While much work has been done and still needs to be done related to girls, boys, too, have many problems, which are listed below. Despite these disadvantages, boys can be raised to handle the developmental problems of children and adolescence in positive ways. Parents who are sensitive to the challenges boys face can guide them to achieving the fulfilling lives.
A clear message to boys about hard work in school from important male adults in their lives goes a long way in giving boys the confidence and humility to learn from their teachers. Praising effort rather than ability encourages hard work. Setting high expectations as coaches, rather than judges, in an alliance with your sons will motivate them to perform well in school.
Consider that mothers are most often the key figure in their sons’ early learning, and primary teachers are typically female. Boys enter schools surrounded by women telling them to behave and to learn. In two-parent families, it is important that dads become more involved in their sons’ learning.
If both parents have high expectations for school learning, boys will take school seriously. When boys hear their dads saying positive things about their mothers and teachers, it reinforces the importance of learning. In homes where there is no dad, a strong male role model will need to convey this vital message.
ALL-BOY SCHOOLS AND CLASSES
Boys' preparatory and military schools have always been effective in helping boys find role models, discipline themselves, build personal self-confidence, and directing some of their attraction away from girls and toward achievement. In the words of Harvey Hambrick, principal of Marcus Garvey Academy, Detroit: "I'm a firm believer that only a man can raise a boy to be a man. A woman can raise a son, but not a man." The academy seems to be doing well and includes parent involvement and community male volunteers.
Remind your sons that "smart" can be slow and thoughtful, and that the first one in class who finishes an assignment is not necessarily the smartest. Boys often have problems with early handwriting skills. They rush through their work in an effort to be first, fast, and smartest. Encourage them to "hunt and peck" on computers to complete their spelling lessons, stories, and reports. Early keyboard classes will facilitate their efficient use of computers. They'll be more likely to love writing. Dictating their stories into tape recorders facilitates expression of their ideas. Suggest they create family newsletters and sports adventure stories so their temporary handwriting problems don't escalate to permanent fears about writing.
PLAY FOR BOYS
Encourage boys to play with construction and imaginative toys. Reduce exposure to TV and video game violence because it not only encourages imitation but causes boys to become dependent on overstimulation. For boys who tend to be too rough and physical, minimize wrestling with Dad. They may generalize the wrestling to the playground and get into trouble at school. For boys who are less physical, wrestling with Dad may actually help them build courage and be more relaxed on the playground.
Preventing violence takes more than elimination of guns. Even if you don't buy toy guns or glamourize them, boys seem to invent or create them. Although it's important to differentiate carefully between real guns and toy guns and to minimize guns in your son's toy collection, you'll probably not be able to eradicate them.
Read, talk, play board and card games, make up games, and discover the world together. Some parents actually fear their boys playing dress-up because they believe it isn't masculine. Dress-up, music, and drama encourage boys' imagination, and doll play helps boys express feelings. If boys experience a variety of play, they’re likely to learn a variety of skills.
DEVELOPING INTERESTS AND
It takes a lot of repetition and discussion about gentleness and sensitivity to help your sons contain their energy and direct it toward the many interests available in school and extracurricular activities. Talking and listening to your sons every day is important for teaching them how to express their feelings. Boys who can talk through their problems and their anger are unlikely to act out in ways that harm others. Teach and model respect for others, both boys and girls.
MODERATING AND ENJOYING COMPETITION
Team sports have great value for boys. They build family bonding and friendships and teach boys about healthy competition and collaboration. Good sportsmanship should be modeled by mothers, fathers, and coaches. Cheating, disrespect for coaches, and peer cruelty to less coordinated kids are intolerable for children's teams. Families should cheer kids on but avoid putting too much pressure on them. Don't brag about never missing a game. Miss a few from time to time, and permit your son to get himself involved because of his own interest. It will put your children's sports activities into perspective. Sports are supposed to be fun, healthy exercise, and good learning experiences. Remind them that good sports do their personal best and then congratulate the winner!
As parents team up for work and fun together, but don’t ally with a child against the other parent. Children brought up with anger against their other parent learn that feelings of love and intimacy require enemies. Don’t make your spouse, parent, or siblings the enemy; if you do, you’ll surely find your child on a team against you some day. Model team leadership by teaching children positive goal-setting instead of anger. This is especially difficult in single-parent families or after divorce. It’s worth the effort for your children. Some day they’ll develop better relationships as adults.
Team up with your children’s teachers. Don’t blame them when your children are being irresponsible. You and your children have the responsibility with teachers for making learning exciting, interesting, and challenging. Children who respect teachers learn more, and children who respect teachers come from families where parents respect teachers.
MALE ROLE MODELS
Boys are more likely to achieve if they have emotionally healthy achieving men to look up to. Dads are the best role models, as long as they give their sons healthy messages and take the time to be with them. When good dads aren't around, moms and teachers need to search elsewhere. Male teachers, church leaders, coaches, and Boy Scout leaders can be great. Uncles and good neighbors may be willing to help. Biographies of great men in books or films can be inspirational to boys. Mothers can also be effective role models and mentors to boys, but they are likely to be more acceptable to boys if men in the environment validate them. That happens because boys seem to have a need to reassure themselves of their own masculinity.
Three characteristics determine who children select as role models. Children tend to select role models who are nurturing, powerful, and have similar characteristics to themselves. Boys may choose poor role models like gang members or negative peers if good ones aren't available. Boys also frequently choose sports or media stars who may not always be the best role models.
BE A ROLE MODEL OF SUCCESS
Walking into your home at the end of the day can give children an image of your workplace role and your work satisfaction. Even when you’re tired, add a little energy and optimism to your return home. Your children will assume your work is positive. They need to know that work helps you feel good about yourself and permits you to make contributions to society. As parents, you need to tell your children that you take pride in doing quality work and in fully earning your salaries. Explain that although you may be tired at the end of each workday, your weariness comes with the satisfaction of accomplishment. You can design an achiever image that will help your children develop a good work ethic.
Don’t apologize to your children for your careers. Don’t complain to your children that your partner works too much. Instead, emphasize what good role models you are and what important work you do. Both your sons and daughters will take new pride in your accomplishments and their own. Despite the pressures of work, even supermoms and superdads should find some time for fun and laughter if they are going to be the excellent role models they’d like to be.
The overload of two-career families can cause men and women alike to be rigid home administrators. Managing schedules and child care can eliminate spontaneity and optimism. You may feel as if you’re precariously juggling instead of balancing your life. At least every 6 months, stop and prioritize your activities. Think about who is doing too much and what you may have to eliminate. Busy, active lives can be fun and good training for managing complexity, but too-busy lives cause families to wish for the old days where men were men and women were wives. In a world of equal partnerships, occasional meetings to equalize your life permit your children to see strong and sensitive adults of each gender in their lives. Although modeling strength and sensitivity may be hard sometimes, it is most important for all. Search for balance.
1From Education of the Gifted and Talented by Gary A Davis and Sylvia B. Rimm (Pearson Education, Inc., 2004)
©2000 by Sylvia B. Rimm. All rights reserved. This publication, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author.