Monday, November 19, 2012

Why You Should Care About International Men's Day

Did you know that today is International Men's Day?

I probably wouldn't, despite the fact that I'm raising 4 future men, except for the fact that I handle social media for a nifty organization called The Boys Initiative. And when one writes about boys, one tends to search out news that is boy- (and men-) related.

The fact that I'd never heard of International Men's Day says something, I believe, about the state of the world we live in. Even today -- November 19, 2012 -- there are people who consider the very idea of a day  for men to be a very bad joke. Don't believe me? Check out some of these Tweets:

there's an international men's day? Felt like we had all 365 of them

I think possibly my favourite claim made by international men's dayis that there needs to be more of a focus on men's health.

Happy International Men's Day, or "Monday"

Clearly, some people still feel that there is little need to focus on the needs of men and boys -- so little need that devoting even one day to raise awareness of those needs seems like too much.

But the fact of the matter is this: Men and boys are not doing universally well. True, men still run most countries. True, men still earn more than women, penny for penny, especially when expanded across the lifespan. And in many parts of the world, the simple biological fact of being male confers certain advantages and rights.

But it's also true that not all boys and men are doing well. Male suicide rates are far higher than female suicide rates. Men are less likely than women to seek medical care -- which means that many men don't seek help until their health issues become severe. And men and boys are increasingly falling behind academically: Boys are far more likely than girls to flunk or drop out of school, and far more likely to be found in special education classes. They're also less likely to graduate from college.

To ignore those facts is to ignore the very real needs of half of our population. And to attend to those needs -- to see what can be done to improve male health and education -- does not mean that we must forget girls and women.

I'm the mother of four boys, and while I strongly believe that girls and women should have equal rights and access to the world, I also believe that my boys -- and yours -- deserve a chance to be successful. I don't want my boys growing up in a world where being male is considered a liability; I want my sons to grow up in a world that accepts them as boys and supports them on their journey to become men.

We have a long way to go. The pendulum has shifted so far toward supporting and encouraging girls and women that I'm afraid we've forgotten the boys and men. I see it in school structures and educational styles that naturally dovetail with the learning preferences and styles of female students and teachers, in schools that demonize energy and experimentation and physicality. (For the record, I think girls could benefit from a more active learning environment as well!) I see it in social conversations: It's OK to talk about female health disparities, but not as OK to talk about the unmet health needs of males.

That's why International Men's Day exists. That's why our boys need our help. So this International Men's Day, I ask you: What are you doing to help the boys in your life?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Invest in Families, Not Meds

We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.
     -- Dr. Michael Anderson, quoted in today's NYT

If that quote doesn't send chills up your spine, I don't know what will.

Dr. Anderson (and other docs, also quoted in the NYT) are prescribing ADHD medications -- stimulants -- to  help young, low-income kids function in school.

Photo by Arenamontanous via Flickr
Let me repeat that again: Doctors are prescribing high-powered stimulant medication to young children because, in many cases, they feel it's the kids' best chance. These kids are poor. They live in low-income communities and attend low-income, often poor-quality, schools. And our politicians and public have decided that it's far too expensive to improve the kids' living circumstances or schools, so these kids are living -- and trying to learn -- in sub-par environments. The kids' school environment isn't likely to change. The families' financial situations are not likely to change. So the docs are using one of the only tools at their disposal: they're prescribing stimulant medication, which has been shown to improve school performance. These docs know that education is the kids' best chance at a better future, and they knew that the odds of the schools and communities suddenly meeting the very real needs of these kids and families is infintesimal. So they prescribe the meds.

 “We might not know the long-term effects [of stimulant use in young children], but we do know the short-term costs of school failure, which are real. I am looking to the individual person and where they are right now," Dr. Anderson says in the NYT article, Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School.

I am outraged. Outraged! OUTRAGED!

We value our children so little in this society that we would rather stuff drugs into their young bodies and brains than invest in programs and policies that could improve their world.

And boys may be disproportionately feeling the effects of this resistance to investing in kids' well-being. According to The Boys Initiative, 3 times as many boys as girls are diagnosed with ADHD. Who knows how many of them actually have ADHD, and how many are simply prescribed the drugs as a way of helping them fit into an educational mold that doesn't fully consider their needs? In the Times article, Dr. Anderson says "the children he sees with academic problems are essentially 'mismatched with their environment.'"

