It's hard to admit this, but boisterous teenage boys are FAR more loveable than self-conscious girls
08:28 GMT, 29 May 2012
No one has a kind word for them. But WINIFRED ROBINSON says boisterous, uninhibited, loyal boys are a joyful contrast to stroppy, self-conscious, spiteful little madams
They form a ragged arc of pure joy: five young lads suspended in mid-air, striking daft poses as they hurl themselves backwards off the rocks and into the waves.
You can almost hear the roar of pleasure and share the unselfconscious exuberance as they push up off the ground. You can’t help but smile at the comical hair matching the funny faces, poking madly up or plastered sopping down.
This picture appeared in the Mail last week and perfectly captured the nation’s joy that, after a rainy spring, summer has finally arrived.
Pure delight: The picture of five boys sunning themselves in Portsmouth and cooling off in the sea as featured in last week's Mail
But for me the image signified something else, too. It conveyed the essence of what it is to be a teenage boy: boisterous, uninhibited, preoccupied with having fun with your friends. More playful than a man but more powerful than a child.
In life, it is a fleeting interlude — a time when boys are open to almost anything, wide-eyed and daring. They are enchanting, simple as that.
It struck me that we don’t often allow ourselves positive thoughts about teenage boys. Too readily we associate them with street muggings, binge drinking, sexual aggression or drugs. We tend to fear groups of lads on street corners, crossing the road to avoid them, or locking cars as we drive past.
I’m as guilty as anyone in dwelling on the negatives. In my job as a presenter for BBC Radio 4, I specialise in reporting from some of the toughest neighbourhoods, interviewing boys convicted of drug dealing, mugging and worse.
Not only do teenage boys receive a bad press, but they are struggling to adjust to a world which, in many ways, has left them behind. I mean, who’d be a boy these days Outshone by girls at school and university, if you aren’t lucky enough to be academic, you find that the well-paid manual work which used to be your domain has entirely disappeared.
Despite these hurdles, I have learned from my own experiences as a mother of one son and aunt of four nephews that most boys are completely innocent, unthreatening, and a joy to be around.
Happy families: Winifred with her son 12-year-old son Tony
I was 41 when Tony — who is about to turn 13 — was born, so until then I cherished my close relationships with my five sisters’ children. They have a dozen children between them — four of them boys — and grandsons, too.
They’re all very different, of course. John, the eldest at 35, is serious and bookish; 28-year-old Edmund is a musician with a first class degree in music and a place in a band; William, 25, is the sharp dresser who wears well-cut suits and shiny shoes and ties, and finally Archie, who is seven and still very much a little boy.
And then there are my great nephews from my nieces Kathrine and Lisa: Anthony, 18, a gentle giant training as a chef; Jake, 16, the family genius who hopes to become a surgeon; Michael, 16, artistic and creative, and Thomas, his little brother, the mad dare-devil with the gorgeous brown eyes.
When the eldest of them were little, I used to worry that they’d grow up and away from me, that we’d have nothing to say to each other once they reached their teens. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
John taught me that although the relationship would be different, it would still be tender, and that, if anything, there would be more to smile and laugh about.
He used to come and stay with me from time to time when I was working as a radio reporter in Birmingham. We’d go out for dinner, just the two of us, when he was in his early teens and he would really open up.
I was in my late 20s, and I was both touched and pleasantly surprised to find that this lovely boy was better at expressing his feelings than the grown man I was dating at the time.
And he isn’t alone in this. For adolescent boys today are much better equipped — emotionally and practically — to deal with relationships with women than their fathers were a generation ago.
My husband, Roger, who went to a boys’ boarding school, says that for all he and his pals knew or understood about them, girls may as well have been aliens. Like many of his contemporaries, his early relationships foundered as a result, whereas today’s teenage boys and young men have an ease with women that is a joy to behold.
And then there’s the brilliant sense of fun that teenage boys possess. All my nephews can be hilarious, but William, in particular, is a great impressionist and can still do the Michael Jackson moonwalk that he perfected as a child.
Adolescent boys today are much better equipped — emotionally and practically — to deal with relationships with women than their fathers were a generation ago
My own son has shown me that, too. Although not yet a teen, Tony is great at accents and impressions and cracks me up with a Canadian voice he does. He uses it to speak for our dog, a Labrador. He also leaves me daft messages on the kitchen noticeboard to make me smile.
