Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Flash Cards for Boys

You probably already know that most boys love toilet humor. And a parent of boys, you've already figured out that the traditional sit-down-and-learn approach doesn't work well for many boys. 

And if you're anything like me, you've probably used those facts to your advantage. Like many parents, I placed magnetic letters on my fridge, hoping to entice my kids to build words. Nothing. Until I carefully arranged the letters to make a sentence about poop. Soon, I had 5 boys -- my 4, plus a friend -- gathered around my fridge, competing to see who could create the grossest sentence. 

That's why I think these flash cards are a brilliant idea.

Susan Levy, the creator of ABC Flash Cards for Boys, emailed me recently to invite me to check out her product on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding site she's using to secure the financial backing she needs to launch her brainchild out into the world. I usually ignore emails like that. I didn't ignore this one, and I'm glad I didn't. As soon as I saw her cards, I had to learn more. 

BbB: Tell us a little about your ABC cards. How did you develop the idea? 
Susan Levy

Susan: A little over a year ago when I was working with my son on his ABC’s he was completely uninterested in the products that were available.All the flash cards available were boring and didn't hold his attention. He could have cared less that “A” was for Apple. I wanted to create something that would make recognizing, learning and remembering ABC's fun. This is when I started thinking about what held a boy's attention and made them laugh. The topic that stood out the most was anything and everything to do with potty humor. This discovery was what ignited the idea for Alpha Cards. I began joking with my husband and my now eight year old daughter about ABC’s..."for boys eyes only".  I started making a list in a notebook of funny potty words for each letter.

BbB: What kind of feedback have you gotten from boys? From parents and educators?
Susan: The greatest part of this experience so far has been the feedback from kids, parents and educators. Parents who have seen them are so excited for the prospect of having a  tool that will actually engage their child in the learning process. There have been numerous occasions when I have been able to share my cards with kids and each time their reactions confirms my expectations for the success of my product. Children get it immediately and just start cracking up. I also have had great support from teachers and principals; they are ready and willing to use what works to help kids to learn, recognize and remember their ABC’s.

BbB: Some people completely reject the idea that boys and girls learn differently, and consider any attempts to personalize education for “boys” or “girls” to be sexist? How would you respond to those people?
Susan: As a former classroom teacher (I taught first and second grade)I feel confident in saying that each and every child learns differently no matter if they are a boy or a girl.  The key is taking the time to find out what makes each child tick.  That is the reason a great classroom library is stocked with a wide variety of genres and subject matter.  Alpha Cards are meant to add another diverse teaching tool to the market.  Yes, it says ABC’s for boys, but that does not mean girls won’t  love them and learn from them too. My daughter enjoys them as much as I do! If something works in helping your child get prepared for a lifetime of reading I say, “use it!”

BbB: You’ve already exceeded your Kickstarter goal. What do you plan to do with the rest of the money?
Susan: The success of Kickstarter has been amazing.  The money raised is going to allow me to order a larger quantity of flashcards.  This will give me the opportunity to get them into more stores sooner!

Want to order a set of Flash Cards for Boys? Visit Susan's website,

Monday, March 25, 2013

Why I Want My Boys to be Just Like Pa

The real Pa Ingalls
I loved Little House on the Prairie when I was the kid. Loved the books, loved the TV series. I watched the TV show every week, and read and re-read the books more times than I can count.

So when I had kids, I naturally wanted to introduce them to characters and stories that had brought me such pleasure. I bought the books -- and my oldest, like me, read and re-read those books more times than either of us can count. We purchases Seasons 1 through 3 of the TV series, and spent many enjoyable hours watching together as a family.

But that was many years ago, before my divorce and before my youngest was a fully functioning big kid. I didn't want him to miss out though, so a few months ago, I read him Farmer Boy. This boy loves farming and outside work and hates school; I figured Farmer Boy would appeal to him on many levels, and I was right. He was thrilled when I told him there were more books in the series.

We've since worked our way through Little House in the Big Woods, and are currently reading Little House on the Prairie -- a good time, I decided, to introduce the TV show.

This weekend, we sat down and watching Episode 1 of Season One, "A Harvest of Friends." And I fell in love with Pa.

As a kid in the 70s and 80s, I'd always focused on Laura and Mary and their adventures. But now, as an adult who thinks and writes a lot about boys and men, I found myself drawn to Pa.

He loved his wife! His eyes twinkled when he looked at Caroline, and you could hear his love in the banter he shared with his wife.

