Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Teens and Mental Illness

How do you know when your son's behavior crosses the line from typical teen to troubled? When -- and how -- should you intervene?

This Wall Street Journal article has some answers.

Have you ever dealt with a depressed teen? What have your experiences been with boys and the mental health system?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Speak Up!

It's the kind of story that breaks your heart. Two boys, ages 2 1/2 and 5, starved and beaten to the point of malnutrition and dehydration. Cops investigated and removed the boys from the home after the landlord reported not seeing the boys outside for some time.

While every single aspect of this story makes my skin crawl -- the guy was persuing a Master's in teaching? -- the most chilling line, in my opinion, comes at the end of the story. "I believe we're also at fault," a neighbor told the AP, " 'cuz we all saw something and nobody said anything."

According to the neighbor, theirs was very much a mind-your-own-business neighborhood. So while the neighbors saw and discussed the boys' absence, no one -- but the landlord -- did anything.

It's sobering, really, the power that we have. With a word, we can improve someone's day. With our silence, we can condemn a child to another day of starvation.

It's so easy to get caught up in our own families, our own jobs and our own lives But there are children and parents next to us, beside us, who need us.

Yes, we hesitate to interfere in others' lives. Our is a very disconnected, independent society, and to comment on another's parenting is often seen as an intrusion of personal privacy. But think about it. Remember how good you felt when the old lady at church commented positively on your boys' behavior after Sunday services? Or how much you appreciated the sympathetic looks at the grocery store when your son melted down?

The truth is, raising children is a group endeavor. We all have a responsibility to the children of our community -- to the children of the world. And while none of us can independently eradicate child abuse or world hunger, we can make a difference on the local level. Imagine if those neighbors had called the cops earlier, or if one had knocked on the door to offer a casserole.

Yesterday, I saw a woman sitting on the curb at WalMart. She was calm and peaceful. Her son was not. He was storming, pouting and otherwise whining. His mom just sat there, the wind blowing in her hair. I was curious, but didn't say a word. Then her words floated through my open van window: "We'll go in," she said, "when you pull it together." Instantly, I understood what was going on. I'd been there before, and I have to say that half the time, I don't look nearly as self-composed as that mom did. I rolled down my window. "You're doing a great job," I told her. She smiled, and sat on the curb.

It was a moment, but a moment that may have been significant. Imagine how different the world would be if we spoke up, helped our neighbors and supported their parenting.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Best of the Blogs: Parenting

Parenting is hard work -- but maybe not as hard as we make it. In Why Good Parenting is Less Work Than You Think, blogger Denise Schipani writes about some intriguing new research that suggests parents may have far less power over their kids' potential than we've been led to believe. It's an especially great read if you happen to have more than the typical 1.86 children.

Of course, parenting involves many decisions, from the mundane (do I let them watch one more TV show?) to the serious (is he mature enough to drive?). Mommy Minute tackles one of the more mundane issues in Raising Nature-Loving Boys in the Age of Wii, while Peggy Sue Brister examines boy-parents' first big decision, To Circumcise or Not to Circumcise?

Kris at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers is one of the wisest parents I know (even if she is weird and unsocialized!) Her latest act of parenting brilliance is Time for Mom. Stop over and see what she's been doing.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Selling Unhealthy Food to Kids

Full disclosure: I have two boxes of Scooby Doo-themed Gogurt in my fridge right now. Actually, make that one-and-a-half boxes. The boys hit those pretty hard today.

According to a new study, it's quite possible that my boys chose that yogurt because Scooby Doo was on the box. Knowing my boys, I absolutely concur. They're good, price-conscious shoppers, but given the choice to choose their own yogurt, they choose the Scooby Doo version over tubs of Dannon every time. And if you read the small print on the side of those Gogurt boxes, you know that the wildly colored product inside is not exactly a health food, despite yogurt's healthy reputation.

My boys' ability to be swayed by cartoon packaging is, unfortunately, all too common and entirely known to marketers. It's also having a detrimental effect on our children's health. According to a Pediatrics study published online June 21, boys and girls ages four to six said food tasted better when it came from a cartoon-enhanced package. Is it any wonder our children are selecting Trix yogurt and SpongeBob Cheez-Its?

