Waiting out 'boy brain'

When my son entered middle school — the dead center of the tween years — he seemed to lose his head. And I couldn’t figure out why.

During his elementary years, schoolwork seemed almost effortless for him. Always easygoing and friendly, confident and calm, he was a natural in the classroom.

He was a verbal processer, so he’d happily talk through whatever he was learning. He was able to ease into conversations with teachers. I was so proud! 

But what do As and Bs in elementary school mean when you’re facing the very new challenges of middle school?

It was then that I noticed my happy young teen start to grow disinterested. He remained active in sports and other activities, but middle school work became less engaging for him. 

He would do his homework at home and somehow it wouldn’t make it to school — or, if it did, it was lost in the pit of his locker. 

What can a mom do?

I became weary of my relationship with his school’s online grading system. Some days I checked it rigorously. Other days, I remained distant, afraid of what it might report. 

I urged him to talk to his teachers about making up missing assignments. I found it difficult to communicate with him. Some days I was hard on him. Other times I was sympathetic, offering rewards and asking him to set simple goals. 

I remained helpless watching the cycle: He’d be doing well for a week or two and then he’d let it all slide again when he thought he was caught up.  

Finding perspective

I was at this emotional intersection of feeling like a parenting failure and enduring deep frustration with my boy when I ran into one of his teachers. 

She asked about my son, praising his character and his ability to lead his peers. She asked how I felt he was doing with his new school and I hinted at his challenge with organizational skills. 

She let me know that she, too, had a son who went through what she called a “boy brain” phase. 

“I hate to sound sexist,” she said, “But it happens to them just like the girls and their hormones. He’ll get through it. They all do. It’s just a stage.”  

Did I miss what she saw? I’d been so wrapped up in teaching him to advocate for himself, urging him to set manageable goals — and working hard to reach them — all the while missing his best qualities. 

Looking back

It reminded me of his babyhood. 

Yep, he was pretty much a non-sleeper. Oh, how I labored over cry-it-out versus no-cry strategies. I counted his sleep hours daily (especially the ones I was missing). 

I didn’t want to be the mom with a 5-year-old in her bed, but I was reluctant to let him wake all the neighbors in our apartment if I let him voice his need for me so loudly. 

I remember thinking: Isn’t there a happy medium in all of this somewhere? 

Eventually, I learned to trust myself and to trust him and his inner wiring — his innate need to be social and function on less sleep than I needed.

He’s now 14 years old, a freshman in high school. 

He still doesn’t go to bed without chatting with me first, expressing how his day was, telling me about happenings at school, interactions with his teachers, which appear to be going well. 

He kisses me on top of the head and says, “Good night, Mom. I think it’s time for me to get to bed.” 

I don’t ever hear a peep from him after five minutes in. He’s a great sleeper and, a great conversationalist. 

My chat with his middle school teacher came to a close that day when she made it clear my son was doing just fine: “Is that all? The only thing he has a hard time with? A little boy brain?” 

“Yes, that’s all,” I said. And, somehow, I knew she was right.