Boys will be boys!
I always passed that phrase off as cliché but realized there is so much more to it.
Most of us know firsthand or have friends or family members with sons who are behavior problems. Many are diagnosed in elementary school with attention deficit problems or learning disorders. As a matter of fact boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and are twice more likely to get held back in school than girls according to author Peg Tyre. Tyre wrote a book about boys after visiting many schools across the county and speaking with hundreds of teachers. What she found was a “new gender gap.”
Researchers have been looking at boys for at least the last decade and are finding some disturbing trends. It seems as if the world turned upside down when Title IX came along in 1972 which opened up many doors for girls and quite possibly closed a few on boys. Boys have been spiraling on a downward trend and the spiral more than likely begins in preschool!
I bet you didn’t know boys are expelled from preschool five times more than girls.
Expelled from preschool? How can that be?
Tyre reports that by high school, girls are on top and take harder classes and dominate many extracurricular activities.
Boys in the meantime fall behind academically and many just don’t catch up. They are labeled “underachievers.”
There are several other books written recently about this subject and they offer some insight and advice for parents. Many offer reasons for the decline in boys and they range from too early exposure to academics, not enough positive male role models, lack of father-son time and female dominated curriculum in school systems.
Are school systems and even families not allowing boys to be boys?
Author Michael Thompson who wrote It’s A Boy! Understanding Your Son’s Development says boy-friendly early education is crucial. So many preschools and kindergartens are concentrating too heavily on academics and not on free play. The competitiveness in our society to get ahead now begins when children are very young. Boys need lots of time for free play and imagination to take place. When that does not happen they become frustrated and act out.
Perhaps that is why more boys are expelled from preschool.
Thompson says the age at which a boy starts kindergarten and the experiences he has there will affect him for the rest of his school career. Perhaps even the rest of his life. The first several years of formal education are crucial to whether a boy considers himself a success as a boy or a failure.
The authors all agree that most schools are not set up to deal with boys or even motivate them. They can’t deal with boy energy. It doesn’t help that less than ten percent of elementary school teachers are men. I can count on one hand how many men walked the halls and taught in classrooms when my children were in elementary school.
Boys it seems are lacking mentors. Without good role models in their lives, boys will resort to other examples to follow. Experts report that adolescent boys spend more than 40 hours per week using electronic media. Parents need to look at how many hours their sons are spending on video games and computers and how many they spend on friends, homework, reading and being with role models.
Parents may also want to take a closer look at who the men are in their sons’ lives. This includes teachers, coaches, scout leaders, etc. How many “elders” or influential men do they come in contact with on a regular basis?
It really does take a village to raise a child, especially a son.
Not all boys fit into their school system’s mold. The problem that many of the professionals say is that boys as a group are just not thriving in school. Many are addicted to video games and have lost touch with what is happening in the real world.
Do you know any boys who got A’s and B’s on tests in subjects but nearly failed the class because he felt homework was pointless and didn’t do it? I most certainly do. Boys have trouble with “busy work.”
And what about this “gender gap” that Tyre talks about? Is there a growing gap between accomplished and motivated girls and drifting, unmotivated and sometimes angry boys? I have seen it. Girls are thriving all the way through college while so many boys are failing. It seems our culture needs to examine how to help all children be successful. Boys need to be understood and engaged better. This may mean making some big changes in school systems, and even colleges.
What can parents do to help to start making changes? Parenthood.com offers these suggestions and resources:
- Let his imagination soar. Author Michael Thompson says you have to learn to trust his childhood fantasies and stories even if they are not to your taste.
- Moms: tune out! Boys talk a lot about who is boss and who is not. They also talk about who is best and they are very competitive. Whatever the topic is they have to know who is best. Mothers often steer the conversation or look at it as bad and sometimes try to interrupt it. This aggressive talk helps boys establish an all-important hierarchy. Moms need to step away sometimes if the urge takes over to stop such activity.
- Promote spontaneous play. Boys need to be allowed to play with other boys in as free and unstructured a way as possible. Team sports offer many advantages, however, boys still need to play. Perhaps a group of parents in the same neighborhood can take turns hosting at their homes times for boys just to play.
- Don’t try to toughen up boys. “I do object to fathers who believe that little boys, who are acutely sensitive to their father’s opinion of them, need to be toughened up with harsh discipline or tough lessons,” Thompson explains. “Life will toughen them up.”
- Look closely at preschools. Experts feel the trend toward more academics in early education does more harm than good for boys. They suggest you visit the preschool before you enroll. Make sure the curriculum is play-based and not too academic. Finger painting and blocks should be out and used!
- Dads, open those books! Dads need to take the lead in bedtime stories. The more exposure to men and the literature they read will help to form a boy’s literacy later.
- Find reading material to match his interest. Moms need to refrain from sharing all their favorite books with their sons. Comic books, newspapers, sports biographies and graphic novels are all good. Exciting and scary and even sometimes bloody books are good for boys.
- Lobby for recess. Recess should NOT be optional. Nor should it be given as a reward or taken away as a punishment.
- Demonstrate confidence in your son. Not all kids can read in kindergarten. When we panic about that, it shows. If your son senses you do not have faith in his development, it undermines him. Thompson says they need to see the promise in them; they need us to be excited about them as boys.
- Find places where men teach boys. If you belong to a church, talk with your pastor or priest about an all male retreat. Contact your local Cub Scout or Boy Scout troop. Sign him up for activities or competitive sports. Outdoor programs are excellent for boys as well.
Resources for parents of boys:
Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men, by Leonard Sax, M.D, Ph.D. (Basic Books, 2009)
The Purpose of Boys: Helping Our Sons Find Meaning, Significance, and Direction in Their Lives, by Michael Gurian (Jossey-Bass, 2009).
It’s A Boy! Understanding Your Son’s Development from Birth to Age 18, by Michael Thompson, Ph.D. (Ballantine Books, 2008)
The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do, by Peg Tyre (Crown Publishers, 2008)