Some, including study author Christina Roberto, are drawing parallels between Joe Camel of the past and snack cartoons of the present. I think they've got a valid point.

I've expressed my concerns about McDonald's marketing tactics before. And while I'm not entirely sure about the tactics, I don't disagree with the sentiment behind the Center for Science in the Public Interest's threat to sue McDonald's if the fast food purveyor does not remove toys from all future Happy Meals. Let's face it: If not for those toys, my kids would have chosen Happy Meals far less often. Often, my kids ordered Happy Meals solely because they wanted the toy. And while McDonald's rightly claims to offer healthy choices, my kids, like most, are well aware that Happy Meals come with fries or apple slices -- and that fries are the preferable choice.

Yes, I could put my foot down. I could insist on apple slices. I could boycott McDonald's and I refuse to buy any food branded with a cartoon character. But that doesn't change the fact that there's something inherently wrong with a bunch of marketers strategizing ways to attract kids to unhealthy goods.

That's my opinion. What's yours?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Books for Boys: Comics

Most boys -- even boys who hate reading -- find it hard to resist comic books. The attraction is obvious: active, colorful pictures; few blocks of text and ridiculous, courageous or hilarious scenarios. What's not to like?

If you live with a struggling or reluctant reader, I challenge you to check out some comic books. Leave them lay around the house. Watch as your "non-reader" flips through the pages.

Don't know where to start? Here are some ideas, based on recommendation from other parents of boys:

As your son gets older, he can progress to graphic novels. Many publishers, recognizing the popularity of comics and graphic novels, have even added comic elements to more traditional books. (Think Diary of a Wimpy Kid.) Others are comic-izing everything from historical events to classic works of literature.

Who knows? Your son just might be inspired to compose his own comic. I'm going to check out The Comic Book Project, which provides education, training and materials for teachers and schools who want to use comic books in the classroom. They also offer a make-your-own comic book kit, which might be just thing for Boy #2.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Zero Tolerance and Common Sense

As you may have heard, little David Morales created a patriotic-themed hat -- by gluing toy soldiers to a camouflage hat -- for a school project. His hat did not go over well. The principal called the boy's parents and told them that the hat wasn't allowed in school. The reason? The toy soliders carry toy weapons, and school policy forbids the wearing of images of weapons or drugs.

Naturally, much uproar ensued. David's parents expressed their view (which basically boiled down to, "It's a hat. Created to honor veterans. Why all the uproar?"), but ultimately abided by the prinicpal's decision. The case, though, had already attracted national attention. Ultimately, David received a medal from Lt. Gen. Reginald Centracchio, the retired head of the Rhode Island National Guard, who also met with school officials and asked them to review the policy. To their credit, the school officials did so.

"The event exposed how a policy meant to ensure safe environments for students can become restrictive and can present an image counter to the work of our schools to promote patriotism and democracy," Coventry school superintendent Ken Di Pietro told the Associated Press.

Always one to seize a teachable moment, I showed a picture of the hat to my 9-year-old son. "It's a pretty cool hat," he said. I told him what happened. "What is wrong with those people?" he said. "It's a little plastic toy, Mom. What do you think is going to do more damage, a little plastic toy or a pencil? But they allow pencils in school! There are thumb tacks on the bulletin board. Heck, you can do more damage with the rocks next to the playground!"

Methinks the boy has a point. What do you think?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

For the longest time I guess I thought he didn't give a damn
Hard to read, hard to please, that was my old man
On the day I left for college, it was nothing new
We never had that heart to heart - he had too much to do

He checked the air in my tires
The belts and all the spark plug wires
Said when the hell's the last time you had this oil changed
And as I pulled out the drive he said be sure and call your mom sometime
And I didn't hear it then but I hear it now
He was saying I love you the only way he knew how

A hundred twenty-thousand miles and six years down the road
A brand new life and a brand new wife and we had just bought out first home
When he finally came to visit I thought he'd be so proud
He never said he liked the place he just got his tool belt out

