Monday, December 28, 2009

Thank You!

Thanks to your votes and support, Blogging 'Bout Boys has been named a...


Thank you, Alasandra, for hosting the contest. Please head to Alasandra's Homeschool Blog to check out the other winners!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Boys and Cell Phones

Does your son have a cell phone? What are his favorite features?

According to a new study, boys are more likely than girls to use their cell phones for purposes other than communication. Boys are more likely to play music, share pictures, check email and play video games on their cellular phones.

The researchers worry, though, that those differences in usage are based less on personal interest -- and more on social conditioning. "Boys are often taught to explore and be more creative with technology and not to be afraid to take things apart. So it leads to more advanced cell phone uses among boys," said study author Sheila Cotten, a sociologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

I'm not sure she can get all that from one study, but I think she might be right. I'm very hesitant with new technology, in part because I don't understand it. I don't push any more buttons than absolutely necessary for fear I'll "mess something up." The boys' dad, on the other hand, is far more proficient on the computer than I, largely because he has no problem whatsoever exploring technology. Whatever happens, he's confident he can find a way to get back to start.

Is that why he's an engineer and I'm not? The study researchers might think so: ""If [girls] are not as interested in exploring or taking apart technology, they may be less likely to take computer science, science and math courses."

Personally, I think that's a lot of inference, based on a cell phone study. Still, I'd like to hear your experiences. Are your boys more adventurous on the cell phone and computer than your girls? What do you think of the researchers' conclusions?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Boys and Bedwetting

Did you know that Michael Landon, Vince Vaughn and Mark McGwire were all bedwetters?

I didn't, until I read, "Bedwetting: Here's Help," by fellow parenting writer Kathy Sena. I did, however, know -- from personal experience -- that bedwetting can be a frustrating situation for both child and parent.

One of my sons wet the bed until he was almost eight. It wasn't an every night kind of thing, but it was often enough to be annoying. Realistically, I knew the bedwetting was beyond his control. Realistically, I knew he felt embarrassed and ashamed, and I know he didn't enjoy waking up in cold, wet jammies. Practically speaking, though, I got awfully tired of washing sheets.

But somehow, my mommy intuition knew that the bedwetting, too, would pass. The research seems to back me up on this one. According to a study published in the British Journal of Urology, if your 7-year-old is wetting the bed one to two nights per week, he has a 96% of outgrowing it by the time he's 15. Obviously, if the bedwetting continues -- or if you have any other concerns about your child's health -- you should take him to see a healthcare provider.

For whatever reason, boys are twice as likely to wet to the bed as girls. As Dr. Howard Bennett, a clinical professor of pediatrics at George Washington University Medical Center and author of Waking Up Dry: A Guide to Help Children Overcome Bedwetting, says, bedwetting, "happens because a child’s brain and bladder are not communicating with each other at night.”

Remember that bedwetting is likely to become a problem if you make it a problem. If you handle it in a business-like manner instead, with dignity and respect, your son will view you as a ally, someone he can count on in times of need.

Did your son wet the bed? What advice would you give to other parents?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Should Long Hair Keep a Boy Out of School?

The Mesquite Independent School District in Texas thinks so.

By now, you may have heard the story of four-year-old Taylor Pugh, a pre-kindergartener whose hair covers his eyes and sweeps his collar, in direct violation of the school district's dress code.

Of course, Taylor didn't grow his hair long simply to piss off the school. Taylor is 4 and acts of teenage rebellion aren't even on his radar. Heck, he's barely passed out of his toddler rebellion stage.

According to some reports, Taylor plans to eventually donate his hair to a charity that makes wigs for cancer patients. Other reports say that he has Native American ancestors. If either (or both) reports are true, I'd say the boy has a pretty strong case for letting his hair grow.

Not that he needs an excuse. As far as I'm concerned, what he does with his hair is his business. (Unless, of course, he's shaking it directly in someone else's face, or depositing it in his teacher's food. Then, he's clearly crossed the line.)

But the Mesquite Independent School District believes that "students who dress and groom themselves neatly, and in an acceptable and appropriate manner, are more likely to become constructive members of the society in which we live."

I'm not sure I buy that argument, but in this case, my opinion doesn't count. Because of the school district's stance, 4-year-old Taylor has been in in-school suspension for the last month. He receives his 2 1/2 hours of instruction a day in the library, with an aide, instead of in the classroom with his peers.

Some will argue that 4 is a perfectly acceptable age to learn that there are rules in the world, and that we all must follow rules. Some will argue that his parents are doing more harm than good by supporting their son, instead of the school.

Others think it's much ado about nothing. After all, it's just hair. It's not like he drew a picture of Jesus on the cross.

What do you think? Why?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Positive Parenting

I'd had it with my boys' bickering.

At lunch, after we lit the Advent candles, I read a passage from Matthew 5:
"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgement...Anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fires of hell."

I was hoping the passage would spark a conversation. I was hoping it would spark some inner reflection and repentance. Instead, it sparked anger. Boys #1 and 2 immediately clammed up and refused to answer any questions. They wouldn't even tell me why they were mad.

An hour or so later, with the help of Boy#1, I figured it out. Yes, they fight, but overall, they think they're doing pretty good. And my constant harping about what they're doing wrong is making them feel pretty darn bad.

Talk about a moment of inner reflection and repentance.

The message was brought home tonight, as we read a chapter of Farmer Boy. Almanzo's little oxen did not want to work after a summer of rest, but "Almanzo had to be patient and gentle. He petted the yearlings (when he sometimes wanted to hit them) and he fed them carrots and talked to them soothingly."

Boy #1 interrupted. "See?"

I saw the comparison immediately, but asked him to explain. He continued, "In a lot of ways, animals and kids are the same. They don't know very much and they're high energy. But do they get it from from hitting and yelling? No, they get it from patience and gentleness and that kind of stuff."

Starting now, I resolve to concentrate on patience and gentleness. Instead of focusing on the bad, I will focus on the good. I will catch my boys doing good and tell them how much I love them. Most of all, I will live each day in such a way that they can SEE the happiness they bring into my life. They have enhanced my life in immeasurable ways, and yet all too often, I fear, they only hear about the mess, the inconvenience and my long list of to-dos.

Thank you, boys, for once again showing me the way.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Compassion

Our oldest cat, Dusty, is dying.

Not in some theoretical, we're-all-going-to-die-someday kind of way, but actively dying. Dusty is currently laying on his side on the bathroom rug, laboring to breathe. Beside him is a nine-year-old boy who brought his pillow and blanket into the bathroom to keep Dusty company, a nine-year-old boy who is stroking Dusty's fur and crooning, "Silent Night."

Dusty was diagnosed with feline leukemia, the cat version of AIDS, a few months ago. At that time, an XRay also revealed what is likely a cancerous tumor in Dusty's chest.

Faced with the reality of limited healthcare dollars and an incurable disease, we decided against aggressive treatment. We brought Dusty home with a prescription for prednisone, which the vet said would ease his symptoms for awhile, and told the kids the uncomfortable truth: that their favorite cat was dying.

At first, Dusty seemed fine. Then, about a month ago, his breathing became labored to the point that I called the kids to say, "I think this is it." The kids came home, cuddled with Dusty -- and the cat lived another few weeks. He survived 'til Thanksgiving. He survived 'til his birthday (the day after Thanksgiving, aka the day we found him in our garage attic). He survived til the birthday of Boy #1. He even made it to St. Nick's. But despite the frequent prayers of Boy #3, I don't think Dusty's going to make it til Christmas.

I realize our choice -- to bring Dusty home, rather than to put him to sleep -- is a controversial one. The boys, though, were dead set against the idea of taking their cat in to be euthanized. And, to be honest, Dusty showed moments of startling improvement. After that phone call a month ago, Dusty revived enough to eat, drink and, slowly, wander the house. So we spent our time catering to the cat. We petted him. We fed him tuna. Boy #1 even took him outside; Dusty never did shed his love of the outside after all the years he spent on his own.

And secretly, I am glad, because I know that someday I will die. Like it or not, death will be part of my boys' life, and like it or not, death, more often than not, is a process. Very few people just keel over. Many more linger for weeks or months or years. My boys are learning, now, how to be there. My boys are learning that love lasts til the end. They're learning the physical process of death too, but most importantly, they're learning how to care.