He loved his kids -- and wasn't afraid to show his love. Pa was harsh when needed, according to his culture and time, but he was also compassionate and forgiving. He shared music and stories with his kids. He brought them along and involved them in his work and interests, at least some of the time.

He was honest and trustworthy. Pa was nothing if not an ethical man.

He was hardworking. The man built homes for his family with his own two hands, with minimal materials. He did whatever was needed to provide for his family, often working long, physical hours.

He was a good neighbor. Pa helped others; he wasn't too busy or too poor to assist someone else.

Pa, in short, is the polar opposite of what passes  for a "man" in today's popular culture.

About a year ago, I wrote a post about less-than-ideal male role models. The post started off with this comment from a fellow blogger:

The current culture portrayed by the media denigrates both men and women into sex-starved animals. 

Our boys are surrounded by inaccurate depictions of male strength and masculinity. Men, our popular culture implies, are strong and powerful. They sleep with a lot of women. They dominate other men. They are sarcastic and self-interested. And they are completely incompetent as partners and parents.

I'm not sure why the popular image of men veered in this direction. Men and women have made tremendous progress since the Little House TV series premiered in 1974. Men today are more likely than their fathers to be involved in childcare, to help with the household chores. But you don't see that on TV.

Instead, we surround our children with unhealthy and unrealistic images of manhood, and then bemoan the fact that boys today are taking so long to become men, that so few boys are growing into full, healthy men.

Do we not see the link?

What would happen if we once again presented healthy images of manhood in the media? What if we surrounded our boys with people like Pa Ingalls and Cliff Huxtable?

I don't know. But I'd support an effort to try.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep reading  and watching Little House with my boys.

Are you troubled by the media's depiction of men? How do you help your boys make sense of male stereotypes? Do you think Pa is a good role model? 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Best of the Blogs: Self-Care, Sex & Age Sixteen

Sure, I write a lot about boys. But as a mom of boys, I'm also aware of just how stressful parenting boys can be. And I've learned from personal experience that I have to take good care of myself if I want to take good care of my boys. After all, it's pretty hard to model patience and acceptance when you're running on four hours of sleep. 

Like many parents, though, I prioritize my kids and pay lip-service to the idea of self-care. That's why I love this post from Meagan Francis, aka The Happiest Mom:

Our culture loves to give lip service to self-care for moms, but we tend to trivialize the topic. I know I’m guilty of that myself. Feeling stressed or tired? Seek a little retail therapy; do something nice for yourself, it’s easy to say. Have a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Relax.
But while bubble baths, massages, and manicures are wonderful things, they’re no substitute for taking real care of our health. And that can involve messy, uncomfortable, inconvenient, and un-pampering processes like screenings, blood tests, mole removals and mammograms.
In her post, Self-Care is More Than Bubble Baths and Pedicures, Meagan, a mom of five,  reveals that she's recently been diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer. And while her prognosis is good, her post is a stark wake-up call: To truly take care of our kids, we need to take care of our health. 
The conviction of two teenage boys in the Stuebenville rape trial generated a ton of online conversation. I entered the fray myself, with Boys & Rape. (If you click over, be sure to read the comments. My readers added some great points!)
Marie Roker Jones shared some interesting thoughts over at Raising Great Men as well. In "The Real Talk We Need to Have with Our Sons About Rape," she wrote:
Our first mistake is rushing to tell boys what rape is instead of asking them "What is rape?"
Why did I not think of that? If the Steubenville trial showed us anything (and I'd argue that it showed us many things), it showed us that many boys, men and women are confused as to what, exactly, constitutes rape. And the best way to find out what misconceptions our boys hold is to ask them what they know and understand.
The Good Men Project also ran a great Steubenville-inspired piece. The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 offers a ton of specific ideas for teaching and talking to boys and girls of all developmental ages and stages. It's the single best article I've ever read about consent.
 Like me, Jen Singer of is a mom-of-no-longer-little-boys. Maybe that's why her post, "My Son Turned 16 and I Know Where the Time Went" touched me so deeply. 
Or maybe it's because, in a culture that so often pits parents against one another and parenthood vs. "real work," it's nice to see a mom who honors, recognizes and pays tribute to the millions of minute moments that go into making a man. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Are Single Parents Bad for Boys?

Are my boys doomed to failure because their father and I divorced?

Some, apparently, would say yes.