And put new locks on the door
Went back and forth to the hardware store
Said come and hold this flashlight
As he crawled beneath the sink
These old wires aren't up to code
And that circuit box is gonna overload
And I didn't hear it then but I hear it now
He was saying I love you the only way he knew how

Last Sunday we all gathered for his 65th birthday
I knew he'd stiffen up but I hugged him anyway
When it was finally time to say goodbye I knew what was next
Just like he always does, right before we left

He checked the air in my tires
The belts and all the spark plug wires
Said when the hell's the last time you had this oil changed
And as I pulled out the drive he said be sure and call your mom sometime
And I didn't hear it then but I hear it now
He was saying I love you the only way he knew how

Saturday, June 19, 2010

You Know You Have Boys When...

...your child points to a fading wound on his abdomen and asks, "Will that make a scar?" -- and pumps his fist with glee when you respond yes.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Best of the Blogs: Father's Day Edition

It's not easy being a man today. In Rethinking Manhood: The New Feminist Project?, author Tom Matlack writes about the need to re-invent masculinity. "The most macho thing in the world is to be a loving father. To be a faithful husband. To put food on the table," Matlack writes. "Even more macho is to come clean about how hard it is to try to try to be all those things at the same time. Women have been doing for fifty years. Now it's our turn."

Of course, being a hands-on parent of either sex isn't easy. An Ordinary Mom gives some great tips for handling the witching hour in Working the Swing Shift.

If you're ready for something deeper and darker, check out "Boys Will Be Boys": The Connection Between a Sex League Scandal and a Domestic Violence Murder. It seems a group of teenage boys out East had a competition of sorts, where they gained points for sexual activities with females. As heinous as they actions were, the rationalization some adults used to excuse the boys' behavior -- boys will be boys -- is even worse.

Finally, check out Unschooling Changed Us All Around, by Andrea at Say YES 2 Boys. Andrea has just completed year two as a homeschooling mom and like most homeschooling parents, she's grown in ways she never would have imagined.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Teen Boys Eat A Lot

That's the conclusion of a new scientific study. I know, right? Tell us something we don' t know!

But the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, could be reassurance for parents and teen boys in this day and age of eating disorders. While we tend to associate eating disorders, dieting and poor body image with girls, boys are affected too. Just today, another mom told me that her 7-year-old son recently asked if he was fat. (He's not.) And my 12-year-old son, a growing boy if ever there was one, frequently expresses concern about the weight he's gaining. He's gotten the societal message that weight gain is bad -- at 12-years-old.

Teenage boys, though, need to eat. According to the study, prepubescent boys average nearly 1300 lunchtime calories, compared to girls' 900 calories. Boys in their mid-teens typically consume around 2000 calories at lunch. While that might sound like a lot (particularly to our weight-obsessed brains), boys need those calories to fuel their tremendous growth.

If you son starts obsessing about his weight, obsessively counting calories or exercising in the extreme, pay attention. As Adelaide Robb, an associate professor of psychiatry, said in a 2007 Washington Post article, "A teenage boy shouldn't be eating what his 110-pound, dieting mother would eat. It's normal for a half-gallon of milk and a loaf of bread to disapper every 48 hours if there's a teenage boy in the house."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Books for Boys: Authors

Ever notice how some authors are more boy-friendly than others? My boys, for instance, loved the offbeat humor in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales, both by Jon Scieszka, a former boy and current author who's trying to liven up the literary offerings for boys. Scieszka, in fact, has a great website, GuysRead.com, which includes entire lists of books for boys.

Other boy-friendly authors include:

Matt Christopher If your son likes sports, you have to check out Matt Christopher, author of the #1 sports series for kids. He's written about everything from basketball and baseball to dirt bike riding and lacrosse. He's even written a series of non-fiction books about sports legends such as Dale Earnhardt and Michael Jordan.

Neil Gaiman An award-winning, living legend in the comic world, Neil Gaiman is perhaps best known to the masses for his book-turned-movie Coraline. Be forewarned, though: Gaiman has written everything from children's books to adult novels, and his themes can be a bit dark at times.

