Boys are concrete recallers.  Girls tend to attach much more emotional sensory detail to their memories, thus making the feelings associated with those memories come alive.  Boys remember what happened but are not as tied to how they felt when it happened.  This doesn’t mean boys don’t have feelings when things happen — just that their memories are not as connected to those feelings.  Boys may not feel the same way about an event as a girl does, or they may have a harder time recognizing a connection between a current feeling and a past event.

As an example, let’s say a teenage boy has not just a messy room, but a whirlwind-of-destruction room.  A five-minute verbal tirade on the fact that it’s messy generally won’t produce the kind of results you want, especially if it’s launched right after he’s come home from soccer practice, and all he can think about is what’s available to eat.

He’s been out running around for an hour and a half and now he’s home and that room is just perfect, as far as he’s concerned, as long as he can bring a glass of milk and a bag of chips in there with him until dinner is ready.  For the past hour and a half you’ve been fuming about the wretched condition of this pigsty of a room and all you can think about is he’s finally home and it’s about time he took responsibility for its unacceptable condition, especially when you just talked to him about it three days ago and it’s no better and probably worse.  He thinks it’s perfect; you think it’s a disaster.  You want to discuss it with him, but, with boys, remember timing and presentation:

  • Wait until after he’s at least had something to eat.  If the world hasn’t ended in the past ninety minutes, since you looked in there and decided you’d had enough of his slovenly ways, it’s probably not going to, so you’ve got a little time.
  • Then, after dinner and before he starts into whatever else he’s got to do, let him know you want to talk to him about his room.  Give him advance warning about the timing and the topic so you’re both on the same page before you begin.  You’re telling him he needs to pick up the ball that is his room and think about that.
  • Next, ditch the lecture.  Condense your comments to a few concrete statements, and allow him to respond to those.  This way, the lecture becomes what you really need it to be — a discussion.  You want him to understand your position and accept your point of view.  He doesn’t equate the condition of his room with your level of frustration and condemnation.  Keep it concrete; the focus should be on the mutually agreed upon condition, ideally, or at the very least what your definition is, as a parent.
  • Control your emotions.  Yes, you may be completely put out, and verbal put-downs are not going to produce the results you want.  These may be interpreted as an attack, to which he may respond in anger and physically.  This is just his room; it doesn’t need to provoke a “fight or flight” response, but it can, especially with a volatile teenage boy.
  • Move around in the physical space.  Don’t just talk about the fact that he never puts his clothes in the hamper; walk around the room and use physical examples.  Have him pick up items strewn around and determine if they are clean or dirty.  Reiterate the concrete rule: Clean clothes are put away properly, dirty clothes go into the hamper.  Yes/no – on/off.
  • Let him know you’re on his side, that you trust him to be able to understand and accomplish these few simple goals.  You do not want this to become some sort of heated competition between you, because he’ll be more than happy to tell you to “bring it on.”
  • Keep it short.  One or two examples will do.  This isn’t quantum physics.  Get him physically moving and then give him his space.  You’ve set the standard; now give him time to accomplish the task.
  • If you’re still emotionally stressed and have a need to vent, go take a walk or engage in some other rote activity.  Give him his space and time to respond.
  • Show appreciation.  Just because he doesn’t transmit his need for your approval and acceptance doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  It doesn’t have to be much, but it does need to be expressed.
  • Keep him accountable.  Consequences can still be a foreign concept to him, one that needs to be fortified.  Cleaning his room and keeping it clean are a simple way to reinforce the truth that actions have consequences.  If his actions don’t produce the consequences you’ve outlined, how is he to learn the vital lesson?

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 36 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.