Watching my nine-year-old sing to the cat, I know it's a lesson they've learned well.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What Do Your Boys Know About Sex?

According to a recent survey, the answer most likely is "not enough."

Researchers from Rand Corp., Virginia Commonwealth University and Children's Hospital Boston surveyed 141 parents and their teens, ages 13 - 17. Sadly, many of teens -- and most of the boys -- had sex before their parents talked to them about STDs, birth control, or how to say no.

It's a topic that hits near and dear to me. I've blogged about the importance of The Talk before, but now that my oldest is 12, the topic has taken on some additional urgency. Apparently (and I should have known this), it's not enough just to know the basics about puberty and reproduction. It's also absolutely important that teens understand the potential consequences of sex, both physical and emotional, and ways to prevent those consequences. Abstinence is ideal, but count me in with those parents who think it's not enough. I want to make absolutely sure that my sons know how they can prevent disease and pregnancy if/when they choose to engage in sex. The consequences are simply too life-altering to take a chance.

Unfortunately, 2/3 of the boys surveyed said their parents had not talked to them about using condoms before they became sexually active. Over half of the teens said they'd engaged in genital touching before talking to their parents about birth control effectiveness or ways to resist sexual pressure. More than 40 percent had intercourse before their parents talked to them about STDs.

I'll be honest: I thought I was doing a good job. I've always answered my sons' questions and my oldest, at least, knows about sex. I never really imagined that I'd need to sit down and talk to him about how to use a condom or what a STD is and how to prevent them. I realize now that I should.

I'm not going to push it, though. Despite the article's warning that "kids need to be up to speed on STDs, birth control, and other health-protective measures by middle school," I'm going to wait a little longer. My son just turned 12. He's homeschooled, so he doesn't face quite as much social pressure to keep up with the scene. And he doesn't have a girlfriend; he doesn't even spend any time alone with girls.

I realize I may be naive. My guess is that many boys manage to have sex before they have girlfriends, and that many children have sex at places and times their parents can't even imagine. We will talk. We will. But for now, I'm going to do as I've always done and follow his lead.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Does Physical Fitness Make You Smarter?

Maybe, says a new Swedish study.

The study examined 1.2 million Swedish men born between 1950 and 1976. It tracked the boys (then men) over time, looking at physical fitness, intellectual ability and life success, while controlling for things like heredity and family influences. Researchers found a positive link between cardiovascular physical fitness and intellect.

The question, of course, is which came first. Are smart boys more likely to exercise, or does exercise create smart boys?

More research is needed, but if you ask me, the results make sense. Cardiovascular exercise improves blood flow. Blood carries oxygen. The brain, like any other organ in the body, needs blood and oxygen. Stands to reason, then, that a healthy blood supply might improve brain function.

At least, that's what I think. What do you think?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Tag Jr. Winner Is....

Owen's Mom! Owen, I believe you might be getting a Tag Jr. Reading bundle this holiday season.

Owen and his mom enjoy reading The Little Red Caboose, which is one of my favorite books too. My boys love it, and so did my brothers, especially Brother #2. I think of him each and every time I pick up the book.

What books bring back memories for you? Do you sons enjoy any books that you loved as a child?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Boys Can Dance Too

What if your son told you he wanted to dance?

Not hip-hop, not jazz, not even ballroom -- ballet. What would you say? More importantly, what would you think?

Ballet remains, in most people's minds, a girl thing. And because of that, most professional male ballet dancers come from outside of the United States. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, six out of eight male prinicples at the American Ballet Theatre are from other countries. All eleven male prinicples of the San Francisco Ballet are from outside the United States.

Part of the problem is funding. In Russia, promising boys study ballet at publicly funded schools that combine academics and dance. No wonder that so many top male dancers come from Russia.

The larger problem, though, is stigma. Dance, especially ballet, has been stereotyped as a female thing, and God help the young boy (or teen) who says he wants to study ballet.

My oldest son, Boy #1, took ballet. He was four when he said he wanted to dance, and given his natural inclination towards performance, his father and I agreed to a dance class. Boy #1 loved it.

He quickly noticed, however, that he was the only boy in the class. Through two years of lessons, he remained the only boy in his class. Eventually, I think, he internalized the lesson: dance class is for girls. He quit when he was in first grade.

Thankfully, he hasn't lost the will to dance all together. He's an independent minded person and natural entertainer who's found a home on the stage. Numerous musicals and, now, show choir, fulfill his urge to dance.

I wonder, though. How many other boys give up and suppress an essential part of themselves? How many boys (and men) would live happier, fuller lives, if only dance was recognized and accepted as a male activity too? Yes, progress has been made. So You Think You Can Dance is a top-rated TV show; Dancing with the Stars regularly showcases jocks and famous actors putting on the ritz. But we have a long way to go before parents think twice about signing their sons up for ballet class.

I know.

Why do you think ballet is viewed almost exclusively as a "girl thing?" Has your son ever taken dance lessons? Did he get any flak?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Setting Boundaries

Joyce Grant, of Getting Kids Reading, had a great post yesterday about why boys don't like school. She recently attended a Leonard Sax seminar and wrote a great summary of the biologically-based learning differences between boys and girls.

She also wrote about boundaries. I love point # 7:

Boys understand boundaries. Instead of saying, "no throwing snowballs," make some boundaries. "Snowball throwing within this area only." Boys get "inbounds vs. out-of-bounds." And they're good with it.

We can't outlaw boy behavior. We can't outlaw running and screaming and jumping. We can't ban all violent play, and we can't stop them from wrestling. If we do that, we send boys the message that their internal impulses are somehow wrong, and that's just, well, wrong.

We can, however, set some boundaries. We can help them redirect their energies. We can suggest, for instance, that they leap off the playground instead of off the couch. We can give them play guns (or not) while letting them know that it's not OK to point a weapon at someone in anger. We can provide safe spaces and sane boundaries (such as no hitting the head or groin)when they start to wrestle.

Providing boundaries recognizes and respects boys' innate needs, while teaching them basic social behavior. Providing boundaries allows boys to experiment with their power and strength in a safe way. Providing boundaries helps boys grow into confident men.

The next time your boys are driving you crazy, don't simply outlaw the behavior. Work with your boys to develop some boundaries instead.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gender Disappointment

Apparently, some moms are very, very unhappy with their baby boys.

According to a recent article first published in Elle, increasing numbers of American women are voicing their preference for a female child. At least some of those women are spending perfectly good money to enhance their chances. Some are paying for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, a procedure in which conception occurs outside the body and only the "correct" sex embryos are implants in the woman's body. Others are banking on sperm sorting techniques, such as Microsort.

As a mom of boys (and all boys), I find this trend disturbing, to say the least. Even more disturbing is that the female-child preference seems to be an outgrowth of the current cultural thinking:

What’s behind the modern-day girl fetish? One explanation: Women envision a brighter future for their daughters than they do for their sons. Boys are practically the underdogs these days, having fallen behind girls on nearly every measure of academic achievement, from college attendance to high school graduation rates. According to books such as The War Against Boys and Boys Adrift, they are in danger of becoming, as Christina Hoff Sommers has written, “tomorrow’s second sex.”

“The way society is now—I feel there’s a preference for girls,” says Linda Heithaus, a marine biologist from Hollywood, Florida, who has two sons and is contemplating doing IVF/PGD in the hope of getting a girl. “They can do everything a boy can do, plus you can dress them up. It’s almost like, to fit in, you need to have one.” Girls, in other words, are boys plus. They can play sports and have careers, and you can dress them in pink and take them to tea at the American Girl cafĂ©. What’s not to like?

Boys do have it tough today. They rank behind girls in academic achievement. They're more likely to be incarcerated. They're more likely to commit suicide. And given the current recession, employment opportunities for boys and men are limited as well. A man can no longer define himself as a success if he provides for his family; he can't even count on providing. Almost all the old benchmarks of male success have disappeared, leaving men and boys stranded in a world that doesn't seem to understand, recognize, or value manliness.

I'm not advocating a return to the "good old days" of the 1950s, a world of rigid sex stereotyping. I'm glad that today's women can (and do) compete in the boardroom, and I'm glad that men can (and do) change dirty diapers.