Shel Silverstein Is there a better way to introduce boys to poetry than through the work of Shel Silverstein? My four active boys actually begged me to read more poems when I sat down and started reading selections from Where the Sidewalk Ends during lunch. (Bonus: his website actually has some really cool activities for kids as well.)

Geronimo Stilton Apparently, some mice really know how to write. Geronimo Stilton is a talking mouse and the fictitious author of a wildly popular series of children's books aimed at kids ages 9-12. Would you believe that Geronimo Stilton is more popular in Italy than Harry Potter?

Do you have any favorite authors to add to the list? Who do your boys enjoy reading?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Definition of Futile

According to dictionary.com, futile means having no useful result. Like, say, vacuuming your living room only to discover a flood in your kitchen?

Life with four boys is anything but neat. Interesting, chaotic, loud, exciting, annoying and invigorating, but not neat. And for the most part, I'm OK with that. For the most part, I'm able to see the scattered toys, papers and books on the floor as physical evidence of their creativity and learning. But every now and again, enough is enough. Every now and again, I make an attempt to contain the chaos.

Today, while 3 boys were happily making/floating homemade boats in the kitchen sink, I headed to the living room to vacuum. I took a timer with me. 10 minutes of housework at a time is about all I can handle.

My timer hadn't even beeped when screams summoned me to the kitchen. In less than 5 minutes, my 4-year-old had managed to flood the kitchen. Water was EVERYWHERE -- on the floor, on the counter, on the stove, on my cell phone, running down the counters, seeping out of cracks, etc. It was the kind of mess that puzzles you for a moment because you have no idea how to clean it up.

"Towels!" I yelled. "Get the bathroom towels"

So my boys went running. Together, we slip-slided our way around the floor on bath towels. We also yelled at each other. The boys yelled at Boy #4; I yelled at them. By the time we were done, the kitchen floor was almost clean and 3 boys were in 3 time-outs.

That's when the word futile popped into my head. I meant to spend 10 minutes cleaning the house. Instead, I spent 20 minutes cleaning up the kitchen -- and I still have a load of towels to wash. Phyllis Diller had it right: Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.

Futile, indeed.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Boys and the Arts

I watched the Tony Awards, the Oscars of the theatre world, with my 12-year-old son last night. We critiqued the musical numbers, commented on the plays and predicted the winners. And at the end of the night, my 12-year-old son watched me jump off the couch and applaud my childhood best friend as he took the stage at Radio City Music Hall, part of the crowd accepting Memphis' award for Best Musical.

I was proud of my friend because he's my friend, but also because he and I grew up together, here in a small midwestern town where sports reign supreme. I watched, supported and shared his interest in the arts over the years, listenting to Phantom of the Opera in his room (on new-fangled CDs!) and applauding wildly the first time we saw Cats. We sang in choirs together, acted in plays together and attended the theatre together.

But while all of those activities were deemed OK (if not cool) for me, my friend fought an uphill battle because boys, you see, aren't supposed to like art. Boys are supposed to be manly and tough and strong. They're supposed to play football, not participate in show choir.

That was the message, at least, 20 years ago in this small town. Things are changing -- and I give a ton of credit to the choir director who came our junior year, who elevated the arts in our community -- but culturally speaking, the message still looms large. The arts are for girls -- or fags.

Don't believe me? In his 2002 report, Engaging Boys in the Arts, Scott Harrison cities a number of studies that uncovered stereotypical and homophobic beliefs about boys in art:

  • From Hanley, 1998
Singing is viewed a feminine activity - boys who engage in singing are feminine by implication... the peer group is hung up on the image that boys don't sing and those who do are gay or sissies or whatever - weak anyway

  • From Levine, 1995

American adults held...that only certain occupations were appropriate for homosexuals... They included nurse, librarian, airline steward, waiter, interior decorator, hairdresser and dancer, musician and artist...Homophobic men do not participate in sissy, womanly, homosexual activities or interests...Fear of being thought to be a homosexual thus keeps some men from pursuing areas of interest, or occupations, considered more appropriate for women or homosexuals.

