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Woman on a Deserted Road

Part 1. Parenting Adolescent Boys (post DV) - Advice from the experts

Updated: Jul 10

Written by Priscilla Green


Reflections and lessons from ‘Adolescence’ by  Louise J. Kaplan Ph.D. psychoanalyst and author. Chapter 7- ‘The bridge between love dialogues and narcissism – Love of the parent of the same sex’ and from the book'.



As I flicked through the pages of the book ‘Adolescence’ by  Louise J. Kaplan Ph.D. who also authored 'Oneness and Separateness: From Infant to Individual’  I became transfixed by Chapter 7- ‘The bridge between love dialogues and narcissism – Love of the parent of the same sex’.

The book written by this expert over 40 years ago in 1984 is as relevant and poignant today as the day it was written. It captures aspects of the extreme behaviours depicted today in the media of boys acting out.

Which makes me question how little our child services for families and children have adopted and learned from the knowledge shared in research of the past and the missed opportunities to implement preventative action.  I have read many, many books on parenting, children, teens and development but for some reason this chapter resonated deeply. Only hours before I had incurred the wrath of my 14 yr old boy rebelling against my attempts to navigate him away from temptations like any mother does. The explosive reaction that ensued was highly disproportionate to the request and as much as it’s hard to admit was reminiscent of the verbal abuse I experienced daily at the hands of his father….my reflections on this book is through the eyes of a survivor of family violence and coercive control and in consideration of the immense emotional and physiological toll puberty and development takes on boys. Which I will get into in Part 2 of this article in the next post where I reflect on Maggie Dents Book From Boys to Men.


OMG mum's a girl!

The emotional revelation of a boy from his mothers loving care and the confusion and internal processing a pre-teen experiences as they develop and start recognizing their mother not just as nurturer but as a women. You know the shift…one day they walk into the bathroom chatting to you like you are sitting on the couch, then suddenly the shift happens and to walk in on mum getting changed elicits a reaction akin to acid being thrown in their eyes. “My eyes, my eyes!”

 

Developing an identity aligned to masculinity

I had always been aware of this developmental stage and of the transition, where boys primary influence becomes males and peers at this stage.


However, reading about the unconscious internal dilemma of these pre-teen boys, searching for masculine characteristics to emulate solidified for me how critical access to strong, caring, upstanding male role models is.

It confirmed for me why my particular circumstances of attempting to coparent with my abuser, who we escaped 4 years ago, has caused immense turmoil for my son, myself and my family.


As we know the male role model becomes pivotal to a boys ability to navigate through these stages and sadly for me and all the mums like myself we bare the heartbreaking rejection that parallels this stage of the journey.

It should also be recognized that in some circumstances boys are raised with female only role models quite successfully and not all boys will respond in the behaviours in this article.

 

Reflecting on this early teen stage of a boys life in the context of family violence and the transitions boys of abusers have to navigate adds a layer of complexity. Why? Due to the risks of intergenerational trauma and domestic violence. Decades of research and practice confirms that boys in early teen years will naturally bond with their male role model so custody given to abusers poses significant developmental damage to boys who may unwittingly adopt toxic masculine traits from their fathers.

Bonding, attachment, and role modelling an abusive father figure is a very real possibility. With that in mind below I have reflected on Kaplans research.


Mum rejection

Kaplan explains that sooner or later the male adolescent will begin to direct their attention and emotional investment from the mother to the father.

I liken the rejection of the taboo of attachment to ‘mummy’ as being almost a violent shedding of the skin, like a snake shaking off its former self.

Snakes are known to scratch and rub to break the skin and immerse themselves in water to make it easier. It’s the perfect metaphor for a boy who almost deliberately breaks the bond with mum and attempts to damage it, immersing himself in a new life and all things that oppose mums values forcing her away so he can leave his infantile self behind.

 

During this stage adolescent boys will reject the closeness to the feminine (mother).

