How Boys Communicate
If you've ever attempted to communicate with an adolescent boy, you're well aware they interject a significant amount of humor into a conversation. Making jokes about bodily functions and noises, contorting their faces into silly expressions and serving as the clown of the classroom or dinner table are typical behaviors of boys as young as 3 and as old as 18.
Although boys often develop the ability to tactfully place their humoristic viewpoints and commentaries, a son's dependency on silliness can be frustrating. No one wants their son to be the one who cracks a joke during a religious service or intentionally loses control over his bodily functions at a family dinner party. While a boisterous burp or flatulent entrance is usually embarrassing to an adult, this seemingly ill-placed behavior is genuinely entertaining to a young man.
Do you question if your son's overtly humorous displays are a sign of immaturity? Are you concerned he may not understand the importance of utilizing his manners or that certain situations require a serious attitude? Amidst the frustration, lack of patience or embarrassment at some of your son's humor-based behavior, you may find yourself wondering why he acts this way.
In 2004, Alexander Kozintsev, professor of anthropology at Lomonosov Moscow State University in Moscow, Russia, led a team of research students who studied how humor affects the communication of adolescent males ages 9 to 18. Their findings detailed that both pre-pubescent and post-pubescent males utilize humor in a variety of facets of their lives. "From trying to deliver the funniest joke, to making the funniest bodily noise, boys used humor when communicating with peers 68 percent more than girls in similar social situations," Kozintsev states in his findings.
Boys use humor as a guide through various social scenarios or to ease themselves into uncomfortable situations. Humoristic "ice breakers" help them gauge how they'll be received by a sibling or peer. "Boys feel awkward or uncertain about initiating a conversation with an unfamiliar peer and rely on humor to boost their confidence," Kozintsev cites.
In her Knowledge Essential Series, author Amy James backs up Kozinstev's findings. James explains that gender does play a significant role in how our children think. "This applies to how children use, respond to and process humor," she says.
Our sons combine a mixture of verbal, physical and even subliminal humor to entertain, show off and connect with their parents, families, classmates and friends. Prodding pals to have a burping contest in the school cafeteria or making a sibling chuckle at the dinner table reinforces a boy's place in his social circle. Being told "You're so funny" by the girl sitting next to him in social studies lets your son know he's successfully garnered her attention. Hearing "That's so gross" on the playground tells your son he's accepted by his peers. Making you laugh by wearing his jacket inside out or his backpack on his head as he enters the door reaffirms your acceptance and love.
So how can you ensure your son strikes a harmonious balance of self-confidence, building humor and your expected level of personal restraint? Knowing that your son subconsciously relies on the power he believes humor possesses will help you understand how and why he employs humor when communicating. Identifying what type of humor characteristics your son typically displays is the first step to fostering his ability to time his well-placed humor:
The Potty Mouth
Many toddlers and preschoolers find continually discussing bathroom topics and bodily functions absolutely hysterical. Although this may be semi-cute or tolerable from a 3-year-old, many parents find it perplexing when their 9- or 12-year-old reverts back to this stage. Discussing or dissecting the sizes, shapes, colors and odors of bathroom events is widely popular among young boys. Trying to be the one who has the most disgusting story to tell or the one with the funniest outcome equates to catching the biggest fish or being able to run the fastest.
Ironically, many teenage boys also find measuring the resonance and stamina of their bodily functions to be a viable means of comparing their strength, virility and abilities. Much to the chagrin of a family member or friend in close proximity, this typical behavior is often demonstrated by young men throughout late adolescence and even into early adulthood.
The Class Clown
Educators often have mixed feelings about boys who seek to capture the attention of classmates by drawing funny pictures, making silly faces or cracking jokes during quiet reading. Although teachers are pleased to see a child who demonstrates confidence and feels comfortable in his surroundings, they generally find humor in the classroom to be distracting. "It usually seems that the boys are the ones who start a giggling match," says Barbara Pietschman, first grade teacher and mother of one son. "They're more inclined to shout out a silly answer just for the response of the other students regardless if they know the correct answer or not."
The Court Jester
The all-around silly, sweet, kind-hearted young boy who loves to make people laugh regardless of the situation or circumstance, a natural-born joker, the jester is usually the most comfortable with his humor. He's not afraid to tell a joke in the middle of a religious ceremony or show off his prowess for burping his name. He loves an audience and the chance to make everyone from his grandparents to his next-door neighbor laugh. This boy may not worry about who's laughing at his jokes – as long as he's making someone laugh, he knows he's making a connection.
Good vs. Hurtful Humor
Although it is typical for boys to use humor in their everyday verbal and body language, they still must remain cautious of crossing the line between cracking a joke and hurting someone's feelings. "It is easy for boys to go too far when playfully teasing a sibling, parent or friend," says Melodie Parrish, MSW. Unfortunately, humor can cross the line to bullying or taunting.
Making a light-hearted, silly remark about a friend spilling juice on his shirt might be funny. Dwelling on the topic to the point of making another child feel badly in the name of getting a laugh can border on bullying. Imitating someone's walk, speech pattern or mannerisms can create hurt feelings, resentment and animosity. "It is important that boys be encouraged to express themselves while also learning when to exercise kindness and personal restraint," says Parrish.
Tempering the Humor
Instilling the value of good judgment and well-timed humor will be beneficial as your son matures. Guiding him to keep his humor free of hurtful remarks or in line with his surroundings will help him continue to navigate through social situations without hurting anyone's feelings or overstepping his boundaries. "Many boys do not realize they've carried a joke too far or crossed the line from funny to annoying," says Parrish. Unfortunately, a boy often learns this lesson when a friend or sibling retorts in anger, hurting the jokester's feelings or leaving him feeling embarrassed and confused.
Talk with your child to explain the difference between a cute comment or a funny joke and a hurtful remark or excessive humor. Offering constructive examples that allow room for him to exhibit some of his humorous tendencies will guide your son toward positive communication and use of his humor. Knowing how to judge his audience, to discern when he's on the verge of hurting someone's feelings or taking humor too far, and when his humor is the perfect complement to a situation, further boosts a boy's self-confidence.