From my archives: Boys visiting a farm
Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on February 29, 2012. You can read the online version by clicking here.
Last week I finished reading Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph. Not long ago I wrote about one of his other books, The Secret of Happy Children. Like that one, Raising Boys is short and easy to read. I found it full of useful advice.
Some of it was similar to Michael Gurian’s book, The Wonder of Boys, which I reviewed last year, but there’s enough difference that I highly recommend both. Busy parents may find Raising Boys more concise and practical for their needs, however.
Biddulph begins the book by noting that thirty years ago, a huge effort was raised to help girls gain confidence. While this was good (I think I benefitted from that), there was neglect when it came to boys. He writes, “…today, it’s the girls who are more sure of themselves, motivated, and capable. More girls than boys finish school, more girls go on to college, and they get better grades than boys.”
While this isn’t true for all boys, I have noticed other articles about boys and education reporting similar findings. But work has been underway to change how we treat boys.
Much is known now about the differences between the developments of boys and girls brains. Boys’ brains develop more slowly, and the left and right hemispheres of their brains are less well connected. Since we know this, we can take steps to help boys and girls as they develop.
Biddulph advises, “…when you chatter, interact and tell stories to babies, toddlers and school-age boys, you’re actually building their neural linkages so they will become men who are good with words and feelings.”
In the book Biddulph writes about the three distinct stages of development for boys. From birth to approximately six-years-old, boys are in the “learning to love” years. This is a time that mama is the star of the show, although dads are very important too. From six to fourteen, however, is “when fathers count the most.” After fourteen, boys begin to seek a wider world. They need mentors and caring adults in addition to their parents.
I learned in the book that boys like structure and need to know who’s in charge. “Wherever you see a gang of boys looking unruly, you know the adult leadership is failing,” Biddulph writes. Later he adds, “If the teacher, scoutmaster, or parent is kind and fair (as well as strict), boys will drop their macho act and get on with learning.”
He also explains that “if girls are anxious in a group setting, they tend to cower and be quiet” (that’s true for me!), but boys may run around and make noise.
I found it interesting that he noted that schools such as Montessori schools which engage boys in interesting hands-on work have less of a problem with unruly behavior. He also explains that girls can certainly behave like boys too, and many of the differences between girls and boys are slight.
Biddulph is a big proponent in having boys start school one year later than girls. I have read this many times and even talked to a kindergarten teacher about it, which is why I wouldn’t enroll my five-year-old in Kindergarten until next year, if I weren’t homeschooling.
Boys’ fine-motor skills and cognitive skills develop slower, so most of them would benefit from starting school later. Just watching my little boys, it’s evident to me that they need to move a lot. I don’t make my five-year-old sit at a desk for lessons for more than 20~30 minutes, and even when we are learning, I allow plenty of wiggling.
The book has a chapter each for fathers and mothers and explains the important roles each of them have in their boy’s development. There is also advice for single mothers, a chapter dedicated to finding and creating the right school environment for boys and much more.
My favorite quote from the book is: “Family life is a work in progress. You only get in trouble if you have to be right and you have to show them who’s boss. If you are human, it goes much better.” Raising Boys is an essential read for parents with young boys.
What parenting books would you recommend about raising boys and girls?