But boys and girls are different, and I'd like a world where my boys are accepted and valued as they are, not looked upon as less because they have a Y chromosome and love to leap off couches.

Children -- all of them -- come to us with unique personalities and potential. Let's not write off the boys.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Time for a Hug

I'm not from a particularly huggy family. We don't hug every time we say hi and we rarely hug when we say good-bye. It's more like a, "Hey, good to see ya." The affection is there, but understated, understood.

And yet hugs have a way of making things better when nothing else can.

This morning, when I was feeling overwhelmed by all I had to do, Boy #1 came up and gave me a hug -- wordlessly, silently -- and my day was better.

Tonight, after a bedtime battle that lasted over an hour-and-a-half, Boy #4 sat sobbing in his bed as I lay on the floor beside him. Something in my Mommy-heart spoke to me, and I sat up and wrapped him in my arms. He cried into my shoulders (both of them; he's very European that way) and whispered, "I'm sorry" before settling quietly into sleep. I'm convinced he'd still be crying if I hadn't taken a moment to hug my son.

This Thanksgiving, hug the boys in your life. Yes, they drive you crazy sometimes, and yes, they may try to shrug away when you approach with open arms. But your boys love you too, and a hug says more than words ever will.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Family Hate

My boys can bicker. A lot. In fact, they frequently spend entire days telling each other how much better their lives would be if only their brothers didn't exist.

And yet, they care about each other. A lot.

Case in point: The other day, Boy #2 and Boy #3 spent the bulk of their day arguing and fighting. Boy #2 let Boy #3 know, in no uncertain terms, that Boy #3 is not his favorite person in the world.

But that night, when Boy #3 was tired beyond belief and not feeling well, who was at his bedside? Boy #2. Who came to get me when Boy #3 said he thought he had a fever? Boy #2. And who checked in and said a sweet good night, even after I was laying with Boy #3? Boy #2.

"See," I told Boy #3. "He doesn't hate you. He really does love you."

"Oh, Mom," Boy #3 said, with a note of exasperation in his voice. "That's just family hate."

On some level, my boys get it. On some level, they love their brothers fiercely, even though they drive each other crazy. On some level, they know that all the hateful words are really just expressions of frustration and irritation.

Yes, we need to work on that; my boys need to learn better way to express frustration and irritation. But for now, I will revel in the memory of a sweet Boy #2, anxiously checking on his sick brother.

Have you entered my giveaway yet? You could win a Tag Jr. reading bundle!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sometimes, It's Best to Wait

We've talked about potty training before, so you may already know that my basic philosopy is to follow the child:

Four boys into parenting, I'm convinced that you can't teach a child to go on the potty. Of course, if you've been around awhile, you probably already know that I don't think you can teach a child anything.

You can facilitate a child's learning. You can provide materials and answer questions. You can even show him how something is done. But to say you can teach him something -- which many people seem to define as getting a child to do what you want him to do, when you want him to do it -- seems to ignore the basic fact that the child is part of the equation as well.

I can throw all the information and knowledge in the world at a kid, but if he's not developmentally, emotionally, cognitively or physically ready to receive it, he's not going to "learn" a darn thing.

Which leads me to @cfoutz. Her blog post, Bringing Back Diapers, should be required reading for anyone thinking of imposing potty training on a child.

Long story short, her 3 1/2-year-old son was willing to sit on the potty for his preschool teacher, but not his parents. He liked his big-boy underwear, but wasn't so crazy about using the potty. So he didn't. For 33 whole hours. He ended up in the emergency room.

All is well -- her little guy peed just after the ultrasound technician scanned his bladder -- and his parents have decided to heed his very loud signals. 3 1/2-year-old boy is now back in diapers.

@cfoutz, of course, felt terrible about the whole thing:

During all of this I was a mess of guilt and frustration. I was crying to my mother that I felt so bad but was doing all I could do. There are just no books for a kid like him. The only books that talk about strong-willed kids talk about discipline or just living with them and understanding them. No one talks about the other things, like the weaning off things, toilet learning, sleeping alone, etc. There are no guides for parents like me.

Don't get me wrong: I think there's a time and place for parental advice columns and parenting books and magazines. As parents, we need all the information we can get. But no book, column, article or expert will ever tell you what your child needs. Your child is the only one who can tell you that, and you, as his parent, are uniquely equipped to interpret his needs. Together, you can find the path that takes him exactly where he needs to go.

Your job is to listen.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Books 'Bout Boys: Packaging Boyhood

Like it or not, the media has a massive effect on today's boys.
That's why I was so excited to see Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers and Other Media Stereotypes, a new book by Lyn Mikel Brown, Sharon Lamb and Mark Tappan. Today, they share with us an excerpt about boys and drinking -- and as a resident of Wisconsin, a state that consistently leads the nation in binge drinking, I agree that it's high time we started paying attention to the unconscious messages we send our sons.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, males age 12 or older report higher rates than females for all measures of alcohol use and abuse, including binge drinking and alcohol dependence.

No wonder. The party-hardy atmosphere is everywhere they are – from about age 5 and up. We’re not talking about the ubiquitous beer commercials during Monday Night Football, the crazy liquored-up antics on VH-1 or MTV reality shows, or even the champagne drinking players in rap videos. We’re talking cartoons, G-rated films, and tween TV. Whether it’s the Poison Apple Pub in Shrek or the cool bar on the beach where the Madagascar friends hang out, socializing in animated films often means drinking.

And just like it is in real life, over-indulging leads to trouble-making and stupid behavior. Elliot the deer and Boog the bear, two buddies in the animated film Open Season, trash a country store after getting “drunk” on candy bars. Buzz Lightyear drinks too much “tea” in Toy Story, and his friend Woody tries to sober him up. In his movie, SpongeBob SquarePants has a terrible hangover from his ice-cream bender of the night before.

But why let the elementary school set have all the fun? Nothing says cool to a “tweenager” more than a good out of control party. TV shows targeting tweens help kids imagine being a mythic teenager; you know, the guy who has the hot babes and the fun parties, who hangs in clubs, dorms, and other places where there are no pesky, dopey, intrusive, nagging parents; the guy who has no homework or after school job and who doesn’t actually work hard at anything.

That’s why the boys in The Naked Brothers Band, a Nick show about a group of precocious preteens living the rock star dream, do their best to imitate the kinds of problems parents are trying to control. In their first movie, a mockumentary of their rock star rise to fame, then six-year-old bad boy drummer Alex develops a lemon-lime soda addiction. When their original band breaks up, he binges in a bar scene, chugging like a frat boy, and ends up in a luxury rehabilitation Soda-holics at Sea program.

Then there’s bad boy Zack on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, a show about twin tweens living it up in a luxury hotel (the new version of the show has them living it up on a luxury cruise ship—more babes in bikinis!), who sets up his own underage dance club in the hotel lounge. The boy “bartender” pushes sugary soda to shy, nice girl, Barbara, and after chugging root beer – “Hit me again!” – she takes her hair down, whips off her glasses and starts dancing suggestively while the crowd shouts, “Go Barbara! Go Barbara!” It’s a nerdy boy’s dream when she staggers to Cody and kisses him hard on the mouth.

Most of these preteen shows feature 8-14 year olds running their own lives in a world created for them by adult writers who know how to create a pseudo-sanitized version of Entourage. All the themes, expectations, and desires are there—but it’s okay because the drinks they’re chugging aren’t really alcoholic and the come-ons and references to hot girls don’t really lead to the party-house bedroom. But there’s no missing the staggering around and slurred speech or the wild, loose behavior as anything but an imitation of the real thing.

So what’s a parent to do? Watch these shows and movies with your son. Help him understand what’s really being sold with those funny antics and silly situations, and discuss the behavior you see.

Here are a few “typical boy” behaviors to look out for in his media:

Koolaid or soda chugging in ways that suggest chugging a beer;
Doing "jello shots", even when it's just jello.
Getting crazy, acting goofy or doing stupid things after drinking sugary sodas or some other beverage.
Sharing woes or drowning troubles in a bar or saloon;
Living a party social life in clubs, dorms, or on the beach, chilling with sodas or drinks in beer mugs, champagne flutes, or cocktail glasses.