Yes, the studies are older studies, but given the trouble my son's show choir has attracting male members, I don't things have changed as much as we'd like to believe. As far as art is concerned, our sons face some serious obstacles.

That's why I'm so glad my son watched the Tonys with me. He's been interested in music, dance and theatre from the beginning, and while we've encouraged his passions, nothing compares to a role model. When my son watched the Tonys last night, he heard performer after performer reference their dreams, dreams that once-upon-a-time seemed impossible. And when he saw me jump off the couch and my friend take the stage, he knew, somewhere deep in his soul, that boys from small midwestern towns can do anything they want.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Best of the Blogs

Parenthood is a full-time job (plus!). Picking up crackers, wiping snotty noses and reading All About Diggers for the 100th time doesn't exactly leave a lot of time for personal pursuits. And many, many parents, caught up in the whirlwind that is parenthood, let themselves go for a period of time. They push their dreams and passions aside while caring, exhaustively, for the needs of their children. But is that they way to go? Visit Boy Crazy to read a great post, On motherhood and art and our former selves. (You'll see a comment from me there as well.)

A lot of parents struggle with feeling of incompetence too. But as Jan Udlock learned, there's a big difference between "incompetent" and "learning." Read more at Imperfect Mom.

Interested in healthy, hearty, homegrown food for your family? Andrea at Say YES 2 Boys is busy reading about food, and she shares her favorites books with you in Books, Chickens and Boys.

Education Week has a great post about educational standards. No Child Left Behind may have been well-intentioned, but the standards generated in its wake are often nearly unobtainable, especially for many young boys.

Read anything else interesting this week? Send me a link!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Books for Boys: Series

It's the beginning of summer. If you're like most parents, you're probably trying to figure out how to keep your son reading this summer, especially given the fact that a lof of boys are less-than-enthusiastic readers.

Luckily for me (and you!), I'm a member of a fabulous group of writers who also happen to be parents. When one parent recently asked for book suggestions for her elementary school-aged son, the suggestions were fast and furious -- and so good that I'm passing them on to you. So good, in fact, that I'm only going to share their series recommendations with you today. We'll talk authors another time.

Here, then, a list of boy-approved book series:

Lemony Snicket and a Series of Unfortunate Events

A to Z Mysteries

Little House on the Prairie (start with Farmer Boy if you think your boys will object to the female protagonists)

The 39 Clues

Star Wars chapter books

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Alex Rider

Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Hardy Boys

Captain Underpants

Harry Potter

The Secrets of Droon

If You Lived... historical series

Zac Power

Time Warp Trio

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Warriors or Seekers book series

The Keys to the Kingdom

Peter and the Starcatchers

Hank Zipzer

Inkheart triology

Have any series you'd like to add to the list?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Nanny Question

Here in small town middle-America, nannies are pretty rare. Babysitters? Check. Daycare providers? Check. Nannies? Cue the crickets.

Never mind, though. According to Dr. Dennis Friedman, any woman who outsources the care of her son to another woman may be putting him at risk of future infidelity.

Dr. Friedman is the author of, The Unsolicited Gift: Why We Do The Things We Do, which, according to TIME magazine, "explores how a mother's love for her offspring can determine how those children behave as adults." And leaving your baby boy in the care of another woman, Dr. Friedman says, "creates a division in his mind between the woman he knows to be his natural mother and the woman with whom he has a read hands-on relationship," a division that essentially teaches him that it's perfectly normal to have a family woman at home and a mistress to "take care" of him.

Well then. Even if Dr. Friedman's hypothesis was true -- and his detractors are quick to point out that he provides no proof or statistics -- how exactly does he propose we solve this problem? Require maternity nurses to settle in for long chats with boy-moms, chats to explain that the mothers' presence is absolutely required to prevent their sons from cheating? Special food stamp affadavits for boy-moms, because, you know, moms must stay home the entire first year to ensure the future stability of society?

What ever happened to teaching responsibility and values? Whether a mom works or not, whether she physically cares for her son 100% or 60% or 35% of the time, she can influence her son -- not by her mere presence, but by her words and actions. And so, by the way, can his dad.

