It’s happening before my very eyes: my charming, compliant adolescent son is being replaced by a slightly less appealing version—a version that bristles at instruction and grits his teeth at disliked tasks. To be blunt, homeschooling my pre-teen boy is not not terribly fun at this point.
The change is physical, as well. Logan's soft, rounded cheeks and my ability to lean down and kiss his forehead are disappearing at a frightening rate. I know what comes next: soon enough, he will inch above my own 5'9" and begin sporting wisps of (gasp!) scraggly chin hair.
The first time this happened, I was dumbfounded and, if I'm truly honest, a little scared. But I’ve been here twice already with other boys who have morphed into men. This time, I know my job is to:
- keep a strong connection with my son
- help him navigate the waters of puberty
- educate him without losing my cool
Pre-teen Sons Need Autonomy in Their Homeschooling
We struggled in the first weeks of this school year. Many days felt like a wash, with me frustrated at my son’s lack of willingness to go the extra mile and his clearly growing inability to hold in check whatever was eating at him. It didn't dawn on me all at once, but as I began pondering his educational goals for this season, I realized that much of what was getting under my pre-teen’s skin was simply this: he had outgrown my style of mothering him. Somewhere along the line, he had outpaced me. I was offering him the same level of guidance and oversight he had always had... and he just didn't need it anymore.
Armed with this realization, I started consciously weighing our interactions, both negative and positive. Sure enough, my theory held up. If I offered my usual dose of "Hey, let me give you some tips here" mothering, I would be rewarded with slightly raised shoulders and a boy who took little delight in the task. But if I handed this budding young man a job and essentially walked away, I almost always saw straighter back and saw him hunker down happily to the challenge.
Pre-teen Boys Need a Different Flavor of Mothering
It’s a difficult transition. Mothers always see their own children as slightly less hardy than they truly are, and our desire to be their umbrella from failure is huge. We know from the time our children are toddling that we cannot and should not fill that role forever. Yet it still catches us off guard when the time actually comes to back off and let them fall.
Pre-teen boys are capable. (Except, of course, when they’re not.) Moreover, they desire to stretch their wings.
My 8 Guidelines for Homeschooling a Pre-teen Son
My previous experiences with homeschooling pre-teen boys led me to embrace some guidelines. I even went so far to put them in writing so that when Logan's ire begins to stir at my overbearing mothering, I can recall the formula for our changing mother/son dynamic.
1. Give Him Power to Make Decisions
My pre-teen has taken on an ever-increasing share in what goes on his homeschool plate and how he goes about getting it done. For instance, he asked for a typing program when he realized that his hunt and peck method was holding him back. Had I asked him to take up keyboard instruction, I am pretty sure he would have groaned. Since it was his idea, he has been flying through the course.
2. Give Him Ownership
You know why guys don't ask for directions? Because they would rather try to figure it out on their own and be wrong than have you hand it to them on a silver platter and get it right. It's all about the ownership and the act of conquering. The same goes for young men. They would rather try and fall flat than have their mommas hold their hand to sure victory.
3. Offer Meaningful Work
We hand over several household chores (like changing light bulbs and doing small fix-it jobs) as our kids mature, and this slowly expands the scope of the projects they can handle on their own.
What does this have to do with homeschooling? Everything. A holistic approach to education acknowledges that math can be applied in a variety of ways, and books read give us the background that we build on for life.
4. Expect More
The flip side of greater privilege should always be greater responsibility. Making sure we both understood this parallel helped ease the transition.
Just like their fully grown counterparts, young men need to feel like they are valued and that they measure up. I need to check my tone and word choices to make sure that they convey the same amount of respect that I expect in return.
6. Build Him Up For Future Success
All of that groundwork isn't in vain. My pre-teen son shows every sign of making good choices, following God's call on his life, and being able to handle life's curve-balls. I build him up by saying things like "I know you've got this under control." When I remind him of past labor that resulted in success, it shows I have faith in his abilities. That kind of trust in his character makes him grow two inches taller with confidence.
7. Don't Cushion Natural Consequences
Let the chips fall where they may. Books not finished by Friday afternoon may mean missing family movie night, math assignments prolonged due to dawdling might result in not being able to partake in the communal lunch. That’s life, and learning to accept natural consequences is a vital part of growing up.
8. Be Available
While my pre-teen no longer needs me for the physical stuff, I find that adolescents need even more of my emotional energy. I find that they require more time and support even than preschoolers. Making sure he knows that I am interested, invested, and praying for him daily is vital.
These tactics produce amazing growth in homeschooled boys as they blossom into young men. Is my sweet little guy back? No. He's gone for good. In his place, though, I am now witnessing the unfolding of a kind, responsible young man, learning his way in the world. It's a trade I'm happy to make.