Boys Will Be Boys.

The other night I was lucky enough to score an invite from one of my girlfriends (thank you M!) for a lecture from one the leading "experts" in  raising boys, Michael G. Thompson, Ph. D. I had heard of Dr. Thompson from a friend a few years back and remembered seeing him on Oprah, but other than that I didn't know too much about him. His book Raising Cain has been recommended to me numerous times and I coincidentally had just ordered it the day before I was invited to to hear Dr. Thompson speak. After hearing from the genius (yes, my words) Doctor I can assure you that I will be ordering everything this man has ever written. Prior to this lecture I always knew boys were a little different, from but I actually never knew just how different they really are.

The focus of the lecture discussed ways that teachers can try to get boys more involved in school. There was significant discussion regarding the fact that boys, more than ever are being diagnosed as attention deficit disorder (ADD) while at the same time the amount of recess and active time at schools is being drastically cut, causing more restlessness for boys (and some girls,) coincidence? The Dr. also presented a statistic that 60% of recent grad-school admissions are now female, and that 85% of teachers are also females. While this is great for us ladies, as a mother of a boy it definitely opened my eyes to the fact that we have encouraged girls so much in the last decade, and have developed teaching strategies to ensure their success, that inadvertently the fallout is that now the boys are the ones being left behind.

Dr. Thompson spoke about how some simple changes in a teaching style, coupled with the addition of more male teachers, can really make the difference in bridging the gap between the sexes. There was a handout which I have copied below that shows the things that we, as parents, should be looking for from our school and our teachers. While this list was meant to be directed at the grade school age, I have found this list to be extremely helpful in some of my dealings with my very active toddler. There are things that I have been doing, and ways that we have been interacting that have been very frustrating to both of us. After the lecture and reading from this list I have definitely tweaked a few things in my parenting style and I have already seen a vast improvement (that or my kid switched bodies with a much more cooperative 2 year old boy overnight.) It's definitely directed towards the behavior of boys but having been a VERY active child myself I would imagine that some of these things would have worked on me just as well.

Here is what the good doctor had to say.

Twelve Suggestions for Teaching Boys, by Bambi Betts and Michael Thompson. 

  1. Re-think Homework. Meaningless or make-work homework creates the greatest pushback from boys because it ruins their playtime and causes fights at home. Teachers should try to use differentiated homework, offer homework online that give immediate feedback, or give boys a way out of homework.
  2. Authenticity. Boys often consider school irrelevant to the lives they are going to lead: try to connect assignments to the real world and their aspirations to be men.  
  3. What are the stakes? Does it matter to me? Does it matter to other boys? Does it involve risk, public performance or competition?
  4. Do not use the threat of failure. The constant threat of failure, on which most schools are premised at the deepest level, does not work for boys because they eventually write off the whole enterprise.
  5. Pre-Assessment. Do the boys in your class already know a lot of the stuff you are going to teach this year? And do you know what they already know? They won't respect your teaching until they find out what you know. 
  6. *Movement. Let them move inside a classroom as much as you can tolerate. Remember that boys who hate Shakespeare will learn lines from Romeo and Juliet when they can act them out with others- and with swords. 
  7. Minimize words, maximize non-verbal cues and avoid power struggles. 
  8. Do not compare boys unfavorably to girls. Boys know they are behind developmentally. Don't rub it in. 
  9. Use humor. Irony, mystery, surprise, a well-told story, all of them work. Never resort to sarcasm.
  10. Do not set boys up for failure. They are very shame sensitive. If a boy comes into Kindergarten able to only write letters in capitals, don't tell him that's wrong. 
  11. Boys love technology. It gives them a sense of control. Do not condemn their love of technology and video games without understanding why they love it and what it does for them.
  12. Let boys read and write about (and draw!) what they love. There is often a collision between boys and teachers when it comes to reading. Teachers tend to like fiction, character development, journals and emotional openness. Boys, in general, like non-fiction, science fiction, graphic novels and stories of emotional toughness such as sports biographies. They especially love value stories of espionage, combat, and death. 

If this man happens to come to speak in your town, I cannot recommend enough that you go to see him. He has also authored 13+ books, most of which deal with the development of boys, and some that deal with issues both sexes face (such as bullying, scholastic pressure, and fitting in.) After what I learned the other night, when it comes to little boys I'm pretty sure we can use all the help we can get!