Another difference to the teens of old is that Tony and his contemporaries are living at a time in Britain when gender equality is relatively unquestioned. They have grown up with girls as friends and regard them as equals. They also have mums who go out to work, and it’s normal for couples to share the housework and childcare.
Unlike my husband, who has never learned to cook and has to rely on shop-bought ready meals if he’s left in charge, Tony loves cooking. He often rustles up dinner for us — lasagne is his favourite — and he can make better pastry than me.
He’s no oddball, for his friends love being in the kitchen as well. Ollie, the star rugby player across the road, likes nothing better than to roll up his sleeves and get covered in flour. I’ve shut the kitchen door and left them to it, and come back to trays of blueberry muffins and chocolate brownies.
Like the lovely lads in the picture, they’re also fine physical specimens — long-legged as Bambi, smooth-skinned, effortlessly toned. Their faces are on that irresistible cusp between feminine and masculine; the jaws becoming chiselled but the lashes thick and sweeping.
Stretched out watching television, they have a languid elegance that makes you want to pause and savour them, knowing this phase — just like their babyhood — will prove as transient as a dream.
Moody: Teenage girls can't wait to grow up, are always worrying about their appearance, and are eager to wear heels and make-up before they are ten-years-old
Tony takes a pride these days in coming outside when I’ve been to the garden centre and hauling great bags of compost from the car boot when they look almost as big as him.
‘I can do it, Mum,’ he’ll say, jokingly flexing his biceps — and much to my amazement, he can!
Boys suffer continually through negative comparisons with girls, the things which make them uniquely male going unnoticed or uncelebrated. Even as they approach adulthood, boys remain boisterous and childlike, a characteristic perfectly captured in the Mail picture. Few teenage girls I know would dive bomb into the waves like that, for fear of messing up their hair and make-up. I don’t mean to do girls down, but what I’ve observed in my own female-dominated family (I’m one of six sisters and four have daughters of their own) is how little girls can’t wait to grow up, worrying about their appearance, eager to wear make-up and heels before they are even ten years old. I know I was certainly like that.
A boy, by contrast, keeps one foot in childhood well into his teens (some would say for life). For a teenage boy, starting to think about his appearance often means no more than accepting, at long last, that he should wash occasionally and sometimes change his underwear.
While the mothers of teenage girls I know endure endless strops and rows at home about small upsets and bemoan the hours their daughters spend upstairs in their rooms straightening their hair, boys the same age are out in the garden having water-pistol fights.
For a teenage boy, starting to think about his appearance often means no more than accepting, at long last, that he should wash occasionally and sometimes change his underwear.
It’s much easier for boys to burn off their adolescent anxieties this way, whereas for girls it’s just not socially acceptable to run around getting sweaty and making the most of your last years of childhood — and that’s very sad.
From what I’ve observed among my nieces, the approval of girlfriends rules their lives — a peer pressure that was horribly destructive at times. I remember, for example, birthday parties that were ruined when a particularly popular and pretty girl didn’t deign to turn up.
More recently, I’ve witnessed how girls can use social networking sites as a way of twisting the knife. A young teenage girl I know had a dull weekend ahead because all four of her closest friends were busy with other things — family parties for example.
So imagine her hurt and humiliation when she logged on to a website to discover they’d all gone to London together, meticulously planning an exciting shopping trip and carefully leaving her out. Keeping it from her for weeks then coming clean online was the final slap in the face.
This method of hurting and excluding someone from your group seems to be confined to girls. Boys can be horrible, I know, but in my experience they hurt each other physically, with a nudge or a play fight that turns serious. It’s happened among Tony and his friends from time to time, but they dust themselves down and get over it pretty quickly.
They can be incredibly loyal to one another when one in the group is feeling unsure or left out. My great-nephews Jake and Michael are four years older than my son. They live around the corner from one another in Liverpool and are incredibly close. When they met up with Tony on their home turf, he was a little flustered, particularly when he was younger.
But I was really touched by the way they looked for things they could share, trying computer games they could play without too much talking as a good way to break the ice. It worked a treat!
I conducted a small experiment after seeing that photograph by asking half a dozen mothers I know who are lucky enough to have both boys and girls, now fully grown, whether they’d have preferred to spend an evening in at home with a teenage daughter or with a son.
All of them described their adolescent boys as the easier companions.
So with my son on the verge of his teenage years, I feel there’s a whole lot to look forward to. Like the boys in the picture, my overriding feeling is that great fun lies ahead of us. Bring it on!