An article in today's New York Times declares, "Study of Men's Falling Income Cites Single Parents" and essentially blames men's economic woes on the fact that just "63 percent of children lived in a household with two parents in 2010."

The article offensively continues:

The single parents raising the rest of those children are predominantly female. And there is growing evidence that sons raised by single mothers “appear to fare particularly poorly”

Never mind the fact that families aren't necessarily either "household with two parents" or "single female-headed." Many, many children, including my own, straddle the messy in-between place. My kids don't live in a household with two parents, but they sure as hell have two parents who love them and spend time with them. 

Never mind the fact that studies such as this seem more than willing to heap the blame on single moms who, more likely than not, are probably struggling with a whole host of challenges, including poverty and lack of social support, which could also contribute to any perceived or recorded differences in their kids' educational and vocational achievement. 

Now, the actual study on which the article is based -- Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets & Education -- is actually a very thoughtful look at the challenges that boys face today. The study highlights the growing disparities between boys and girls and men and women, as well as the fact that marriage no longer confers the same kind of economic benefit for women that it once did. While women once married for economic security, many of today's educated, accomplished women see no need to latch onto a man, especially when so many men are struggling in the job market. The study even mentions the fact that high male incarceration rates due to tough drug policies have drastically reduced the number of eligible men in many neighborhoods.

It postulates that a lack of a consistent, positive male presence may harm and hinder boys' development -- and I agree.

But out of all the thoughtful things in the report, why oh why does the media have to seize on the single parent link? 

Because it's easier than explaining all of the complexities that affect boys and women and families? 

Probably. But we do a disservice to one another when we focus on only part of the problem. If our boys are ever again to have truly equal opportunity in this country, we need to acknowledge (and address) all of the factors that are stacked against them:
ALL of those factors, together, conspire to hold our boys back. Alone, none of them has the power to keep our boys from achieving great things. That's why boys of single moms (and dads) can and do excel: the marital status of your parent really doesn't matter all that much if you have a community of support around you. But when that community conspires against you -- when boys are suspended for drawing pictures of guns, when boys go days without experiencing a single positive interaction with an adult male, when boys are forced to stay inside just so they can stay safe -- the odds of success are no longer on your side.

So let's stop focusing on the "single" part of the equation, and open our eyes to the myriad ways we can help the boys around us. Let's work together for the good of all our sons.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Boys & Rape

Photo by sboneham
The verdict is in. The two boys accused of raping a teenage girl in Steubenville, Ohio have been found guilty.

The discussion, though, is not over. While pundits and Internet commentators parse the details of the trial and the crime, parents everywhere are trying to figure out how to prevent this from happening again. No one wants their daughter to be raped. And no one wants their son to be a rapist.

So letters like AskMoxie's "A Letter to My Sons About Stopping Rape" are circling the Internet, and moms (why does it always seem to be moms?) are saving the letter to show to their sons when the time is right. But do we really need long letters about sex to 8- and 11-year-old boys get the point across?

I don't think so. Remember, kids -- especially boys -- tune out words. Ever notice how simple, direct instructions catch your sons' attention so much better than long, rambling requests and explanations? That's because their brain is wired to catch essential info.

Boys (and girls) are also much, much, MUCH more likely to follow our example than our words. So if want to teach our boys not to rape, we need to:

1. Demonstrate consistent respect for humanity. Our kids need to see us showing respect for every single member member of humanity. Even the people we don't like. Even the ones who annoy us. Even the ones who act provocatively, in any way.

Our kids need to know that beneath every human exterior lies a person with a heart and soul and hopes and dreams, and I'm a firm believer that the best way to teach our kids this essential fact is to treat others with kindness and respect. Look people in the eye. Speak gently to them. Do not make derogatory remarks about others' appearance or history or behavior, and never, ever imply that someone deserves something due to the way he or she behaved.

Teach your children -- by example -- to give people the benefit of doubt. Teach them to treat others as they'd like to be treated.

2. Talk about our values. I will never be able to change the culture to conform to my values, and neither will you. I am also unable (and unwilling) to completely shield my boys from the world in which they live. But that doesn't mean that I need to stand silently to the side when TV shows, movies or music depict any kind of abuse or degradation of another human being.

When the media depicts an act or behavior you don't approve of, or seems to honor a celebrity for less-than-stellar behavior, talk to your kids. Talk about what you don't like. (My kids are well aware of what I think about Charlie Sheen's poor choices.)  Talk about why don't like it. Talk about what kind of behavior you value instead, and why. And whenever possible, serve up for-instances and examples of exemplary behavior.