I've written before about the mis-match between boys and school. (Most recently, in Boys & School.)
And I've written before about the need to support families if we want children to succeed in school. (Most recently, in Supporting Families & Education.)

But I'm frustrated. I can write about these topics until my fingers are numb, but unless and until our society begins to recognize the importance of families, and value children, it will all be for naught. Our children, and our boys in particular, will continue to suffer.

We can talk all day about the importance of individual responsbility, and the role of government, and still get nowhere. Because at the end of the day, American is still a country that is long on talk and short on support. We say our children are the future, but vote down school referendums, demonize teachers and stash our children in big-box institutions that may or may not meet our kids' needs so we can work and earn the almighty dollar. We say that parenthood is an honorable profession, but refuse to support policies that would allow parents to spend meaningful time with their children.

We refuse to admit that raising great kids takes time. And we refuse to admit that it's important to invest in all kids.

Kids in poor neighborhoods are not throw-aways. They are kids, just like yours. It doesn't matter what their parents did or didn't do. It doesn't matter what their grandparents did or didn't do. What matters is that they have needs and desires and potential, and we, as a society, as turning away from them.

We are stuffing meds down their gullet instead of working to improve their lives.

That has to stop.

I can't stop this neglect alone. But I can, and will, write about it. I can, and will, work within my community to make sure that families have the resources they need to thrive. And I can -- and will -- vote for policies and politicians that support kids and families.

Our kids deserve support, not pharmaceutical shortcuts.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Musings on Manhood

My friend, Dr. Marcus Jackson, a middle school principal and writer, is currently surveying men about their definition of manhood. (If you're a guy, and have something you'd like to share, post your thoughts in the comments below.)

I'm intrigued by his survey, so I posted his question on my Facebook page. One of my brothers said Rudyard Kipling had already perfected that assignment in If. I hadn't read the poem in awhile, so I took another look. And you know what? I think Kipling and my brother are right on. Take a look and let me know what you think.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream---and not make dreams your master;
If you can think---and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And---which is more---you'll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Boys & School

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you know that my boys were homeschooled, and that all four of them are now in school full-time. If you're new here, well, you just found out.

The transition to school is going fine, for the most part. But let me tell you: My reasons for homeschooling remain as valid as ever. Homeschooling, I believe, gives kids the chance to follow and learn from their passions. School too often squishes passions and interests at the altar of standardized achievement.

The Red Zone

Case in point: My 6-year-old son, a passionate, self-motivated learner got in trouble at school the other day. Why? Because he was squirmy and talkative and social. You can read more about it over at Boys and Young Men: Attention Must Be Paid.

Here's an excerpt:

Not even one month into the school year, my son got in trouble – major, Red-level trouble – for moving, talking and socializing. The school gets into no trouble whatsoever for failing to provide my son with a learning environment that engages him, that takes into account his needs and knowledge and learning style.

The Red incident happened two days ago. Yesterday, the same son came home with what looked like a massive black-and-yellow bruise on his lower abdomen at belt level. After some talking, I that my son found an unopened black walnut outside at recess. (Never seen one? They look like this:

My nature-loving son wanted to play with them. But the bell was ringing, so he jammed one into the waistband of his underwear. His belt and jeans held the black walnut firmly in place, through at least half of gym class. And -- as you may have guessed by now -- stained his skin.

Later, I asked what he wanted to do with the black walnut.

"Throw it," he said.

Such a simple request. But he's in an environment that a) only offers limited time outside, b) provides very little time for free play and c) frowns upon the throwing of objects. One month into the school year, my son has internalized those facts. And resorted to smuggling black walnuts in his shorts.

How School Squelches Boys & Men

I tell myself he will be fine, and for the most part, he will. Fortunately, he still has two loving parents who read to him, who take him interesting places and who make sure he gets plenty of time in the woods and in fields. But I can't help but wonder how much more interesting (and joyous) his learning path would be if he was allowed to follow his own interests, instead of squashing them in the service of organized, institutional learning. And I can't help but feel sad inside for all the boys who know nothing more than school. In every school, there are boys, like my son, who are squashing their natural desires and curiosity to pursue educational goals that seem meaningless to them.

