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Fathers vs. Son: Territorial Issues

Obviously, most of the issues between fathers and sons are because the sons are now trying to define their own territory. Fortunately, there are several different kinds of territory.

Physical Territory

This is the obvious one, but not necessarily the most appropriate. Eventually, the boy will need his own territory; until then, he is more than willing to share it with others. The werewolf analogy is rather appropriate for boys of this age;  they tend to be more of the wolf pack mentality rather than bear. Once a boy starts to get serious about dating, he'll be more interested in his own territory, so that he can decorate how he wants and for the obvious privacy. Until then, he'll prefer to do things as part of a group rather than by himself.

However, this does mean that he'll be interested in defending his shared territory. The boy will be more willing to die in order to defend his family and home; after all, he now feels that he has to prove himself, and he also has reason to do so: By proving himself a good defender he will also prove himself ready to be considered a man. Consider the difference in video games and movies: He is not interested in platform jumpers and puzzle-solving games, and prefers first-person shooters and fighting games. He is no longer interested in kid movies, and prefers horror movies and violent movies. Although it could be argued that it desensititizes the kid, I think that it's worth pointing out that it's far better than the old-fashioned way, where the kid saw death meted out first-hand rather than symbolically. By running as a pack rather than solo, the boy is better able to defend the territory (strength in numbers and all that).

There are some obvious issues with running with a pack; the boy will leave all decisions to the pack's leader, and the pack leader will make decisions more to solidify his position and to maintain popularity. This means that, when he runs with the pack, his effective intelligence drops by half, natural cunning doubles, and his decisions will be based more on emotion; this explains why so many boys get in so much trouble at this age. However, this does mean that the boy is perfectly set up for the role that society has, until recently, needed the boy to fill: Cannon fodder. I know it sounds bad, but combine a group that is into guerrilla tactics, is focused only on proving themselves, and takes orders easily, and you have a group that any commanding officer would be proud to command.

In essence, because the boy is unable to have his own territory, he defends that which may be his. The bad news is that it means that gang behaviors are inevitable, but if you can find a way to shift those behaviors a bit you could have a reasonable powerful source for good. It's just a matter of giving the pack a goal that helps the neighborhood. It helps to look at the Boy Scouts as the largest gang ever: Survival skills, divided into packs, and a large number of solvable goals. Something to consider...

Mental Territory

This is generally the more applicable territory. The boy needs to define himself, and he can't exactly carve out a piece of the local landscape; the obvious alternative is to define himself as important, and the best way to do that is to carve out a niche for himself. The other reason that boys run as a pack is that it allows them to specialize in a particular skillset while at the same time being able to access different skills. You can develop the leader, the charmer, the brain, and the muscle, as well as other or more specialized niches, without really losing access to those skills.

It should be noted that the more academic types seem to be immune to this, but they tend to specialize into specific areas of study, with status based on how esoteric that specialization is. It may not seem logical to an outsider, or that it seems to be based on making oneself more useless, but keep in mind that those fields tend to be in  a weird situation: They have a practical application, but it's extremely limited. This is because boys tend to think in terms of physical skills, and so any skill that doesn't involve physical expression (lifting thing, making things, breaking things, or moving things) is basically useless anyway. Thus, going after the esoteric is just an extension of that; academic skills are useless, so let's just make it as useless as possible. Suffice to say that engineering is a great compromise between the physical and mental. Especially if you can make it engineering of some extinct race that built pyramids, like the Mayans.

This can provide a bridge as well as conflict. It can provide between father and son, as the son wants to learn everything about the skill from his father. This can thus be a great bonding experience. However, it can be a problem when the kid moves; he not only needs to find a pack that needs that skill, but also one that allows him his niche. It's because of this that boys don't like moving; there is no promise that they will find the right pack.

This also explains a lot of the rebelliousness, literal-mindedness and talking back that seems to accompany the teen-age years; the best way to establish your own niche is by destroying someone else's. If he's gong to be The Authority on something, then he needs to establish that there is a need for it, and so he needs to eliminate the current authority on something. Although the negative connotations are obvious (conflict always results in damage of some sort), there is an advantage: By pushing the current authority, norms are questioned and are therefore justified or changed. Allowing the boy to challenge authority should therefore be allowed, but limits should be placed on it; as such, that gives the boy the position of questioner, giving him a niche that is both valuable and extremely annoying. What boy wouldn't want that role?

[As a side note, this also explains boys that are extremely conservative: Not only is it a valuable niche to fill, it's also one that few want. It's also a form of rebellion in and of itself, but against the idea of teen-age rebellion instead of grown-up complacency. Every group should have one, because it keeps the pack grounded and out of the worst trouble, especially if he's not just the conscience of the group but respected for that.

Problems with The Pack

Once the boy has defined his territory, it becomes a second skin, and gives him the base that he needs to grow from. However, there is the potential for catastrophe, as he doesn't think for himself when he's part of the pack. There is a sort of  groupmind, where the group does what the group wants, and may not be what the individual wants to do. In a way, the boy needs that vacation from decision-making; he's having to make a lot of decisions that may have tremendous effect later on and he is unable to even visualize those effects. Even if the kid is a great chess player, he is most likely unable to realistically conceptualize himself even a few years in advance, and so he needs a way in order to relax the decision-making part of his brain while allowing for the learning process.

Can you think of a better reason for half of the stuff that teen-age boys do? Streaking, smashing mailboxes, and basically being jerks have their beginnings in establishing their niche and their pack. This is also where experimentation with drugs and sex begin, as well as bad garage bands. As a parent, you need to do one of the hardest things you will ever do: You need to allow this, as long as it doesn't start doing irreparable damage. It's like a vaccine: A little rebellion now, establishing who he is, will help eliminate a lot of soul-searching and rebellion later on, allowing the kid to concentrate later on (highly useful during college, for example). I hate saying it, but you need to let boys be boys; they will be no matter how much you try otherwise, so you may as well as enjoy the ride. Let them control the wheel, don't forget that you control the brakes and that gas pedal should always be up to negotiation.