Ultimately, though, any blame for adult infidelity lies solely with the cheating adult. Our job as parents is to provide our sons with a firm foundation. From there, the choices they make are their own. If one of my sons decides to cheat on his wife in his mid-40s, I may feel many things, but guilt, I can promise you, will not be one of them.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Birth Control and Boys

According to the latest study by the Centers for Disease Control, 40% of teens aged 15 to 19 have had sex at least once. 81% of boys who engaged in sex reported using birth control during their first sexual encounter.

That's the good news, I suppose. Most of our teens are not having sex, and the vast majority of those who are sexually active are taking steps to protect their health and prevent pregnancy.

Buried in the "good news," though, is an extremely disturbing nugget of information: 18% of the boys surveyed said they would be a "little pleased" or "very pleased" if their sexual encounters resulted in a pregnancy.

Take a minute for that to sink in.

Almost one-fifth of the boys surveyed -- boys aged 15 to 19 -- would be happy if they impregnated a girl. Why??? Because it proves their manliness? Their virility? Because they hope to leave a lasting mark on the world? Whatever their misguided reasons, we need to get one message through to our boys, loud and clear: Making a baby does not make you a man. Living up to your responsibilities, whatever those responsibilities might be, makes you a man.

Kimberly Spector, an LA-based adolescent-health educator quoted in a WebMD story about the study said, "This report shows us that if we as educators and parents are going to take a wholistic approach to sex education, one that addresses all of the risks and most completely informs our students and children, we are going to have to start talking more in depth about the realities of parenting. Teenagers need to know that having babies is not just about cuteness, love, and a lasting relationship with a significant other, but also about dirty diapers, sleepless nights, increasing expenses, and often, emotional exhaustion."

The truth of her words is stunning in its simplicity. We need to teach our kids that sex may result in parenting.

I'm a proponent of open and honest conversations about sex and birth control. I firmly believe that our children need to know about sexually transmitted diseases and birth control options, because like it or not, we can't control our children's behavior. We can, however, influence their behavior, and maybe that's where we've been slacking off.

Most modern sex ed programs focus on mechanics, diseases and birth control methods. But how much time really is spent drumming in the idea that sex leads to babies, which leads to parenting? It's almost as if that reality has gotten lost in the details. It's a hard concept to teach -- I mean, how many of us really understood how difficult parenting would be? -- but one that's absolutely essential. Our boys need to know that sex doesn't end with making a baby, that making a baby is just the beginning.

On the other hand, I don't want our children indoctrinated with the inconveniences of parenting. Yes, having a baby results in dirty diapers, sleepless nights, increased expenses, and often, emotional exhaustion. But parenting can also be the greatest adventure of one's life, an opportunity for personal growth like no other. The hitch, though, is that you have to be ready. To fully partake in the joys of parenting, you have to be ready to set aside your own needs to focus on those of another, and that requires a maturity that most teens simply don't have.

As always, our kids are learning from us. My boys, especially the older ones, understand all too well that parenting is hard work, because they see me doing it day in and day out. They know that toddlers are extremely demanding little creatures because they've seen me deal with their highly persistent and strong-willed little brother. They also see, however, the deep love I have for each of my children, and I frequently talk about ways parenting has changed my life for the better. We also talk very candidly about teen sex, especially during teachable moments. FOX's hit TV show Glee contains a teen pregnancy story line, and we talk about it. Slowly, gradually, I think my boys are getting the message.

What about you? Do you think boys today "get" the idea that sex leads to parenting? What do you think needs to be done to improve our sons' sexual education?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Blogs about Boys

Welcome to a new weekly feature, a weekly round-up of some of the best boy-related blog posts on the web. Find something interesting during the week? Send me a link! You just might see it again next Friday.

On being heard -- Elizabeth at Boy Crazy writes beautifully and eloquently about the need to listen to our sons, and the way their words can get lost in the busyness of our days

Lessons from the class of 2010 -- Outnumbered Mom has a son graduating this week. She accompanied his senior class on a mountain hike and learned something about stragglers and leaders.