That's not to say that education, or even institutional education, is worthless. It is to say that learning, real learning, works best when coupled with real life.

Some will say that little boys (such as my son) need to learn how to sit down, be quiet and follow directions. And I agree: they do. But I'd argue that the pace matters. I'd argue that there's no harm whatsoever -- and many benefits -- to letting young boys (such as my son) learn through movement and active play and exploration. No harm at all in letting young boys gradually grow into self-control.

It will happen. I have seen countless, homeschooled boys grown into polite, well-mannered, socially-adjusted young men -- without ever sitting in a circle on a rug, filling out countless worksheets or losing recess.

What are your thoughts regarding boys and school? 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Porn & Parenting

Flickr photo by Mely-O
What would you do if you discovered porn on your 13-year-old son's computer?

This dad left his son a compassionate, non-judgmental note. As reported by The Good Men Project (a great site, BTW), the dad wrote his son a note, explaining that the son's visits to pornographic sites were probably what caused malware to mess up his computer. The note explained that porn sites are notorious for malware -- and directed the son toward some more reliable, not-malware-infested porn sites.

Now, that sounds pretty provocative. A dad, pointing his kid to porn? Essentially saying, "Here you go!"?

I think the Dad handled the situation perfectly, though, and here's why: In his next paragraph, he reassures his son. The Dad writes, "I'm not gonna make a big deal out of this. In fact, I'm not gonna make any size deal of this..You have nothing to be embarrassed about." He doesn't shame his son; he says, "hey, I understand."

And he very, very gently expresses concern for his son -- not by telling him that porn will warp his brain, but by saying, "I would like to not be back here so much though. You literally spend all of your time back here. I'd like to see you more often. I like doing stuff with you and miss it." (I"m going to assume that "back here" is the kid's room.)

Why I Think Dad Was Right On

Those messages exude love. The Dad doesn't tell his son that he, the son, is evil or bad or warped or perverted for looking at porn. And he says he wants to spend time with his son!

Some commenters have taken the Dad to task for not talking enough about porn and why/how it can influence and perhaps even damage burgeoning sexuality. I'm not troubled by that, though. As I understand the situation, the son came to the Dad with a problem: a messed up computer. He asked for help with the computer. And that's what his Dad gave him.

When our kids are younger, experts advise us to answer their sex questions as directly and simply as possible. "Where do babies come from?" does not always require a full scientific explanation. Sometimes, kids just want to know that babies come from Mom and Dad, instead of from the stork or cabbage patch or wherever else kids may have heard babies come from. We're advised to figure out what the kid is really asking and to answer that question without a lot of extra info, which may be more than the kid can absorb at that time anyway.

This kid needed and wanted help with his computer. He didn't ask for help, advice or lecturing re porn. Odds are, the son was mortified to discover 1) that his computer problems were porn-related and 2) that his Dad knew exactly what sites he'd been visiting to view porn. The Dad realized all of that. So he focused his response around the kid's expressed problem -- the wonky computer. He fixed that problem, and told his son how to avoid it in the future. Then, he expressed love, understanding and compassion.

Don't you think that son is now more likely to come to his Dad with problems (of all kinds) in the future? I do.

If the Dad had huffed and puffed, and said or implied that the kid's actions were disgusting or immoral or wrong, or, worse yet, issued some kind of punishment or ultimatum, don't you think the kid would be more prone to simply hide his actions in the future? Less likely to approach his Dad with problems and concerns?

Porn vs. Reality

Some commenters expressed seious concern that the Dad didn't spend more time talking to his son about pornography. Porn, as they rightly point out, has very little to do with real-world sex. But does Dad really need to talk about that with his son? At some point, perhaps. But now? At this particular moment? I think not.

I think that our kids learn far more from us than they will ever learn from the computer, TV, video games and other electronic screens. So while it's true that porn often objectifies women and presents a warped version of sexual relationships, I don't think that talking to our kids about the objectification of women is enough to solve the problem. I think we need to show them healthy relationships instead.