It will be nearly impossible to protect him from a “drinking is a rite of passage for boys” media message, so start these conversations early. Put his natural powers of observation to work, teach him to question advertising, and help him know when to say no to this version of “boys will be boys” behavior!

Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D., Sharon Lamb Ed.D., and Mark Tappan, Ed.D. are authors of Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons From Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Are Plastics Turning Boys Into Girls?

Ok, that might be a bit inflammatory. But the recent news that in-utero exposure to phthalates affects boys' play preferences in preschool is big news all the same.

The study tracked 145 pregnant women and, ultimately, their sons. Researchers measured the phthalate content of the mothers' urine and then later asked the mothers questions about their sons' play behavior between the ages of three and six. The findings? The boys whose mothers were exposed to the highest levels of phthalates were five times more likely to have a less-masculine play score.

Before you get all up in arms about "male" or "female" play, consider your own sons. I'm guessing that most of them showed a proclivity for guns long before you introduced weapons to your home. I'm guessing that most of them made truck noises well before their second birthday.

The scientific truth is that male and female brains are different -- and boy brains are wired to show a preference for motion (trucks) over faces (dolls). Researchers speculate that phthalates not only alter the development male reproductive system but the male brain as well.

Pretty scary stuff, especially when you consider this.

I've never really given much thought to phthalates, despite the negative headlines, simply because I don't have the time to worry about everything. But given this latest study, I think it might make sense to decrease our exposure. Step number one? Changing our shower curtain.

Are you concerned about phthalate exposure? What steps, if any, are you taking to decrease your sons' exposure to toxic chemicals?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Poll: Boys & Birth

Looks like we're all over the place when it comes to boys and birth.

After watching the Internet's first live birth, I asked if you'd be OK with your son watching a birth. All in all, we're in favor of it: 28% said 'Yes, definitely," while another 21 % said your son has already seen a birth. An additional 14% have seen a birth on TV.

I myself fall into the fuzzy "Yes, theorectically" category (21%). Let me explain. While I have no problem whatsoever with my boys being exposed to the realities of birth -- and indeed have already looked at some pretty wonderful pictures with the boys -- I answered from the perspective of a mom considering having her sons at her next birth. (Full disclosure: I am most definitely not pregnant.)

I'm pretty liberal in my birthing beliefs. I'm all about natural childbirth and labor support, and fully believe that birth is a natural part of life. My last two children were born at Wisconsin's first free-standing birth center; if I'd lived closer, I would have seriously considered having Boy #4 at home.

But. I know my boys, and I know myself. I know that I can hardly think sometimes when they're in the room. I know that it is next-to-impossible for me to release my sense of responsibility to them. And I know that when I'm in labor, I need to concentrate. So ultimately, although I love the idea of kids being present at birth to welcome their newest sibling, I concluded that having my boys around during an actual labor and birth would be far too stressful for me. For me; you may feel differently.

I also know my boys, and I know that sitting quietly (or even in a relatively subdued manner) is not their thing. While our birth center features a fabulous family room, complete with TV, DVD player and games, I knew my boys would quickly tire of the whole thing. My boys, I concluded, would be more comfortable at home.

And that's where a home birth comes in. If I'd labored at home, if I had someone around to watch, look out for and otherwise run interference with my boys, I would have welcomed my sons at their brothers' births. At home, they would have been free to do what they do -- to sleep, run, play -- while not being excluded from an event central to the life of our family.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to have your son view a birth is highly individual. You have to consider your son, your personality and your resources. For a great article about kids and birth, click here.

Meanwhile, I'd love to hear your stories. If your son witnessed one of your births, what did he think? If he saw one on TV, what did he say? And if you answered, no, you'd rather not let your son watch a birth, why?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Holiday Giveaway: Tag Jr. Reading Bundle

If you've been around for awhile, you know that Blogging 'Bout Boys is all about reading. (Well, about boys - and reading!) We talk about why boys won't read, ways to encourage them and strategies to keep your sons interested in the written word. We even feature Books for Boys, reviews and recommendations of books your sons might enjoy. And occasionally, I give away a fabulous prize designed to encourage a love of reading.

Today, my friends, is one of those days.

I am giving away a Tag Jr. reading bundle, featuring the innovative Tag Jr. reader and two board books, ABC Animal Orchestra and Winnie the Pooh. The set is valued at more than $50.

I still say that reading with your child is the best way to get him interested in books -- but the Tag Jr. adds an additional level of interaction to your experience. It's also great for independent play. Your preschooler can enjoy his books even when you're too busy to "read it again."

Want one for your very own?

To enter:
  • Become a fan of LeapFrog on Facebook. If you don't know how to do this, drop me a line. I'll walk you through it.
  • Leave a comment telling me your favoriate read-aloud book.

For extra entries, you can:

  • Tweet my contest.
  • Subscribe to my blog.
  • Follow my blog.
  • Post about my giveaway on your blog, including a link.

Just make sure to drop me another note, letting me know what you did and when you did it. You can Tweet the contest daily if you'd like; each Tweet = an additional entry.

If you'd like an even better chance of winning, visit these loveley blogs. They're each giving away a Tag Jr. as well!

My contest runs through 11:59 pm CST November 30. That's two whole weeks from now, so you have plenty of chances to win!

Fine print: Contest open to residents of the United States and Canada. Winner will be chosen by using random.org and will have 24 hours to respond to prize notification. If I don't hear from my winner withint 24 hours, another will be chosen by random.org.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Imposed Stress?

Gutsy Writer, a mom of three boys, had an interesting comment regarding my last blog post.

I'm curious to hear what you think about the difference between boys/men and girls/women, towards stress. I think one of the things that attracts females to males is they are able to remain calm when women "freak" out. So in a way, that's a nice thing for women. Imagine if men said, "I'm worried and stressed about life." Most women worry about everything and if their husband also worried, that would double the stress. So what I'm trying to say is that perhaps boys/men, don't worry as much as girls/women do, and we might be imposing our "stress" feelings on them.

Here's what I think:

I think men and boys do worry. But as I stated in the last blog post, they have a tendency to bottle it up. Men and boys are much more inclined to ignore their stress -- and that, I think, is a dangerous thing.

Women don't necessarily want or need a man who freaks out when the going gets tough. But denying the stress isn't exactly a useful response either. I want my boys to grow up knowing how to handle stressful situations. I want them to learn to recognize their stressful feelings, to view those feelings as a signal to act. Rather than avoiding stressful situations, I want my sons to learn how to proactively handle tough situations. Because like it or not, stress is going to be part of their lives. From money worries to health concernes, stress is unavoidable, I want my boys to prepared to handle it.

What do you think? Do you think women are imposing their version of stress on men? How do you think men and women handle stress differently?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Soothing the Stress

So how do you help your stressed out son?

#1: Recognize that he needs help
The research shows that boys are likely to ignore stress. They may deny their stressful feelings or refuse to think about the issue causing them stress. And while both strategies may work in the short-term, neither is a long-term solution. So your first step as a parent may be to help your son realize that feeling stressed out is a signal, a signal that something needs to change.

#2: Identify and minimize triggers.
If you can, figure out what's bothering your son. If he's young, say under the age of three, it'll be up to you to identify the causes of his meltdowns. Is he hungry? Tired? Overstimulated? Try to figure out what's going on, and then take steps to remedy the situation. Also, see what you can do differently next time. If your son has a temper tantrum every time you stop by the grocery store on the way home from daycare, it may be that the grocery store, with its lights and sounds and people, is just too much for him after a day of childcare. Next time, try picking up milk before you pick up your son.

If your son is older, see if he can identify what's causing him stress. Don't be suprised if his first answer is an exasperated, "I don't know." Remember: boys avoid thinking about their stress. Talking through some possible causes ("Your new teacher seems pretty strict") might help him open up.

#3: Get him moving
When a person is stressed, his body enters a stage of fight-or-flight. Adrenaline pumps through his body -- whether or not he needs to flee from a Siberian tiger.

Take advantage of that chemical influx by encouraging your son to go for a run, punch a pillow or do jumping jacks. He may return with a new perspective.