Boost kids' summer reading -- This time of year, a lot of parents are wondering how to incorporate reading into their sons' summers. Single Parent Savings has some excellent ideas, including a link to Guys Read, Jon Sciescka's blog. (Yep, he's the guy who wrote The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. If you haven't read it yet to your boys, run to the library immediately!)

Numbers right now -- From the time we first count their little fingers and toes, parenthood is all about the numbers. Visit 4 little men & girly twins for a numerical snapshot in time. I'll bet you can relate!

Can we lay off mom-judging now? Please? -- Let's face it: we've all felt superior, on occasion, to another mom. But as fellow boy-mom, blogger and freelance writer Denise Schipani points out, our judgements do more harm than good.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Boys Are All Right

My boys will tear each other to shreds over the simplest things. Lest you think I jest, I overheard one boy blasting another today because the one picked up a scrap of wood the other had just discarded.

So it really wasn't surprising to find Boy #3 in tears after he broke his brother's bike. He'd borrowed it to ride around the block and summoned me to our front door, almsot hysterical. In his hand, he held the bolt that had been serving as the bike's left pedal.

To be fair, Boy #2's bike has been in fair-to-poor condition for some time now. After the left pedal on his bike fell off, his Dad and Grandpa attempted to fix it, without much success. The bolt was clearly a stop-gap measure, but it was working. Without the bolt, the bike was pretty much useless and Boy #3 knew that. He also knew that the bike is pretty much #2's favorite plaything right now -- and that #2 has a volatile temper.

Boy #3 begged me for help. Fix the bike, he pleaded. I can't give it back like this! He'll kill me! I sent him searching for the lost nut; no luck. We attempted to secure the bolt with another nut scrounged from the garage. No luck there, either. #3, I said, you're going to have to tell him.

Can't you do it, he pleaded, tears in his eyes. I told him no. He borrowed the bike; he would have to deal with the consequences. Even if we'd "fixed" the bike, I told him, we'd be obliged to tell #2 what happened.

#3 reluctantly approached his brother. He led his confused brother to the bike and pointed to the broken piece through his tears. And to my surprise, #2 simply patted him on the head and said, You thought I'd be upset about that? It was going to break sooner or later anyway. If it wasn't you, it would have been me. He wrapped his arm around his little brother and the two of them walked off as I stood there, my heart swelling with joy.

Gifted Gender Gap

In New York City, there are more gifted girls than boys -- or so one would believe, glancing at one of the many girl-heavy gifted classes.

According to the New York Times, the city's current population of gifted kindergarteners is 56% female, despite the fact that males actually account for 51% of all students in NYC. Why so few boys? The Times article lists a number of overlapping reasons:

Testing bias -- New York schools use two different tests to assess students' ability. One, the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, has been field tested for gender bias. Unfortunately, the Bracken test only accounts for 25% of a child's gifted score in New York. The other test, the Otis-Lennon Ability Test, has not been tested for gender bias and has a strong verbal component, which may play to the early verbal abilities of young girls. The Otis-Lennon test accounts for 75% of a child's score.

Delayed social and emotional development -- Many (most?) young gifted boys are still working on skills such as sitting still, sharing and impulse control. Young girls typically develop impulse control and relationship skills earlier than boys.

Non-academic tendencies -- Not all gifted children want to sit around the discuss the classics. Some gifted kids, especially some boys, prefer to create elaborate block towers or imaginative inventions. Educators who focus only on traditional academic measures of giftedness may miss some gifted boys.

What can you do?

Educate yourself about gifted issues, boys and education. Boys are disproportionately represented in special ed classrooms, and are far more likely than girls to be labeled as "learning disabled," "troublemakers," or "ADHD." Learn all you can about male and female brain development and share your information with your sons' teachers and schools.

Ask how your local school evaluates giftedness. Some schools rely on teacher recommendations; others, like New York, focus on standardized testing. If you believe the method used by your school district is unfair to boys, share your concerns. Be prepared to back up your position and to suggest alternative evaluation methods.