That doesn't mean you need to invite your son into your bedroom. It means that how you treat your spouse is important. It means that a son who sees his father treating his mother with respect will know that women are not objects. It means that sons and daughters who see their mothers and father in respectful relationships will know, intuitively and from their emotional core, that respect is the core of a healthy relationship. They may still watch porn, at least sometimes, but they will know that what they see doesn't represent reality.

An update to the original article said that Dad did have a brief, 5 minute conversation with his son after the son received the note, and that the Dad talked (briefly) about the differences between porn and real life. In my opinion, that's enough for now.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Making Connections, Gangnam Style

A deep interest in anything can lead to anything.

That's the philosophy that drove my homeschooling efforts and style, and the philosophy that underlies much of my parenting. It's also the reason I'm writing about Gangnam Style again.

As probably know by now, Psy's song is poised for world domination. The Korean rapper has been on Ellen. And The Today Show. And just about everywhere else. What you may not know is that Gangnam is actually an affluent section of Seoul, and that the song, Gangnam Style, is a commentary of sorts about that region.

Today, the Kansas City Star published an intriguing article that digs a bit deeper into the song and the music video's imagery. Turns out, the catchy song is actually a pretty clever piece of social commentary.

That's how learning works in the real world. You start with one thing -- a popular song -- for instance, and end up learning about geography and history and music and media and globalization.

Want to dig deeper? Here are some ideas for a Gangnam Style unit study:

Social Studies: Locate North and South Korea on a map. Look up and discuss the differences in government and standard of living between North and South Korea. Study the Korean War. What were the two countries fighting about? How and why did the US become involved?

Phy Ed/Arts: Learn the Gangnam Style dance. Develop your own trademark dance move.

Language Arts: Write your own Gangnam Style song: Pick as aspect of social or popular culture, and write song lyrics about it. Write a paper comparing and contrasting Gangnam with an affluent US city. Identify and discuss other songs/poems/stories that include social commentary.

Math: Compare the cost of living in Gangnam to the cost of living where you live. Compare and contrast average salaries and the cost of living in different areas of the country, or different countries.

Business: Discuss: Why is Psy so popular in the US? How can he capitalize on the popularity of Gangnam Style? Also discuss the firing of the California lifeguards who made a parody video.

Care to add to my list? What has Gangnam Style taught you or your boys?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Gangnam Style, Lifeguards & Work Ethics

I never heard of Gangnam style until about 5 minutes ago. But when the word appeared 3 times in a quick scan of Google news -- something about lifeguards, something about Britney Spears and Ellen -- I had to check it out.

Quick update, for the uninformed and un-hip, like me. Gangnam Style is a song, video and dance by Korean rapper Psy. Britney Spears, former teen pop queen and current X Factor judge, tweeted something about wanting to learn the dance, and talk show host and dance fanatic Ellen DeGeneres was all too happy to make it happen.

What does that have to do with lifeguards, work ethics, and Blogging 'Bout Boys?

Well, this: In California, a bunch of lifeguards decided to make a parody Gangnam Style video. They wore their work uniforms and recorded the video at work (but after work hours). Then they uploaded it to YouTube. And Facebook. Then, they got fired.

Apparently, the Internet and the entire world are blowing up over this supposed injustice. But I happen to think that 1) the terminations were justified, at least from what I'm reading and 2) this incident is a perfect opportunity to discuss appropriate work ethics with our sons.

I get it: Gangnam style is all the rage, parody videos are all over the place, and the lifeguards wanted to be part of the action. But what part of not-OK-for-work do they not understand?

Using your place of employment as a prop is not generally OK, unless you've obtained specific permission, and the sooner these kids (and ours) learn that, the better.

Our kids may be growing up in a culture that frequently blurs the line between personal and professional behavior, between private and public. But that doesn't mean anything goes. That means that we, as parents, need to double-down and give our kids some honest talk about what's acceptable and what's not.

Let's face it: our kids are growing up in a culture that bestows popularity on the basis of clicks. Like him or hate him, our kids all know about Justin Bieber, and they almost all secretly harbor the hope of someday starring in their very own viral video.