3. Respect boundaries. It's next-to-impossible to expect our kids to respect other people's boundaries if we don't respect theirs. So when your son starts asking for privacy in the bathroom, give it to him. When he declines your offer of a good night hug, simply wish him good night; don't guilt trip him into hugging ol' Mom, or he'll learn that he should stuff down his internal instincts in order to keep other people happy.

Respecting your sons' boundaries may also mean listening carefully when he tells you he wants to quit a chosen and once-treasured activity. Certainly, you'll want discuss his reasons for wanting to quit, and it's best to ponder the decision together. But ultimately, you want your son to learn to trust his inner voice, the one that tells him when something doesn't feel quite right. And the only way you can do that is by listening to your son, considering his wishes and respecting his boundaries.

4. Speak up. Don't participate in the culture of silence. Don't keep shameful family secrets. All kids need to know that it's OK to speak up, OK to let someone know that something is wrong. So if you see someone being hurt, stop. Speak up. Intervene.

I once pulled the van over at the middle school when I saw two kids physically harassing another. I didn't know the kids, didn't fully know the situation, but had watched just long enough to know that what was going on was not fun for all involved. I parked the van, left the kids in the car, and got out. The bullies scrambled. I made sure the other kid was OK and stayed with him 'til his ride arrived.

I still don't know the kids' names. I don't know what, exactly, my kids took from that situation, but I'm pretty sure they know that 1) their mom is not going to sit by while a kid gets hurt and 2) that onlookers can help.

Am I being overly simplistic in thinking that these four steps can help stop rape? I don't think so. Rape was never about sex anyway. Rape is about power. Rape dehumanizes another. And learning to respect all humans, I think, will go a long way toward changing our rape culture.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Spring Gardening

This is what your garden might look like

If you have 4 boys

And it's early spring

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mattel, Moms & Toy Cars

Photo by jencu
The headline -- "Mattel Thinks Moms Need Help Playing with Hot Wheels" -- drew me in.

So did some of the comments, both within the article and elsewhere online. One mom said she found the concept "insulting," while another mom wrote, "But where do the ribbons go? Can I put play makeup on a car? I'm really confused. Which end is up, again?"

Clearly, Mattel has tapped into the culture wars, and that, precisely, may have been the point. ("If a debate breaks out around the value of this toy, that is really good for Mattel and very good for Hot Wheels," a child psychologist told Bloomberg BusinessWeek.)

So I'm reluctant to weigh in. I'm reluctant to help Mattel promote their agenda (which is to make money off of my family), and I'm reluctant to take seriously the comments of bloggers who were invited to Mattel's penthouse pow-wow to learn more about the play potential of toy cars. Because let's face it: being wooed by one of the nation's most powerful toy companies, in Manhattan, while drinking bloody marys, is a pretty heady experience. If Mattel served me mimosas and bloody marys for breakfast, I'd be pretty inclined to say that whatever they told me was a good idea too.

But in this case, I think Mattel is right. While it's always dangerous to make generalizations based on gender, I don't get toy cars.

Hi, my name is Jenny. I'm a mom-of-boys, and I hate playing cars. 

Now, the Mattel executive who foolishly stated that mom "has never played with [toy cars]" is not quite right.  I did play with toy cars as a kid. But only as a gender statement.

See, the boys in my class used to race Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars down a concrete drainage ditch near our playground. The boys raced cars. And as a budding feminist, I thought that girls should be involved also.  So I saved some of my money, headed to the local 5-and-10-cent shop and bought my very own vehicle, a blue van.

I took that car to school and I won some races. And you know what? I stopped playing soon after that, because I just wasn't all that into racing cars.

Of course, that wasn't really the end of my racing career. I had four brothers. And a sister. And while the six of us have many diverse interests, the one activity that we all enjoyed was racing toy cars down our Fisher Price garage ramp. The one that looked like this:

In fact, we loved that activity so much that this past Christmas, my sister gave each of us our very own vintage Fisher Price garage. That way, we don't have to fight about who gets the original.

But I'll be honest: In the nearly 3 months that I've had the garage, I haven't raced a single car down its ramp. Because I really don't enjoy playing with cars. Every single time I've played with cars, it's because I wanted to a) spend time with the people who were playing cars or b) prove that girls can do anything boys can do.

I don't get the appeal of toy cars. Not the way my boys do.