Kaplan states that in childhood boys can tolerate the coexistence of their masculine and feminine strivings. However as they shift into puberty they demand a final resolution of gender identity'. Boys are complex beings and despite adolescent rejection of the mother, whilst they are travelling this path they are acutely aware of the bond to the past with their feminine caregiver and the need to cultivate capabilities emulating that bond for future relationships with a family of their own. As Kaplan states a boys relationship to his father is always infiltrated by the persistent wish to surrender ones soul to an all-giving, ever-present, magical caregiver who will mirror everything one wishes to be. For many boys that will be their mother, for some boys who are fortunate enough to have fathers like this it is an ideal scenario. For some, like mine it will be an unfulfilled wish of an idealised father that never existed anywhere but in my sons imagination.


For sons of DV perpetrators, this leaves those desires for an idealised nurturing bond set aside to a future time to cultivate once the male bonding is over, leaving mother pushed aside whilst the shedding of the skin proceeds.


Kaplan asserts: ‘The prologue to male pubescence is a violent turning away from females.

Kaplan explains accompanying the rampant messiness and obstreperous invasiveness of the eleven-to-thirteen year old boy is an alarming range of aggressive forms of behaviour: incessant drawing of military objects and scenes (I see a correlation between this and the rampant current knife posing posts on social media by boys) fidgeting, restlessness, foul language, vandalism, theft, gang conflicts, assaults.'

 

Adding to this is a shift in perception of females at this age where Kaplan observes: 'boys considering girls bitchy, cheating, untrustworthy witches. They revel in tormenting female teachers'. Which we see too often in schools these days.

 

Kaplan contends that for boys in this stage the response to mums continued nurturing can be like repellent : ‘The reminder of being dependant, or the temptation to surrender to caresses, affection, endearments, tender sentiments, sets off the alarms. Mischief at best, violence at worst is the boys proclamation of masculinity. Everything would be perfect if being masculine didn’t have to include contact with the entrapping girls and women, whose very existence is a constant threat to manhood'.

According to Kaplan the prologue to male puberty is a boys desperate flight from the caregiver mother from infancy who nursed, rocked and regulated all aspects of his physiological and emotional needs. She asserts that even so at this developmental stage 'boys are plagued by thoughts of inferiority to females, the ‘weaker’ sex', who have achieved envied characteristics, academic achievement and physical development. The desire of boys to exert dominance and superiority is palpable. Shockingly between the age of 9 and 17 boys physical development is immense, hair, body shape, and the toll hormones and growing takes is quite literally exhausting and maddening.


Male role models

Simultaneously they bolster and frame their new identity aligned to the masculine characteristics they have chosen as attributes to be cultivated in themselves. They will explicitly select key characteristic to emulate from their father or male role model.


I have pondered deeply what attributes could an abusive male father figure possibly display that would hold attraction for a young boy. However, the answer is quite simple. Power, control, confidence, lack of responsibility, intimidation, physical domination, superiority to the female, ability to deceive, freely able to express anger, aggression and violent feelings, being above the law and perceived freedom.
The alarming confirmation Kaplan provides is the ability of an adolescent boy to overlook the negative attributes of a toxic masculine role model. These may be coercive control, perpetrating domestic and family violence, financial abuse, substance abuse, gambling, cheating and so on. 

Kaplan contends young boys in adolescence will embark on a battle with their fathers and male roles models and a competitiveness ensues as part of their relationships. ‘There is a great deal more to the relationship…than rivalry, jealousy and competitions....what we see is identification with the parents behaviours and traits, affection, loyalty and considerable evidence of a narcissistic wish to become what one loves and admires in the parent’.

 

When we talk of narcissism in this context it is in relation to a child’s narcissistic, self involved behaviour.


Adolescence I like to think is the last frontier of complete immersion in narcissism for a child, whilst the brain still develops, whilst they still have the privilege of self absorption, before they must become conscious beings  with self awareness, emotional intelligence and understanding of lasting consequences of actions towards others.