But...the real world still exists too, and our kids need to understand that employee handbooks still apply in the Age of the Internet. What gets me most about the story is that the lifeguards seem incredulous at what has happened as a result of their video. A Yahoo news story says that, "...most of all, they...are baffled over why they would be fired for doing something fun that they believed would bring positive attention to the aquatic center."

They, apparently, don't understand that concept of "at-will employment," which means that one can be fired at almost anytime for almost anything. They further don't understand why their employer would be unhappy to see that they were using city facilities in an unauthorized manner, after hours, in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with their employment.

So I guess we, parents of today's Digital Natives, need to be explicit about workplace ethics. This is what I hope to teach my children:

  1. Maintain professional standards and behavior at work. When at work, in uniform, or even just talking about your job after hours, always remember that you are a reflection of your company or employer. 
  2. Follow the rules. If the Employee Handbook states that uniforms may only be worn at work, while working, only wear the uniform at work, while working. If you have questions or concerns about rules of conduct at work, ask your boss or someone in Human Resources.
  3. If you think you have a great and fantastic idea for promoting your company, doing business, etc., discuss it with your boss FIRST. The lifeguards are right: an edgy and creative video may have increased business and/or brought positive attention to the aquatic center. But there's a right way and wrong way to do things. If you're not the boss, it's not your call. Take your good ideas up the chain of command, or go work for yourself.
  4. Assume that anything you put online will be seen by everyone. Think HARD before putting anything online! You can restrict your Facebook settings all you want, but once a picture or video goes online, it's very, very hard to control. Assume that your grandparents, your girlfriend, your future kids and all potential future employers will see everything you've ever posted online. If it's nothing you'd want your kids (or future boss) to see, keep it offline.
  5. Popularity and clicks don't really matter. As a professional writer, I understand the importance of cultivating and maintaining a digital presence. I'm told, at every single professional conference I attend, that unless I have followers and an audience, I may as well kiss my dream of publishing a book good-bye. But, while an audience is important, so is treating people nicely, and proving that you're easy to work with. Really, bosses (and editors) want employees (and writers) who play well with others. In the end, the number of views your video or website gets is not nearly an important as how you treat others. Treating people with respect and consideration, completing work on time and working together to achieve goals will earn you far more personal and professional respect than a silly video. Even in 2012.
What are you teaching your kids about work ethics in the 21st century? Do you think the city was right to fire the lifeguards, or do you think the terminations were extreme? 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Power of a Parent

I'm a sucker for feel-good videos. So when a Facebook friend posted a link to a singing audition of an  9-year-old boy -- Boy Breaks Down and Cries During Audition, Then Amazes Everyone -- I couldn't help but click on the link.

I'm so glad I did!

His voice is amazing. The look on Simon's face is priceless; anyone who can move Simon Cowell's face to softness is indeed amazing. But what impressed me most was the boy's mom.

When she saw that her son needed her, she was there. She didn't hesitate in the wings, letting all the "shoulds" and social proprieties and what-will-the-judges-think get in the way. She saw her boy in pain, and her mother heart responded immediately. Without asking anyone, without second-guessing herself, she went out to her son.

There's a lot of discussion today about helicopter parents and parents who impede their kids' development by handling problems for them. There's a long-standing school of thought that says moms can smother and inhibit their sons by being too close to them. And while experts and parents everywhere debate the merits of hands-on vs. hands-off parenting, individual parents are left to make the call. What's supporting? What's smothering? Where do we draw the line, and how do we know the difference?

I know this: the line is different for everyone. I have four children. Their needs are not the same. One may need to be pushed a bit in a certain situation, while even a subtle nudge for another in a similar situation might be enough to make him crumble. My kids are all individuals, and they need to be treated as such.

Enter the mother heart. Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of knowing your sons, of responding to your intuition. That's where your mother (or father) heart comes in handy. When you know your sons, your gut will also always tell you how to handle a situation. Your gut -- not any parenting book or blog -- will tell you what you need to do for that individual child at that particular moment.

Malaki's mom knew that he needed a hug, and she gave it to him, right then and there. She didn't hold herself back because some book or some expert says that she needs to teach her son resilence, or how to manage the world on his own. She trusted her heart, and hugged her son.

It worked.