#4: Speak up
Boys' hearing is less acute than girls' anyway. Add in stress, and they're likely to tune you out all together. Don't yell; just speak in a loud, clear voice.

#5: Teach problem solving
After your son has calmed down, talk through the situation. What happened? What would he like to happen? What steps can he take to make that outcome more likely?

Role-modeling is great here. Let your son see you constructively handling stress in your everyday life. Better yet -- let him see his father, uncles, and male neighbors handling stress productively.

What other ideas do you have for helping boys deal with stress?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Don't Let Stress Win

We have a winner!

The winner of the fantasy football book giveaway is MAC Mom. Congrats! MAC Mom is the mother of a not-quite-one-year-old boy and is wondering about potty training. My advice? Wait it out. Because potty training can be stressful, and our boys are stressed out enough already.

(Like that segue?)

Boys today are anxious, and it's not just the potty training ones. But how can you tell if your son is stressed out? According to Dr. Michele Borba, signs of stress include:

Physical Signs

•Headache, neck aches and backaches
•Nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomachache, vomiting
•Shaky hands, sweaty palms, feeling shaky, lightheadedness
•Bedwetting
•Trouble sleeping, nightmares
•Change in appetite
•Stuttering
•Frequent colds, fatigue

Emotional or Behavioral Signs

•New or reoccurring fears; anxiety and worries
•Trouble concentrating; frequent daydreaming
•Restlessness or irritability
•Social withdrawal, unwilling to participate in school or family activities
•Moodiness; sulking; or inability to control emotions
•Nail biting; hair twirling; thumb-sucking; fist clenching; feet tapping
•Acting out, anger, aggressive behaviors such as tantrums, disorderly conduct
•Regression or baby-like behaviors
•Excessive whining or crying
•Clinging, more dependent, won’t let you out of his sight

Of course, none of these are fail-safe markers of stress. The key is to know your son. What's normal for him? If you know his normal, and something changes, that's a clue. Figure out what's going on.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about some ways to help your sons handle stress. Meanwhile, I'd like to hear from you. How can you tell when your son is stressed out?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Anxious Boys?

Parents aren't the only ones stressing out these days. The kids are stressed too.

New research from the American Psychological Association (APA) reveals that stress is the number one health concern for American high schoolers. Stress!

Grown-ups drowning under the weight of a recession find it all too easy to dismiss the idea of stressed out kids. "Please," they say, "what do kids have to be stressed about? All they have to worry about is themselves!"

Yes, but...kids worry about the recession too. Kids worry about money and jobs and tests and girls and terrorrism and whether or not their parents will stay together. They worry about their pets and college and the weather. They even worry about us.

Today's kids are much more stressed than we'd like to believe. Thirty-one percent of the parents who particpated in the APA study said their children had little to no stress; only 9% of the kids agreed. Half of the teens said they're more worried this year, while less than 1/3 of the parents thought their kids were experiencing additional stress.

Boys are not immune. In fact, David Thomas, co-author of Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys, says he's seeing more stressed out boys in his therapy practice than ever before. "In the last decade," Thomas says, "I have seen more cases of anxiety than I have at any other time."

Our hyper-paced lifestyles may be partly to blame. "I think boys are anxious when they don’t have the kind of space they need, when there are so many demands on them throughout the academic day and then they go straight from school to violin lessons, straight from violin lessons to sports and straight from sports to something else," Thomas says. "Boys need time and space to release."

Thomas says that what looks like ADHD may actually be anxiety in disguise. "When a young man feels anxious, he’s distracted. He’s spending so much of his emotional energy trying to maintain balance that he's like a pressure cooker, and at different points he might explode or be really irrational, impulsive or distracted," Thomas says.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about signs of stress -- and what you can do about them.

What do you think? Are your sons stressed out? What's bothering them?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Football Fans, Unite!

Up here in Packer country, it's been an interesting year.

First, our star quarterback defects to the Vikings. Then, after losing twice to said star quarterback, we lose to Tampa Bay. Fire Ted Thompson & Mike McCarthy groups are now gaining ground on Facebook.

Football fans are a passionate bunch. If you have one in your house, enter my fantasy football book giveaway. It'll give 'em just one more reason to obsess!

To enter the contest, click here and follow the directions. Contest ends tomorrow night at midnight, so don't delay!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Birth & Babies

I just can't stop thinking about it.

Last night, I stayed up way too late to watch the Internet's first live birth. Twenty-three-year-old Lynsee and her husband agreed to live stream their birth the Gannett-run social networking site, MomsLikeMe.com. (As of right now, the video is still up.)

I learned about the birth on Twitter. I watched the action with an amazing group of women -- doulas, midwives, mothers and self-proclaimed birth junkies. The conversation continues today.

When I tuned in, Lynsee was laboring on the bed, on her knees, leaning up and over a birthball. She was doing beautifully. A bit later, she was in the tub, lights down, relaxing music on. I saw a woman in that sacred, private space that is labor. It was amazing.

Then she said she was tired, over and over again. She said she knew it was going to get worse and expressed doubt about her ability to cope with any more. Ultimately, she asked for -- and received -- an epidural.

This is where the conversation gets interesting. Some, today, are wondering how Lynsee will feel if/when she looks back on the Internet and sees criticism of her choices. But on Twitter, I didn't see criticism of her choices. I saw and heard a community of concerned women -- women who are themselves mothers, midwives and doulas -- screaming, HELP HER!

If you've had a baby before (and I'll assume you have, since you're reading a blog about raising boys), you know that labor gets rough. You know that it's a consuming, all-encompassing process. And you know that it's perfectly normal to wonder if you're up to the task. (Read my labor stories here.)

If you've studied birth at all, you may also know that "I'm tired" and "I can't do this anymore" are classic emotional signs of transition. And sure enough, Lynsee was 7 cm dilated just after her epidural.

What I heard on the Internet last night was not criticism of Lynsee's choices, but a community of women who wanted to reach through the screen and tell her, "You're doing great! You're DOING this, Lynsee. The baby is almost here."

No one in the room, though, told her those things during her moment of self-doubt. No one checked her prior to the epidural, or reassured her that she was almost done, that she was coping beautifully. Instead, they placed the epidural, chatted while the tired mom should have been resting and took her baby away just when the baby was beginning to root for milk.

I didn't hear criticism of Lynsee. I heard sadness, sadness that so few women today believe they can labor. That so few women have the support they really need as the bring new life into the world. Sadness, that despite our years of collective maternal wisdom, our voices are being silenced.

Women know how to have babies -- and we need to be free to share our thoughts with the world.

Thank you, Lynsee, for starting an important dialogue.

What do you think? Did you watch the live birth? Do you think the comments crossed the line into personal criticism?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Can Boys Nurse Babies?

I stumbled across an interesting article by Amy Rawson today. Called "Raising Boys," her article delineates her attempt to raise boys unfettered by society's expectations of what a boy should be. Her boys, she says, are free to play with trucks and dolls, to sport long hair and to cry when they're hurt.

The part of her article that took the most heat, though, was the part where she admits that her two sons pretend to nurse their dolls.

I was not shocked, surprised or offended by that statement. I've nursed four boys, and at least three of them have pretended to nurse a doll or stuffed animal at some point in time. And why wouldn't they? Children learn to parent by watching us, and my boys saw me nursing the new baby many times a day.

Many readers, though, were disgusted by her admission. A sampling:

"Boys acting like they are nursing!? Ok, I think that is a bit extreme."

"If my girls were pretending to nurse, it wouldn't be so bad. After all, I nursed mine til they were a year. But, I would be offended if I saw my son "nursing" a baby, I would not if he had a bottle (it can always be a bottle of "breast milk"). They don't have the "equipment" and I just don't think it's right. I think this kind of raising (in the article) may turn him into a "girly man", and I hate that."

"Of course a child acts out nursing. Because he saw you do it. He's testing you to see your response. If you don't guide them, and teach them, they will grow up as an animal in captivity and will be very sad when they hit the "real world" and probably ill-equipped to cope."

I'm speechless. Do people really believe this stuff? What's your take on boys nursing babies?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Persistence

Some kids just don't take no for an answer.

Unfortunately, I have been blessed with at least two of them.