My boys -- every single one of them -- could make the "vroom, vroom!" sound of a toy car before they could speak. "Truck" was the first word of at least one of my boys. (Except he couldn't make the "tr" sound yet, and substituted the "f" sound instead.)

If you look hard enough, you can probably find a toy car of some kind in every room of my house. My boys have played with them in the bathtub, on PlayDoh, down the stairs and even through the front porch window. (That little incident ended up costing me $75.)

Me? I quickly bore of car games. I've tried to play along, but just can't seem to summon any real enthusiasm for what, to me, looks like the same thing over and over and over.

My sons, though, don't experience it that way. My sons see every race and car launch as an opportunity to learn and observe something new. This might be the car that make it all the way to the front hall!

When my boys play with toy cars, their imaginations are completely in gear. Sometimes, they're making up stories, as when my youngest manages an entire road crew of mini-machines on a chunk of PlayDoh. Sometimes, they're experimenting with science and physics. (The front porch window fiasco is just one example.)

Sometimes, I don't know what they're doing, and that's OK. I may not be innately attracted to movement and crashes, like many boys are, but that doesn't mean I need a lesson or tutorial in how to play with cars. It doesn't even mean that I need a toy executive to tell me why my son enjoys playing with mini-cars. It just means that I need to have confidence in myself and my children.

Successfully parenting children does not depend on shared interests, or even shared play. Successfully parenting boys does not require an understanding of the biological and social constructs of gender, though a basic understanding of both can be helpful.

To successfully parent my kids, all I need to do is watch my kids. I need to pay careful attention to what catches their interest, and support those interests. Then, I need to give them the materials, time and space they need to explore their world in a way that makes sense to them.

I don't need to understand why my boys are so intrigued with cars, and I don't need to get down on the floor with them. I definitely don't need a toy executive telling me that I need to buy his cars in order to enhance my sons' life.

All I need to know is that my boys enjoy playing with cars.

That's enough for me.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Life Lessons from Billy Joel & Michael Pollack

I'm a sucker for Billy Joel.

It might be all those mix tapes that my friend Bill made for me, way back in grade school. It might be the fact that Joel can deftly create a story, a mood and an atmosphere in a few words and phrases. And it might have something to do with the fact that I've always loved the piano.

But that's not why I want you --and your sons -- to watch this video. This video of Joel and Vanderbilt University student Michael Pollack caught my eye because of what it can teach you (and your boys) about success. 

Take a look. Then let's discuss. 

Pretty amazing, huh?

I think we can all agree that the opportunity to play for Mr. Billy Joel is a tremendous opportunity. But what struck me most about the video was the very active role Mr. Pollack played in his success.


1. He asked. Can you imagine raising your hand and asking Billy Joel if you could accompany him on the piano? I can't. I mean, Billy Joel is, like, a musical genius and a piano virtuoso. Who am I to ask? Besides, we're not supposed to ask those kinds of questions. Those, anyway, would be the thoughts going through my head.

But not this kid. He had enough self-confidence and guts -- and was willing to risk a NO -- for the chance to play with Billy Joel.

Life Lesson: If you don't ask, you might miss out on a lot of amazing opportunities. Ask for what you want. You just might get it.

2. He put himself in the company of a master. Clearly, this kid has some talent. (And, I'd guess, years of training.) But the best way to get better is to spend time with those who are even better than you. Watch them. Learn from them.

Michael Pollack knew this secret. And now, he's benefiting from the fact that a) his name is linked with Billy Joel's all over the Internet and b) Billy Joel himself gave him a shout-out and predicted that he'll be successful.

Life Lesson: Spend time with those who truly excel at whatever you're interested in. Seek out and find mentors for your sons too. If one of your boys is truly passionate about fishing, seek out other, more advanced fishermen, and see if they'd be willing to spend some time with your son.

3. Be willing to help others. Billy Joel did not have to say yes. He's already an international superstar, and I'm sure he'd long ago negotiated his speaking fee with the University. He could have kept the stage to himself and cashed his check and been none the worse for the wear.

But he didn't. He took a couple of minutes to share his experience and expertise with someone else.

Life Lesson: Very few of us succeed independently. We all rely on the help and support of others. So reach out a hand to help others reach their goals, every chance you get.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

In Defense of Boys & Guns

Photo by sean_oliver via Flickr

This is a PopTart. It's a pretty non-threatening almost-food that is commonly eaten by young children and adults who hope to recapture a moment of youth. 