Go back and rewatch the video. See that bit at the end, of Malaki and his mom walking off into the distance? See how he swings her arms and leans into her? That's the sight of a boy who is confident in his connection to his mom. He knows that she will always be there for him, and I don't think that's a dysfunctional thing at all. He's 9-years-old, and at 9, what he needs to know is that he's not alone. He needs to know that he is safe and secure. Later, from that secure base, he will explore and grow into the world.

The power of parenting never ceases to amaze me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why It Pays to Know Your Sons

Flickr photo by Thomªs'

I can't stop thinking about the blog post I read this morning on MOB (Mothers of Boys -- check it out).

The post, 4 Ways to Protect Your Sons From Abuse, was inspired, in part, by the sexual abuse of boys by Jerry Sandusky at Penn State University. Like my earlier post, Penn State & Sexual Abuse, it details steps parents can take to decrease the odds of their son being sexually (or otherwise) abused.

But the part that sticks in my head is this: One mom starting questioning her son (and others) after he came home from Penn State with wet hair.

Wet hair, friends.

This mom knew her son and his routines so well that she knew there was absolutely no reason for him to be coming home at that time, from that place, with wet hair. She was so in-tune with her son that she actually noticed his wet hair when he came home; she didn't just mutter a cursory "hi" without looking up from her computer or the dishes or whatever else she was doing at that moment. She saw her son, and she knew something was not right.

Now, I'm not saying that the other parents, those who didn't know about the abuse until later, were not in-tune with their sons, or that they didn't love them. What happened to these boys (now men) at the hands of Sandusky was reprehensible, and Sandusky is solely responsible for his acts. I don't mean to lay blame, at all, at the feet of the victimized.

But think about it. The warning signs of all kinds of things -- sexual abuse, physical abuse, bullying, trouble in school -- are subtle. And the only way to catch those signs to to know what "normal" is.

Normal varies from kid to kid. I've got one son who insists on wearing jeans and a certain baseball hat with his sunglasses perched atop just so, each and every day. My other three sons wear hats on occasion only, and it would be no big deal (and not at all unusual) for them to come home from somewhere without their hats. (Am I the only one whose boys have a tendency to leave things lay?) But if my jean-and-hat-wearing son suddenly came home without his hat, or with broken sunglasses, and didn't have a plausible story, I'd know something might be up.

The questioning mom was fully aware of her son's routine too. She knew he didn't normally take a shower or get wet while at Penn State. Do you know your boys' routines? It can be hard to keep up with all of the details, especially if you have more than one child. But when you know what usually happens at your sons' practices, or his usual after school routine, you're better able to communicate with him, and better equipped to notice when something is out of whack. If your son usually comes home from football practice all dirty and sweaty, and comes home with barely a streak on him one day, it's time to ask questions. The answer might be perfectly innocent and plausible: maybe the team watched and discussed video of their opponents before the big game. Ninety-nine percent of the time, in fact, variations in routine are just that: simple variations.

The only way to notice a variation, though, is to know the usual pattern. So pay attention to your boys. Know what they like, who they hang out with, and what they do in the course of a normal day. And then, be there for them, whenever possible. I know that it's not always possible to be home the moment your son arrives home, or to always be the one to pick him up from daycare or practice. That's OK. What's important is knowing your son, and sharing the information with others as needed. (Your childcare provider, for instance, should know all about your sons' likes and dislikes and regular routine.)

Know your son, and then act on your intuition. Some kids will come straight out and tell you when something is not right. Others will clam up. If your son refuses to tell you what's going on, or if something about his answer seems off, ask questions. Ask friends. Ask coaches. Ask teachers. If your intuition is nagging at you, keep going.

Odds are, you -- and your son -- will be glad you did.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mean Mom on Raising Boys

Spoiling kids is out; Mean Mom is in.

The cultural backlash against permissive parenting is now in full-stride (witness the New Yorker article, "Spoiled Rotten," Business Insider's, "Cities with The Most Spoiled Children," and ABC's "How Not to Spoil Your Child"), and Mean Mom Denise Schipani is surfing the tidal wave of parental angst. Schipani, a fellow freelance writer, published her first book, Mean Moms Rule earlier this year and has been in demand ever since. Today, for instance, she appeared on CBS New York to discuss her common-sense approach to parenting. Now, she shares her thoughts on raising boys here at Blogging 'Bout Boys. 