The "un" in that sentence is rather unfortunate, because persistence, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Persistence is the difference between a published author and an unpublished one. Persistence brought us the lightbulb and computer. Persistence is what helps tired parents everywhere get through our busy days!

But persistence in a toddler/preschooler? Aaaarggggh!

You know how most childhood experts will tell you to redirect a young child who's interested in picking up a delicate or fragile object? Well, redirection doesn't work with a persistent child. The persistent child will simply return to said object again and again and again.

Which isn't a bad thing, really. The ability to perserve, despite obstacles and over time, is clearly a marker of success. Our job as parents is to somehow preserve the sense of persistence -- while somehow co-habitating with a child who clearly has his own ideas about living.

It's not easy. It's not easy at all. I came home from our 4-H meeting tonight, thoroughly exhausted from battling with a persistent three-year-old who saw absolutely no reason for him to remain quiet during the meeting. He wanted to race cars. He wanted to play with balls. And he wasn't buying my reassurances of "later" at all.

It would be easier for me to somehow squash his persistence, to somehow force him to comply with my wishes, instead of always responding to his inner desires. But 1) I don't know how to do that, at least not in any way I'd feel good about it, and 2) I don't want to want to destroy what will someday be one of his strongest assets.

In an effort to find some answers, I Googled, "persistent child" when I came home-- and found this gem of antique wisdom. I think I'm going to follow her advice:

"I never keep late hours and I take very nourishing food. One needs poise and health and quiet nerves to regulate persistence without destroying it."

What are your tips for dealing with a persistent child?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Climbing Ahead


Ever notice how your boys frequently make their biggest leaps when you're not looking?

As you can probably tell, my three-year-old has learned to climb trees. And he did it all on his own.

He was outside playing while the rest of us finished lunch. The older boys heard some loud singing from outside and popped to the window to see what Boy #4 was doing. They found him in the tree.

He's wanted to climb trees ever since he realized there were trees to climb -- a side effect of having three older brothers. But we have long had a tree-climbing rule around here, which is: If you're too small to get up in the tree by yourself, you're too small to climb.

Well, Boy #4 found his way around that one.



All of his own, he figured out how to use the materials in his environment to accomplish his goals. It's almost as if he needed the time, space and freedom to figure things out on his own.

Boy #3 did something similar when he learned to ride his bike. You know how most parents run along behind their child, helping support the bike, while the child learns to find his balance? Boy #3 learned to ride a two-wheeled bike in a parking lot. At a friends' house. While I was inside talking to the other Mom.

Granted, his Dad had been gradually bending his training wheels up for a period of weeks. Little by little, and without even knowing it, Boy #3 was learning to balance. But the final moment of truth -- learning to ride a two-wheeler -- came when we weren't even looking.

The November/December issue of Home Education Magazine touches on this very issue. In her article, "Hey. Just Play," author Rebecca Rupp refers to a new book, Falling for Science, a collection of short essays by past MIT students, reflecting on what drew them to science in the first place. Almost inevitably, she says, "future scientists and engineers all got hooked while messing around -- unsupervised -- with soap bubbles, mud pies, marbles, straws, Erector sets, and Lego blocks."

As parents, we spend hours every day protecting and nuturing our children. Perhaps the best thing we can do, though, is give them the freedom to climb.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

We Return to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

A house full of sick kids can certainly knock you off your routine. It can empty your pocketbook too.

But flu or no flu, life must go on, so I'm back to the blog. To kick things off, let's do another giveaway!

I'm giving away a copy of the Fantasy Football Guidebook by Sam Hendricks. The lucky winner will also receive a copy of Fantasy Football Tips, also by Hendricks. Remember -- Christmas is coming, and these books would make a great gift for any guy (or gal) in your life!

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment here. But this time, instead of telling me why you want to win, I want to hear your most pressing boy question/concern. What is it you'd like to know about raising/living with boys? Let me know, enter the contest, and we'll talk about later.

Receive additional entries by:
  • Tweeting the contest and including a link to my blog. (You can do this daily. Each tweet = one entry. Just be sure to drop me a note and let me know you did it.)
  • Following me on Twitter, @jlwf
  • Posting about the contest on your blog
  • Joining the Blogging 'Bout Boys community as a Follower

The contest will end at 11:59 pm Central Time on November 10, 2009 and the winner will be announced Wednesdary November 11th (which happens to be Veteran's Day, so don't expect me to send out the prize until at least the following day.) This contest is open to residents of the United States and Canada only. The winner will be chosen by random.org and will have 48 hours to respond with shipping information. If no response is received, another winner will be chosen.

Enjoy!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Parenting Writers on Parenting

The best part of my cruise/conference? Getting to hang around with a lot of other writers who also happen to be parents.

Some of the brave souls (such as Blog Salad's Ron Doyle) brought their children along with them. The rest of us had much more fun. We sat around the karaoke bar, sipped grown-up drinks and swapped stories about parenting.

Can I just say how liberating it was to hear other parenting writers admit that they are not perfect parents? All together, we represented years of parenting expertise. Dozens of children between us. Hundreds of published parenting articles and real-life, real-time access to acknowledged child-rearing experts. We, after all, are the people who write articles such as, "32 Easy Ways to Streamline Your Crazy-Busy Life," "Discipline Tricks That Stick," and "The Secret to Healthier Happier Kids." (All actual article titles from actual magazines.)

And yet, our real lives often look very little like the lives portrayed in the magazines. (Think of us as the parenting equivalent of female fashion models.) Despite knowing the "right" things to do, we yell. (Sometimes within earshot of the neighbors). We give in. We bargain. We plead. We make the same mistakes again and again and again.

We might write the articles that tell you how to balance work and family, but we don't have it all together. We're struggling too, just like everyone else. Our lives - just like yours -- are a constant work in progress. Besides, what article can prepare you for sick kids, cat poop and Internet issues?

The bottom line, as always, is that you are the true expert. We might have access to academic studies, talking heads and statistics, but you know your family and children better than we ever will. You're the only one who can decide, on the spur of the moment, what to do when your preschooler whacks your sick tween on the head with a tractor. (Wait -- that's my life.)

So trust your instincts, and take comfort in the fact that parenting writers are winging it too.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Re-Entering the Real World

If it wasn't for the scar on my finger, I wouldn't believe it myself.

Just a few short days ago, I was snorkeling in the Bahamas. The water was aquamarine, the temperature was balmy and the company, sublime. (The scar, if you're interested, is the result of an overly eager fish. I had fish food; he wanted it!)

For a few short days, I wasn't Jennifer Fink, Mom of Boys; I was Jennifer Fink, Freelance Writer. The boys stayed home with their dad while I joined dozens of other writers aboard the Carnival Imagination for a three-day writer's conference called Cruising for Profits.

And then, I came home. To sick kids (H1N1 has hit our home), cat poop and Internet issues. It was a bit of a transition, to say the least.

But this is what parenting is all about. These are the moments that create a life, that create bonds between parent and child, brother and sister. These moments -- making smoothies for sons who don't feel like eating or wetting washcloths to lay on hot little foreheads -- are more meaningful than anything I experienced on the cruise.

Don't get me wrong: I had a great time conga dancing on the Lido deck and would love, someday, to explore the Caribbean with my sons. Real life, though, isn't always real fun, and that's OK.

I hate watching my boys struggle with high fevers and -- let's be honest -- I hate getting up multiple times a night. I hate stumbling downstairs by feel alone and pouring Motrin by the light of the moon. I hate scratching event after event off my calendar, and I hate waiting and wondering if and when I'll get sick.

But the beauty of these moments is that they allow us to serve one another. In their sickness, my boys become vulnerable and they let me in, just a little more than usual. Those who are healthy express their concern for the sick, doing everything from filling water bottles to delivering pillows. At the end of the day, we realize that, despite our disagreements and bickering, we love each other. The last two days, both of my older boys have listed "family," as one of their Favorite Parts. Usually, they consider "family" the cause of all that's wrong in their worlds.

Stepping out of my life for a few days was absolutely wonderful. Stepping back in is pretty nice as well.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Books for Boys: Fantasy Football Guidebook


'Tis the season -- for football!

