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Masterminds and Wingmen – the complicated emotional lives of teen boys

There are generally eight social roles boys can play with their friend groups, as defined by the author of "Masterminds and Wingmen." It's the boys' version of her best seller Queen Bees and Wannabes, which was turned into the movie "Mean Girls," starring Lindsay Lohan.(File photo)

He doesn’t smile very often, he seldom tells anyone what he’s thinking, and he has body image issues.

Although they’re more subtle about it than girls, teen boys have complicated emotional lives. They’re trying to pass locker-room tests and navigate a school-yard hierarchy that most parents don’t understand.

“The Mastermind, for example, is the kid who’s charismatic and is able to control the group’s movements,” says teacher and author Rosalind Wiseman. “The Punching Bag is a kid in the group that other boys think they can go after. They can just tease and tease and tease him, but nobody else can do it to that kid.”

There are other archetypes too, as defined Wiseman based on interviews with hundreds of boys. Her new book is called “Masterminds and Wingmen.” It’s the boys’ version of her best seller Queen Bees and Wannabes, which was turned into the movie “Mean Girls,” starring Lindsay Lohan.

Here are the eight roles tweens and teen boys play, according to Wiseman:

Mastermind – He is naturally good at figuring out people’s weaknesses based on what would cause the maximum amount of public humiliation. He decides what is funny, stupid or cool.

Associate – This person is more talkative and more well-liked than the Mastermind. He’s interested in everybody else’s business and how the group can use information about people to their advantage.

Bouncer – Like a bouncer at a club, this kid is generally big and tall. He isn’t good at verbally defending himself and he can’t read other’s motivations very well. He’ll do what the Mastermind and Associate tell him to do, and that often gets him in trouble.

Entertainer – He’s the boy who’s the first to diffuse tension in a group by being willing to make fun of himself or making jokes. He has a hard time knowing when to stop joking around.

Conscience – Every group needs one. This is the kid who’s worried about getting caught and thinks through the consequences of what the group wants to do. He’s a rule follower.

Punching Bag – This boy is relentlessly ridiculed by other members of the friend group. He goes along with it because he doesn’t like conflict and just wants people to get along.

Fly – This boy hovers outside of the group, or several groups. Guys can tolerate a Fly for a while, but they generally get frustrated with him because he isn’t really a part of the group and they shoo him away.

Champion – He may be the only boy who doesn’t conform to ‘Boy world’ and is comfortable being himself. Most kids like and respect the Champion.

A teen boy’s world can be a place where asking for help or showing emotional pain seems impossible for them.

Boys don’t talk about most of what they’re thinking, Wiseman says, especially when it involves body-image issues. They have concerns about the way they look too, and one big issue is what she calls “moobs.”

“Man boobs, which adults don’t really think about, but for boys who are in sixth grade and seventh grade and have those their friends can easily, ruthlessly humiliate you about it so much so that they have the same body shame issues as girls do,” she says.

The other touchy subject is something we assume is always on a hormonal boy’s mind – sex.

“They are thinking about it a lot,” says Wiseman. “They are also thinking about falling in love and having crushes and being rejected and being humiliated. I would ask any dad, when you were a kid what was a stronger motivation for you – was it that you were sexually motivated or was it that you absolutely feared being humiliated.”

The reasons teen boys don’t talk to a parent about what’s going on with them are complicated, but part of the communication problem is that parents don’t understand how talk to a 13-year-old boy.

“Parents have gotten a lot of advice from people like me who are saying when your son gets in the car you need to ask him how his day is, or when you see him for the first time ask him questions,” she says, realizing that’s not the best approach for a lot of boys. “For them it is exhausting.”

Walking around school, no matter how good a boy’s situation is, most teens feel like they’re wearing a coat of armor. When they get home from school, they’re no different than many of us when we get home from work, they want to “decompress and relax, not face 20 questions from mom.”

If parents want to communicate better with a teens, Wiseman suggests a better approach is to share your experiences than grill them about theirs.

Just as “Queen Bees & Wannabes” was made into a movie, there are early talks about making Wiseman’s latest book into a film.

Before Masterminds hits the theaters, another of her books is being made into a comedy that is due out next year – Mean Moms. The film adaptation of Wiseman’s 2006 book focuses on a mother who encounters some grown-up mean girls in the form of suburban moms.


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