I asked Denise to reflect on her Mean Mom approach, cultural stereotypes and parenting boys.

What’s your “Mean Mom” take on raising boys?

Well, as boys are all I have (we have two sons, 7 and 9), it’s hard for me to say if my take would be different with girls, but I don’t think so, not in the broad strokes. My approach is about raising the next generation of men, and women, as independent, capable, respectful, honest people. And I called my approach – which entails saying “no” without apology; trusting my instincts and not basing my parenting decisions on what everyone else is doing; teaching kids life skills; and letting my kids own their failures as well as their successes – “mean” because it can be tough to do all the time, in a permissive culture like ours.

What do you think of the saying “boys will be boys?”

Is it too easy to just leave it at: “I loathe it”? Not enough? Okay, I’ll say more! Boys won’t be “boys”; they’ll be the people that they are. And I put “boys” in quotes because when people use that phrase, they mean “boys” are reckless, or messy, or impolite, or not as smart as girls, or not responsible for their actions. That’s not how all boys, or all men, or all people are. “Boys will be boys” ends up being a blanket excuse for poor behavior, and I’m not fond of excusing behavior! 
On the relatively lighter side, “boys will be boys” leads to unimaginative, reductive characters in commercials or sitcoms (usually husbands /dads) who are too stupid to know how to run a washing machine, take care of a child, cook anything, or keep their dirty feet off the coffee table, you know? On the darker side, “boys will be boys” excuses things like date rape and other, less extreme forms of disrespect for others.
So, yeah. I loathe it.

What’s your greatest challenge when it comes to raising boys?

Battling the idea that because they are boys, they will emotionally leave me, in a way that (I am told, over and over) girls don’t.  It’s an old cliché; something like, sons are yours till they take a wife, daughters are yours for the rest of your life. First of all, gag! But second of all, there’s the problem that lies beneath it, which is that we’re supposed to raise boys to leave us, and girls to stick close by. Neither of those seem like great options to me. It’s sad to think we have pressure to push boys to grow up and be “the man of the house” sooner than they need to. I’m under no illusion that my boys will want to hold my hand in public all that much longer (though my 9-year-old will, now, more readily than his little brother, whom I’m not even allowed to kiss in private; I do it when he’s asleep). And as much as I’m actively raising them to be independent men who want to move out and create their own homes and lives, that doesn’t mean we can’t be emotionally close, no matter where they end up, or with whom. (A psychic told me, at a party, that I’d have close relationships with my daughters-in-law, in part because my sons would pick partners who reminded them of me, which is one of the greatest compliments I could get!).

What do you like the most about parenting boys?

They are, for the most part, pretty straightforward – they are who they are and they say what they feel and what they want. Then again, I don’t like to stereotype. I was talking to a mom who has a daughter the same age as my older son, and was laughing at how dramatic her daughter naturally was, with everything. And she said, “see what you miss, having boys?!” I laughed, too, but to be honest, my boys can be pretty dramatic too. And they can be very emotional. 
But there is this: my sons are not in competition with me as a female in the house, which is kind of nice. There’s a psychological/developmental basis to this, and I believe it: in order for girls to become women, they have to model themselves after, or actively reject, who their mother is. Same goes for boys and their dads. That can involve competition and battles that I don’t see having with my sons, at least not as much as I had with my mother!
Also, they are very easy to get ready for special occasions. It’s, “Here, put this belt on” and, “do you want gel in your hair, or not?”, and we’re all set. I don’t have to share my flat iron, either. 

Boys today face a lot of pressure to be “cool” and “tough.” How do you help your boys deal with those pressures?