Photo by Jennifer L. W. Fink

This is a boy. (One of mine, actually.) Adding a boy such as this to a Poptart does not turn the Poptart into a deadly weapon of any kind, even if it is chewed into the shape of a gun. Not even if the boy also says, "Bang, bang!"

John Welch, a 7-year-old boy in Baltimore, was recently suspended from school for -- you guessed it -- allegedly chewing his PopTart into the shape of a gun and saying, "Bang, bang!"

Of course, this is not the first time that a boy (or girl) has been suspended from school for fashioning a "gun" out of something else. And the debate surrounding Welch's suspension has been completely predictable. Many, many parents, including the boy's father, who called the decision "insanity." School officials cite privacy, but clearly feel the need to cover their collective behinds in wake of Columbine and Sandy Hook. What other possible explanation could there be for the fact young John's school sent a letter to parents that read, in part, "a student used food to make inappropriate gestures?"

Zero-tolerance discipline policies -- the kind of one-strike-and you're-out policies that have resulted in the suspension of kids for everything from hugging to making pretend guns -- have also been blamed. (And rightly so, in my opinion.)

But for too many people, this incident will be yet another vaguely disturbing news anecdote to discuss for a few days, at best. That's a problem, because John's run-in with school law represents a very clear collision course between boys, schools and society.

It is a well-known fact that boys aren't doing so well in schools these days. Girls have overtaken boys in almost every area of academic performance, and girls consistently lead boys in both grades and attendance. The proportion of men attending and graduating from college, for instance, has steadily declined; females now make up the majority of college students at every level.

Boys, meanwhile, are

  • 30% more likely to flunk out or drop out of school.
  • Four to five times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD . According to news reports, John has ADHD.
  • More likely to be placed in special education. Two-thirds of special ed students are male. 
  • More likely to face suspension or expulsion. 1 of out 5 black boys were suspended during the 2009-2010 school year. That's 20 percent! 1 out of 14, or about 7 percent, of white boys were suspended during the same year.

When will we see -- and acknowledge -- the link? When will a majority of Americans demand that our educational system be reformed to meet the needs of all students, instead of severely penalizing some for exhibiting developmentally appropriate behavior?

It is not unusual for boys to chew food into gun shapes. It is not unusual for boys to want to run around, nor for them to compete in physical and non-physical ways. (Think of the old, "Yeah, well my Dad can..." contests of one-upsmanship.) It's not unusual for boys to prefer a hands-on style of learning, for boys to be attracted to weapons and war games, or for boys to laugh and joke about "disgusting" matters and bodily functions.

Yet all of the above are considered unacceptable in most school settings.

Thankfully, none of my boys have been suspended from school. We have, however, had our share of ridiculous run-ins with stupid rules. Shortly after my second son enrolled in school for the first time -- he'd been homeschooled previously -- I received a note from his teacher, alerting me to the fact that my son had drawn a disturbing picture of an animal killing a human.

He drew a shark attacking a surfer.

He was 10 years old. (Today, he says, "That's what you get for letting me watch National Geographic.")

This year, my youngest son, age six, was forced to redo a drawing of a giraffe for art class -- because he drew a dark pile on the ground beneath the hind end of his giraffe and labeled it "poop." The drawing, I was told, was inappropriate. (Never mind the fact that giraffes really do poop, and that the poop was placed in an anatomically correct position.)

What do these incidents have in common? In every case, a young boy got in trouble for using his imagination to create something. A young boy got in trouble for expressing what was on his mind. (And we wonder why men are reluctant to share their thoughts and feelings?)

If we want our sons to learn, we have to be willing to meet them halfway. We, as adults, need to rediscover the line between fantasy and real-life. We need to remember and review the reams of research that suggest that weapon play is not to be feared in young boys; the playing and acting out aggressive fantasies and scenarios may, in fact, be one way that boys copes with the world around them, while learning what's OK and what's not.

We also need to remember that boys (and girls) are not mini-adults; they're kids. So while some Internet commentators suspect that young John was coached to say that he hadn't intentionally created a gun -- that he was trying to make a mountain instead -- I believe him. Have you ever watched a young child draw? Don't they almost always draw something, and then, as they work, as they see what they've made, declare it a "bird" or "gun" or whatever? I know my kids did -- and that the "subject" of their drawing could change as they colored. Should a boy be punished for honestly stating that his PopTart now looks like a gun?

I don't think so.