'At this stage, in contrast to the later years of puberty proper, adolescent boys usually have a pleasant, easygoing relationship with the father.

Father is ally, the comrade-in-arms against Mother, who is plainly and simply a castrating bitch.

Since she is so often tormented and provoked by her son, the mother can be turned into the half-crazed demon her son imagines her to be'. Kaplan suggests, adding 'that during this stage the boys idealisation of his father is at its height'.


Nagging mums

Kaplan confirms the mothers concern at the boys risk taking, delinquency and alliance with the father is exasperating.

However in the instance of fathers with histories of family violence, substance abuse, addiction, drug dealing, weapons, you can only imagine the level of anxiety for mothers who are survivors like myself.

Whilst under the influence of the ‘boys will be boys’ culture of the perpetrator the risks are very real.

Kaplan states 'The boy feels he has to muster all of his masculine resources to ward off the emotional surrender he equates with femininity... (mum). Any surrender at all is tantamount to becoming the passive, receptive infant he sometimes secretly wishes to be. The clamoring insistence on being a man’s man is a massive mobilization, an all out, no-holds-barred, pre-emptive first strike defence of the boy’s still fragile, merely incipient masculinity. The exhibitionistic risk-taking acts- brazen, right out in the open, catch me if you can (note: think these boys posting photos on Instagram in speeding cars, with knives, with drugs) defiant – are a declaration of masculinity: “I can do anything. Nothing can happen to me. My body is impervious to damage”'.

In doing this as mentioned he will ‘deny everything about his father that might seem a different sort of man… To the son the father is the best and the greatest.’ 


When reality sets in ...15-17

However Kaplan concludes that during the stages of around 15-17 as the devaluing stage of the father sets in the boy’s aggression that has been directed towards the mother and the caregivers will shift to the father, and father and son can become open rivals. Which we have all seen in boys as awareness, empathy and consciousness develops.


A difficult aspect of this journey for an adolescent boy is when they are confronted with the reality of their fathers true characteristics and the process of de-idealisation commences usually after 15. Kaplan asserts young boys narcissism is protected and enhanced by the exalted idealization he attributes to the father. A little boy loves in his father what he wishes to be and less desirable traits seem to be insignificant during this process.


How does the boys self esteem remain intact when the role modelling on their father begins to come into question. What will become of the idealizations that had been invested in the father. Myself like many others have had hundreds of instances of being told by services, teachers, parents, councillors, psychologists that once a boy sees the person their father truly is he will be fine. However how often do we stop to consider the immense psychological impact of that revelation for a boy. The disappointment, the identity crisis, after modelling themselves on them, the sense of loss, the sense of shame, the sense of betrayal of their mother.

 

As for the mother Kaplan suggests she begins to lose her image as the overpowering, devouring witch. However, the boys rejection of feminine traits will still keep him at somewhat of a distance. For a while.

Until this stage is over mums can expect cordial and friendly banter but won’t be able to reclaim their loving intimacy from infancy. Kalplan suggests the controversy and arguments with the father will keep the boy looking to the mother for solace and understanding. Which I know many mums can relate to.

 

As boys settle into their masculine characteristics they begin to become open to the allure of female characteristics and the positive influences of females. A welcome return to an appreciative state of mind.

 

A final reflection. Sadly my experience with services for survivors of family violence is not good. If anything my literature research confirms that far greater education and awareness of the impacts on teen boys of DV needs to be considered as police and society tackle youth and gang issues. The influences of social media, strangers online (especially gangs) and the intergenerational toxic masculinity perpetuated by abusive fathers needs far greater attention. There needs to be changes to laws and services to enable our boys to grow up safely.


In part 2 I explore in more detail the behaviours and changes boys experience and the correlation between developmental challenges and some of contemporary issues with boys.

 

 

 

 

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