Encourage your sons' interests -- even the non-academic ones. School has increasingly become a sit-down-and-learn kind of place, but most boys are still active, experiential learners. If your son wants to spend hours dismantling broken appliances, let him. Give him some basic safety lessons, hand him a screw driver and be available to answer his many questions.

Gifted boys have a tough row to hoe. Being smart still isn't considered "manly," and far too many of our gifted boys are ignored by schools and society. So stand up for your son. He needs all the help he can get.

Want to know more about gifted boys? Be sure to read Lisa Rivero's guest post, Guiding Gifted Boys.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Blogging Lessons for Parents

Have you ever watched a bunch of marathoners at the finish line? Some stride through confidently throught the finish (only to puke on the other side). Others grimace and groan, determined to push through to the end. Still others stagger and crawl, the tears streaming down their faces a mixture of pain and pride.

The Word Count Blogathon is like that. Some, like Jackie Dishner at BIKE with Jackie, make it look easy. The rest of us are just grateful to have finally reached the finish.

Today, bloggers from around the world come together to reflect on the Blogathon. There's a wrap party on Twitter (join us at 8:30 am PST, #Blog2010). Blog posts celebrating lessons learned are lighting up the blogosphere. So I began to ponder -- What did I learn from the blogathon this year? -- and realized that my top four lessons apply to parenting as well. Take a look:

Four Lessons for Parents and Bloggers

1. You can't expect greatness all the time. It's pretty hard -- no, make that impossible -- to create a magnus opus every day. The only way to blog every day is to let go of your need for perfection. You need to accept the fact that some days, you'll only have the energy for a haiku. Or a borrowed YouTube video. Parenting is the same way. Some days, we're on our game, whipping up tasty, healthy meals while planning interesting activities and excursions. Other days, we order in pizza and let the kids watch TV and IT'S OK! Parenting, like blogging, is a long haul adventure.

2. Reaching out makes a difference. One of the main benefits of the Blogathon is the chance to learn from and interact with other bloggers. Participants are encouraged to visit others' blogs, to comment, to guest post, to share insights. Last year, I was an active particpant in the Blogathon, visiting and commenting on almost every blog in the bunch. I went above and beyond and hosted weekly blog exhanges, thereby creating relationships with other writers that last to this day. (The ever-hilarious and consummate professional Ron Doyle is currently designing my professional website.) This year, I was overwhelmed with deadlines (a GOOD problem for a writer to have!) and didn't reach out to other bloggers nearly as much. As a result, my experience this time around wasn't nearly as rich. Parents, too, need to reach out to others. Sure, you can do it alone, but it's much harder. When you reach out to others, you tap into the strength of a parenting collective. You can borrow others' ideas -- or just feel better about your own life. Isn't it reassuring to know that other boys badger their parents for airsoft guns as well?

3. Putting yourself on the list is a very good thing. We all KNOW that we need to make time for ourselves. We're heard the airplane oxygen mask analogy more times than we can count. But in the midst of daily life, with one child begging for milk and another asking for help on the computer, it's all to easy to forget to pee. Blogging is the same way. My paying work, naturally, takes priority over my blog. But all too often, that meant I had no time or energy left for the blog. (Hence, my hideous posting record in the month of April.) To blog every day, I added it to my work calendar: Blog. Just 4 little letters, but by placing those letters on the calendar every day, I gave them weight. Listed next to my assignments, "blog" became a priority, a part of my work day. Parents need to do the same thing. Schedule "exercise," "haircut" or "girls' night out." Put it on the calendar and make it happen!

4. You don't need a plan. More than one blogathoner has stressed the importance of a plan when blogging on a daily basis. I, however, did not have a plan for the blogathon. No plan, no pre-scheduled posts. And you know what? I made it through! Parenting, by it's very nature, requires hundreds of on-the-fly adjustments -- and often, the unscheduled days are the best. It's OK to be a planner, but it's equally OK to take life as it comes. Successful parents (and successful bloggers) are creative and adaptable.

What did you learn from the Blogathon? Did you like the daily posts in the month of May?