Those football fans among you have probably been enjoying the season for weeks now (depending on your team). And the die-hard football fanatics are probably already well-aware of the phenomenon that is fantasy football. For the uninitiated, though, fantasy football is a game in which players "draft" real, live NFL players to be on their fanatasy teams. Their teams then score points based on how the players perform in their real-life football games.

Sam Hendricks, an avid fantasy football player with almost two decades of experience, shares his tips and tricks for fantasy football success in Fantasy Football Guidebook and Fantasy Football Tips. Fantasy Football Guidebook was a Finalist in the 2009 National Indie Excellence Book Awards and the 2008 USA Book News Best Books contest.

If you have a son interested in fantasy football, get him these books. They include everything, from Top 10 Reasons to Play Fantasy Football to 10 Rules of Trading to Observations to Let You Live a Normal Life While Enjoying Fantasy Football. One note: the word is a$$ is included at least once in the book. That's not a deal breaker for me, but something you might want to know before handing the books to your son.

On to the author Q & A!

How did you get interested in fantasy football?

I loved NFL football but became very frustrated when the only matchups on TV were boring contests between weak teams. I wanted more excitement. A fellow aviator from my flying squadron (336th FS-we flew F-15E fighter jets for the USAF) suggested a “new” game called Fantasy Football and from that moment on I was hooked. I loved the ability to have different players from different teams (now I had a reason to watch those boring games because my players were in them and I had a vested interest). The more I played, the more I wanted to win and the more I wanted to learn everything about it. And it gave me a better appreciation of football too.

What's a good age to introduce a boy to fantasy football? Why?

It depends on the maturity of the child, but I would say the earliest is around 7 or 8. At that age parents can share their enjoyment of watching football and the basic math skills of fantasy football can be introduced. Math skills such as addition (points for TDs), subtraction (lose points for INTs) and multiplication (multiple TDs) are easy to show and foster with fantasy football.

Later at around age 12 or 13, the boys are getting more interested in sports and team play. Fantasy football is a great way to teach them good decision-making skills (who do you want vs. who is available at what time), problem-solving (when to switch players to maximize efficiency of the whole team), and also risks vs. rewards (choosing proven veterans over unproven high-priced rookies, etc.) It can be a good teaching tool if implemented correctly. The child learns that "owner" decisions have an immediate impact on the team and one player does not control the game.

A lot of people consider fantasy football "a waste of time," but there's a lot to it. It's fun, of course, but there's also statistics and critical thinking. Your book even includes anatomical info about common football injuries!


Over 30 million people play fantasy football each year and the numbers keep growing. I have seen the media adapt to this ever increasing demographic as well. Most of the highlight/update reports now include players and their statistics at the bottom of the screen. Those statistics have even evolved from simply who scored the TD to how many catches they have, their yardage and TDs or injury status. This is because of the fantasy football fan! So opinion of fantasy football has moved from the obscure “waste of time” to a billion dollar industry as evidenced by the 20+ magazines devoted to this fascinating hobby. Fantasy Football Guidebook is my attempt to provide a comprehensive guide to playing fantasy football.

How can a parent support and nuture their son's interest in football and/or fantasy football?

Parents can spend time with their child enjoying the game while noting the "mathematical" aspects of the game. Also, encourage their child to be a participant, either on an actual football team or in a fantasy football league. By encouraging participation, parents can nurture the interest and will be able to communicate with their child on subjects of mutual interest and appeal. Since Fantasy Football Guidebook came out, I have spoken with hundreds of parents who have told me about the “bonding” time that fantasy football has created. Fathers and sons are fielding teams together as co-managers and spending more time together deciding on strategies (who to start) and watching their players perform.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reading as Torture

I finally -- finally! -- signed my kids up for swim lessons. It's been a good year and a half, at least, since anyone has had a formal swim lesson because, well, when you have four kids at four different skill levels, scheduling is a devilishly tricky thing. The last time I looked, I would have been at the aquatic center every single night, all week long, just to get each one in. No thanks!

This time, I was lucky. All four boys have lessons on Tuesday, so last night, I was one of many parents congregated in the center lobby.

As always, I was impressed by moms' on-to-go mothering skills. There were moms with picnic suppers. Moms with games. Moms helping kids with homework. We might have all been stuck aquatic limbo, but that wasn't stopping anyone from doing what she needed to do.

Which, in many cases, appeared to be helping young kids with reading homework. From what I saw, it didn't look like fun - for anyone. Generally, Mom was annoyed and/or frustrated and the kid was either bored, frustrated or defeated.

Somehow, I don't think Mom scolding, "Read it again!" while the kid says, "But I read it three times" is very helpful. Maybe the reading wasn't smooth. Maybe the kid missed some words. But forcing someone to read something over and over and over? Something that probably is intellectually way below their level in the first place? (Most easy readers are too dull for toddlers, in my opinion.) How is that going to inspire someone to read?

I saw the same scene repeated, over and over, all around me: Moms browbeating children into doing their assigned reading. It was horrible. "Reading," as I saw it last night, contained no fun, no interest and no promise.

Why do we do this to our children? I understand that reading is an essential life skill. But when we take an essential life skill -- especially one that can be so enlightening and rewarding -- and make it nothing but work, who wants to learn? Why not, instead, nurture a child's natural curiosity? Read him stories that light his imagination? Read together, taking turns? Answer him when he asks what something says?

After what I saw last night, I'm not surprised that so many boys hate to read.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blue is My Favorite Color

...but not on the walls.

Not that I have anything against blue walls, per say. It's just blue CRAYON on walls that gets to me. Specifically, blue crayon on upstairs hallway walls after 9 pm at night.

I tucked my three- and six-year olds into bed at 8 pm last night. The three-year-old, however, was clearly not ready for sleep. I laid with him awhile, then headed downstairs to clean up the kitchen. I told him I'd be back soon to check on him.

While I was downstairs, I heard a mysterious "swooshing" sound upstairs. It sounded like Boy #2 rummaging his hand through the Lego bin, and considering that Boy #2 was up and creating is his room, that seemed like a plausible explanation. Occam's razor, right?

I. Was. Wrong.

The "swooshing" sound was my three-year-old, unleashing his artistic creativity all over the upstairs walls. And we're not talking a little streak here, a straight line there. We're talking serious scribbles. This boy clearly put some effort into this work. He touched virtually every single surface of the upstairs hall.

It's not the kind of sight that makes a parent's heart leap at 9 pm at night -- not when said parent feels a cold coming on, still has over an hour of work to do and hasn't even finished the supper dishes. It's the kind of sight that makes you wonder why you ever signed up for this parenting gig in the first place.

My three-year-old grinned at me. "Did you do this?" I asked. "I'm sorry," he said. "What are you supposed to write on?" I asked. "Paper," he said. "That's right," I said. "Crayons are for on paper, not walls. Tomorrow you're going to help me clean this up." Then I asked what was, to my mind, the most important question of the moment: "Where's the crayon right now?" "In the garbage," he said.

I led him back to bed, tucked him in again and mentally re-organized my to-do list. The walls would most certainly have to wait.

After a few minutes -- and a promise to return soon to check on him -- I headed downstairs to finish up the kitchen. Again, I heard a strange "swooshing" sound. I hurried upstairs -- and found my 11-year-old son scrubbing the crayon off the walls.

My heart, which a few minutes before, felt defeated, swelled with love. It's those moments -- unexpected tender moments of love -- which sustain parents and given us the strength to keep going. Those moments aren't nearly as common as the blue-crayon-on-the-wall moments, but they're the counterpoint that allows us to maintain some sense of balance. They're the rests in a musical score gone crazy.

Despite me telling him he didn't have to, Boy #1 scrubbed until all the crayon was gone. "It's easier when it's fresh," he told me. "And blue is one of the easiest colors to get off. Red and black are the hardest." Impressed by his knowledge, I asked him "How do you know?"

He smiled. "Don't look in the back of my closet."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Gardasil for Boys?

Should boys receive a vaccination that may prevent cervical cancer?

On the surface, the question seems ridiculous. Boys clearly lack a cervix, so why would boys require protection from cervical cancer?

The question isn't as ridiculous as it seems, though -- and it's one you may be pondering in the near future, given the fact that yesterday the FDA approved Gardasil vaccine for use in boys and young men ages 9-26.

