Masterminds and Wingmen

Originally published September 2013

Talking to boys is tough. Parenting them is tougher.

As a mom to three kids, two of them boys—and now high school boys, at that—I’ve forever been on the lookout for good advice to break through the scrum. I harbor fantasies of being “that” mom—the cool one, whose boys hug her in public because they think she’s just so darn awesome. And that’s exactly what that is—a fantasy. My men love me, for sure—but they just as soon would kiss a pig or clean their own bathroom than hang out with me.

I don’t make it easy, either. I try to make as many soccer games as possible. And as a member of my oldest’s high school band parent group, I may actually spend more time in the band room than he does. I am a formidable presence in their lives.

And I still don’t get it right.

Thank Jeebus for Rosalind Wiseman, bestselling author of “Queen Bees and Wannabes…” the guide to girldom that was Tina Fey’s fodder for the movie hit, “Mean Girls.” Next week, her newest book comes out, and it’s all about the boys—”Masterminds & Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World.

I had the fantastic chance to interview her for my day job, and asked her, “Why a book about boys?” Her response?

“I did the book because I knew boys had complex feelings and social lives, and behind the façade, there was a lot going on there,” she says. “Boys needed and wanted advice and didn’t know how to ask for it.”

If you’re looking for help on how to talk to a boy, it’s an excellent resource. Here’s why:

It breaks down some deeply-embedded myths. While body image and self-esteem are much ballyhooed topics for girls, and how we raise our daughters, not much is said in the same breath about boys. Yet, when I turned a page of her book and was met with photographs of today’s action figures, it was a giant slap to the forehead. Today’s Batman doesn’t look like McLovin. He looks like Jon Cena. And, as Wiseman points out, body image is a very big deal for boys.

“Moobs is a big problem for middle school boys,” she says. It’s the first thing (for boys) in older childhood where you start comparing yourself to other people. I’ve known boys are quite self-conscious about their body image, but literally, there is no language for them to express, ‘This is how I am feeling.”

Wiseman does a fantastic job disassembling the “Act Like a Man” Box so deftly created by boys—adjectives and action that define the social order in their age groups. Once parents know why it is the way our boys think, it’s easier to shape the narrative.

It’s easily digestable. Wiseman organizes the book by topic area, making it easy for a harried parent to navigate. Preschool boys? Skip right to that part. Problem setting limits with video games? There’s a chapter just for you. Scan the table of contents and reda what you need (although I really do highly recommend the first few chapters—put in the groundwork and it all just kind of makes sense.) Speaking of which …

It’s written as common sense. Wiseman doesn’t talk down to the reader, and she doesn’t talk above them either. It would be really easy to quote scientific research as to why my kid grunts at me, but Wiseman makes it accessible.

It’s hopeful. There’s a kinda-sorta-maybe-light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to my boys, and that often makes me wonder if I have stumbled too often, making too many mistakes to repair the damage that’ll surely have them in some therapist’s chair 10 years from now. Wrong, says the book. Very simple changes can be made that’ll have our boys talking to us soon enough—maybe just a little more on their terms.

Got boys? Get this book. In the meantime, here are my 3 tips about how to talk to a boy:

  1. Dial it down a notch. I probably don’t need to know how their school day went one nano-second after they get in the car. The kid is stressed, you’re stressed, it’s been a long day. Everyone just needs to practice abdominal breathing for 15 minutes.
  2. Approach cautiously. Chances are, they don’t want to know I got the skid marks out of their favorite pair of boxers when they are online with three other friends playing Madden. Friends within a 2-mile vicinity=stay the hell away.
  3. Try to stay awake longer than they do. Wiseman says one of the best times to initiate conversation is just before they go to sleep. I imagine if you time it right, you may actually hit that 2-minute window of a truth serum-like trance when he’ll tell you what he really thinks about that skanky skanky ho ho that sits next to him in 5th Period German.

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