I think if I did see that happening with my kids, which so far I haven’t (my older son is fairly clueless about this stuff, thankfully; my younger son has been blessed by being a combination of pretty happy-go-lucky and also quite popular with his peers), I’d see it quickly, because it would be inauthentic, and I’d call them on it.
Plenty of parents of boys don’t, which probably doesn’t surprise you or your readers. In large part, when boys start playing the tough guy, they’re trying in a new role, testing it like a pair of shoes to see if it fits. And their parent can either call him on it, gently, showing him that his actions are inauthentic (“that’s not who you are! That’s not how we treat people!”); or they can ignore it or subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) encourage it. Just take a look at some parents – moms and dads – on sports sidelines. No one wants their child to be a loser or a geek or to be unpopular, but I’d rather my child be his authentic self. To be honest, there are times I wish my older son were “tougher,” because I sometimes think he’d move more easily through life that way, but then he wouldn’t be him. 


Denise Schipani is the mother of two boys, and the author of Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later (Sourcebooks). She blogs at MeanMoms Rule.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

PSA: Salt and Ice Challenge

Normally, I'm all about home-grown science experiments. My kids have whipped up all kinds of concoctions in the kitchen, and we've blown up more than our fair share of baking soda volcanoes.

But the latest, "greatest" DIY kitchen science experiment -- the salt and ice challenge -- is actually dangerous.

I'd never heard of the salt and ice challenge until today. More specifically, until today's headline news article, which features a large photo of a cross burned into a 12-year-old boy's back.

It seems the boy, his brother and a friend were attempting the challenge, which is making the rounds on YouTube. I hadn't heard about that either, so I clicked over the YouTube. And sure enough -- there are plenty of videos showing kids undertaking the challenge.

Normally, I wouldn't post videos that explicitly show how to do something harmful. But in this case, I think it's important to watch the videos.One, because I want you to know what your kids may be watching. And two, because I think these videos may have something important to tell us about boys today.

Did you notice that both videos feature boys? And not just one boy, but two. In both videos, there's a very strong undercurrent of competition. Each of the boys is trying to outlast the other. And all of them, I'm convinced, leave the ice/salt combination on their body a lot longer than they normally would, simply because they're trying to impress/outlast the other boy. In the top video, the younger boy claims victory because he didn't wash off his arm; he states this fact as a badge of virtual bravery and honor. In the lower video, the boy with the hat removes his ice cube when the pain becomes too intense -- but replaces it when it sees that his friend still has the ice in place in his arm.

Bottom line (which has been true throughout the ages): Boys will do some pretty dumb stuff to impress other boys. Together, they will take risks that they'd never take independently.

Other bottom line: Like it not, YouTube is a powerful presence in the lives of our boys' lives. They may claim to hate Justin Bieber, but they all know that he became famous after uploading videos to YouTube. They know who Ray William Johnson is, and most know who Smosh is too. As far as our boys are concerned, uploading videos of yourself doing dumb stuff is a good way to get famous.

I don't have any words of wisdom here, just words of caution. I'm an involved parent, our computer is in a central location and all in all, I monitor what they watch online. (And yes, it includes Ray Williams Johnson and Smosh.) I talk to my boys regularly about health and safety, and real bravery vs. bravado. But I could still see them falling for the salt-and-ice challenge. I could still see them heading to the kitchen to try it out -- because, really, how bad can it be? I can see them thinking, Salt? Ice? Those are just common household ingredients! I'd hope that they'd drop the ice before they caused serious damage, but if other boys are around, who knows?

What do you think? Would your boys fall for the salt-and-ice challenge?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quiet (Or, Why My Life Wouldn't Be the Same Without Boys)

Things have been quiet around here this week. My boys are on vacation with their Dad, so it's just me and the dog and the cat. And while I have plenty to do around here -- and am, in fact, relishing the peace and quiet -- I'm beginning to realize just how boring life with be without my boys.

Right now, the evidence of my boys is everywhere.

In the kitchen

 In the dining room

On the front porch

And in the backyard

But you know what? All of the "mess" is evidence of the many ways my boys have enhanced my life. My boys inspired me to take a trip to 3 National Parks and a Titanic Museum -- and allowed me to opportunity to re-experience the mountains and the South through their eyes. My boys have brought Legos into my home, and amazed me with their ability to recombine those colorful little blocks into a multitude of shapes and projects. They've taught me that even flat balls can be fun, and demonstrated how a little ingenuity can turn leftover packing material into pontoon boats.

My boys keep my on my toes. But they also continually challenge and inspire me. Thanks, guys, for making my world a better place!