Gardasil protects against HPV, or human papilloma infection. Certain strains of HPV are now known to cause cervical cancer; they also cause gential warts. Currently Gardasil is approved to prevent genital warts in males, although researchers hope that preventing HPV infection in boys will lead to a decrease in female HPV infection as well.

HPV, you see, is a sexually transmitted disease. An extremely common one. Almost all sexually active adults (75-80%) will acquire an HPV infection at some point in time. Most people manage to clear the virus on their own, without any apparent symptoms or complications. A small minority, though, go on to develop genital warts, cervical dysplasia or penile, anal or cervical cancers. No one is exactly sure why some people go on to develop serious complications while others clear the infection with no apparent problem.

In 2006, after extensive testing, the FDA approved the use of Gardasil in young girls. Of course, vaccinating young girls against a sexually tranmitted disease that may or may not cause them problems in later life is not without controversy. Add into the fray the fact that 32 deaths and numerous blood clots were reported after Gardasil vaccination and you can see why a number of parents are hesitant to vaccinate their daughters.

Parents of boys now face the same question. Should your son be vaccinated for a disease that may or may not affect him directly? Right now, the decision is completely up to you. To date, no government recommendations have been made regarding boys and HPV vaccination. (The government is expected to rule on that sometime later this month.)

Harvard researchers, meanwhile, have pointed out that vaccinating boys may be less cost-effective than vaccinating girls. Since girls are disproportionately affected by HPV complications, they say, it makes more sense to concentrate on vaccinating girls, not boys.

Where do I stand on this question? As a woman who's had an HPV infection that led to pre-cancerous cervical changes...that ultimately required treatment with a minor surgical procedure...that affected the ability of my cervix to dilate adequately during my last birth, I'll tell you this: HPV is no laughing matter. If vaccinating my boys means preserving the cervical health of my future daughter-in-laws, well, that's something to consider.

Clearly, I've made no decisions yet. Clearly, I need to know more about the risks, benefits and costs before making a final decision, and I hope that you too will take the time to study the issue carefully before making a decision on behalf of your sons.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Teachable Moment

My new favorite show is Glee, Fox's hit show about a high school show choir. It's over-the-top campy fun featuring teenage angst, a teen pregnancy and musical numbers to die for. It's also a great show to watch with my boys.

Take this week's episode. Head cheerleader (and president of the Chastity Club), Quinn, is pregnant. Her boyfriend, Finn, is overwhelmed but trying hard to do the right thing. But as the dad-to-be, his options are limited. Being the Dad, he says, means you have all of the worry and none of the control.

As a Mom-of-boys, I've often thought about the dilemma faced by teen dads. When a boy gets a girl pregnant, that child is his too, yet his vote is almost never decisive. She is the one carrying the child and therefore the one to decide the fate of the pregnancy. The teenage daddy is in a truly powerless position.

So we talked about that. We talked about the fact the if a boy gets a girl pregnant, he has very little say in what happens next. We talked about the fact that whatever happens, the boy's life will be forever altered. Soon, we'll talk about better decisions boys can make in advance, to avoid such a powerless position.

It was an important conversation, and one that was more meaningful because the boys clearly saw the pain on Finn's face as he pondered the future of his child. As Boy #2 says," Who says you can't learn anything from TV?"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ingenuity (or, What do Do with Autumn Leaves)

Here in Wisconsin, it is officially Fall -- cloudy skies, cool temps, winter jackets and lots and lots of leaves. And as far as I and my boys are concerned, there is absolutely one thing you must do with your leaves in the fall. Jump in them!

Boy #3 spent hours yesterday raking leaves from the front yard and transferring them to the side yard. (Near the picnic table, he explained. So you can jump off it.) He and his brothers had a blast jumping in the crunchy, cushy pile. "And don't worry, Mom," he told me later. "We cleaned it all up."

This struck me as odd, not the least because my boys are not exactly great about cleaning up after themselves. And cleaning up after a leaf pile? That was something I'd never even asked them to do.

Being a smart mom, I did not inquire further. Who I am to squelch their desire for order, their sense of responsibilty? I did think it odd that there was no neatly raked leaf pile (my idea of how they might have cleaned up) or leaves on the curb (would they possibly have jumped in them and then taken them to the curb for pick up?), but shrugged it off as one more unknowable thing of parenting.

Then I walked into the garage this morning and discovered their stash: One wheelbarrow, full of leaves. One garbage can, full of leaves. One five-gallon bucket, full of leaves. My boys, it seemed, decided to pack their leaf pile away for another day.

The same boys who can barely be bothered to pick up their rooms managed to clean up and store a pile of autumn leaves.

What have your boys done lately that's surprised you?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Boys vs. Girls

What do you think when you think "boy?" How 'bout when you think "girl?"

Koshii Eslinger of Moms at Work was absolutely, positively wanted a boy child. Why?

"I grew up in a household full of girls (5 kids, 4 of us girls) and I know all too well all the attitude, emotions and drama that girls bring. I have a ton of male cousins and it just seemed like they never went through all the drama that we all went through. Their household always seemed calm and peaceful. They weren't constantly bickering, holding grudges and yelling at the top of their lungs."

Clearly, this woman has never visited my house. :)

Now she has a girl, age two, and is very happy. I wonder, though -- if she'd have a boy, would her notions of "boy" and "girl" change? Have your ideas of "boy" and "girl" changed since having children?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Snapshot Sunday: My Fish!


I am not much of an angler. Boy #1, however, is a fishing fanactic -- and a pretty talented one at that. This summer he guided me to my very first Northern pike.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Lives of Boys

If you read the headlines at all, you might conclude that the boys are either violent or into sports. Today, my Google alert screams, "Teen to be tried as juvenille in Crofton boys' death," while also informing me that the Haddonfield boys soccer team blanked Gateway and that Rutger's Miehe won the 2009 Metropolitan Championship.

As a mom who blogs about boys, I'm reminded over and over again of the stereotypes facing our sons. Sports, violence, sex, music -- that's the focus of most news reports about boys.

That, of course, is just my unscientifc observation. However, a report commissioned by the organization Women in Journalism found that "the word most commonly used to describe teen boys in the media is yobs. Other common words were thugs, feral, louts, hoodies, evil, frightening, monsters, scum and heartless. More than 60% of the stories about teen boys concerned crime – 90% of which showed them in a bad light. Eighty-five per cent of a sample of 1,000 boys thought the press portrayed them negatively." (Did I mention that this is a British organization?)

One British journalist, though, set out to find the real boys buried beneath the sterotypes. Simon Hattenstone's article, "Teen Spirit: The Secret Life of Britain's Teenage Boys" is the most thoughtful, informative and sensitive piece of boy-journalism I've seen yet. It's a bit of a long read, but absolutely worth it. I guarantee it.

What do you think about Teen Spirit? On the whole, do you think boys are doing OK? Do you think the media unfairly presents boys as thugs or trouble?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Is More School the Answer?

President Obama may have won the Nobel Peace Prize, but he's certainly not a popular figure in our house right now. (And I'm an Obama fan!)

The reason for the discord? My boys saw this headline in Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Kids Need More Time in School." Needless to say, they vehemently disagree.

I do too. I'm all for academic achievement, but the idea that "the only way you can close the achievement deficit is by having kids in school longer" is absolutely ludicrous. As if sitting in a classroom is the magic key to knowledge.

Learning can happen any time, anywhere; the only thing that's required, I'm convinced, is a curious child who feels safe in his environment. A supportive adult helps too, but plenty of children learn even in the absence of adults. (Remember William Kamkwamba?)

Obama says that the additional time is necessary for our children to "catch up" to the rest of the world. Children in South Korea, he says, currently spend one more month in school -- every year -- than American children.

I understand the well-meaning intentions, but the logic just doesn't make sense. In Milwaukee, Public Schools Superintendent William Andrekopoulos has proposed adding 10 minutes to the school day and moving to a year-'round schedule. 10 more minutes in school is going to improve things?

If kids are currently failing in school now, why do we think that a longer school day is going to help? Instead of just adding on "more," how 'bout we change the "how?" If kids aren't learning with the currents means and methods, try other methods. If that doesn't work, try something else.

I'm reminded of Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.