation, while investing nothing of himself. He is not using his own imagination and creativity, or learning a new skill. He is simply shutting off from reality, and retreating into a world that doesn't really exist. That is fine, in moderation, but I know that when my son is told to come off a game, his thoughts are still taken up by it. Often, he can't think of anything else to do, because everything else is 'boring'. I tell him of my own childhood, when we didn't have video games at all. He is horrifed by the idea and concludes that I must have had a horribly boring childhood. I think the opposite, and feel that many of today's young generation are missing out on the true magic of being a child.
But games consoles and video games do exist and most boys of 11 love them. Some of my son's friends seem to be allowed to spend obscene amounts of time numbing their brains in front of screens, but I still insist on limiting the time. One day, I won't be able to intervene and it will be his choice (I hope he will have grown out of it by then, as other interests arise), but for now I still have some input into what he does. When he is pulled away from his games console (not literally) there are complaints of boredom and comments that it isn't fair and so-and-so from school can play games 24 hours a day - but then, in the end, he does find something else to do and we are all happy.
Growing up, slowly...
Parenting an 11 year old boy is a journey along the path of change and growing up. Those childhood days spent playing with toys are all but over, and your 11 year old is probably moving more towards the pursuits of teens - there might be more of an interest in music; in 'hanging out' with friends rather than 'playing'; and a growing desire for independence. But 11 year old boys still need parents, to talk with, laugh with and to bond with during family times. 11 year old boys might be growing up, but at heart they are still children. My son wouldn't be seen dead playing with toys in front of his friends - but one day, recently, I caught both him and his best mate indulging in some Play Doh left on the table by his three year old brother, which was clearly OK because they had just happened upon it....growing up is a slow process, and we should be thankful for that.