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“I wanted to see what would happen!”

Simon Vincent, teacher of History and Politics and former housemaster at Bryanston School shares his (often amusing) insights into teenage boys, gained over his 12 years as a junior boys’ housemaster!

I need to come clean at the start – I have never parented a teenage boy. I have three girls (which presents its own issues!), but I have stood in loco parentis for nearly 440 (13-14-year-old boys) for 12 years and I hope that this has put me in a position to offer some insight.

“I wanted to see what would happen” is a phrase that I heard many times when questioning boys about something particularly stupid that they had done. This ranged from spraying deodorant onto their nipples to see if they would freeze, to drinking the contents of a glow-stick and then standing in a loo with the lights off and waiting to see if their wee would glow in the dark! Indeed, these are some of the more explainable ‘experiments’ and when I would ask “What were you thinking?” the answer would often be “I don’t know.” This was an honest answer – they really didn’t know what they were thinking, but just did it anyway to “see what would happen.” This is part of both the frustration and charm of teenage boys; they live in the moment, sparing little thought for consequence or caution.

Most boys are not great communicators – at least not with their parents. They tend only to see the point in communicating when there is something they want or need to offload. The key to this is that they do not see their parents as human beings in the strict sense of the word, more as simple conduits for their own desires. Teenage boys coming to boarding school are starting to think of themselves less as ‘ours’ and more as ‘theirs’, but the apron strings still pertain when they cannot make something happen on their own.

My advice for dealing with the above is as follows:

If they want something, try to resist giving it to them straight away. They have come to boarding school to become more independent and there are channels within the school to sort out any issues they have. If they do not have something, or are not able to do something, there is usually a credible reason for it.

When it comes to your son offloading negativity, please try not to worry too much. This tends to be something that lands on mothers and makes them feel wretched. If boys have worries they are not great at talking them through with their friends. They phone their mothers, offload all their negative thoughts, then get back to life as normal, happily relieved of the burden. This is a coping mechanism for them and it’s important that they are able to offload and have someone to speak to and share their problems with, however big or small.

We at boarding school are in the privileged position of seeing the very best of the teenagers that we look after. This is because they know that they have to work at gaining our trust and liking and pour all their efforts into this. A parent’s love is unconditional, and they know that, so often by the time they get home they have exhausted their reservoirs of pleasantness. I think that as long as we parents can be sure that our teenagers behave well with other adults, then we can celebrate that.

Also read ‘You don’t understand’ – a full insight into what’s happening to our teenage girls through the eyes of a Bryanston housemistress!

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