Friday, April 19, 2013

What Do Boys Think?

I can talk and write about boys until the proverbial cows come home. But I will never be able to tell you exactly what boys think and feel and wonder. That's why I'd like your sons help.

I'd like to collect (and post) some short videos of boys, talking about topics and interests of concern to them. Got a boy who's interested in participating? Email me at I'll send you more info.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Business of Baby

I'm thinking 'bout babies today. Could be because my extended family just welcomed a new baby boy to the family. (Yesterday!) Could be because Jennifer Margulis' new book, The Business of Baby, came out yesterday. Or because I'm passionate about pregnancy and birth. Most likely, it's because it all goes together.

My brother and sister-in-law did not have the birth experience of their dreams yesterday. My brother, like most modern dads, imagined being in the room at the moment of his baby's birth. He wanted to support his wife. And he wanted to see and hold his baby as soon as humanly possible.

That didn't happen. Instead, he waited, alone and distraught in a waiting room while his wife underwent a C-section under general anesthesia.

Baby and Mom and Dad are fine -- and I'm thankful for that! But the whole thing got me thinking, once again, about the importance of information. Because these are the facts about birth in America, circa 2013:

  • At least 1/3 of births are via Cesearan. Rates vary from hospital to hospital, with some hospitals having C-section rates of less than 10%, while other deliver nearly 70% of their babies via C-section. 
  • Almost 1 in 4 women have their labor artificially induced. The rate of labor induction increased 140% between 1990 and 2007 (the most recent year for which I could find data).
  • Labor inductions and C-sections contribute to infant prematurity and health problems. As the number of C-sections and inductions has increased, so have NICU admissions. The link is so stark and startling that medical experts recommend avoiding labor induction or a C-section before 39 weeks of gestation unless absolutely necessary. 
  • More women die of childbirth-related complications now than in 1987. In 1987, the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. was 6.6 per 100,000 live births. In 2006 (the last year for which data is available), the maternal mortality rate was 12.7 per 100,000 live births. 

Expectant parents today have to navigate their way through a birth climate and industry that is infinitely more complex than it was in the past. There are SO many more options, ranging from prenatal tests to delivery choices, and parents-to-be are regularly asked to make decisions that affect the health of their baby and family.

Information is key, I think, to informed choices, and that's where The Business of Baby comes in. Margulis' book explores some of the not-often-talked about facts of pregnancy and birth and baby care. She covers everything from prenatal care options to birthing practices, infant feeding, diapering, vaccinations and well-child care, and she does it by analyzing the available evidence to support (or not support) what have become routine American practices. She finds that many routine practices are not grounded in science at all.

That's a startling statement, in and of itself.

But Margulis goes further. The evidence she finds strongly suggests that profit motives -- not science -- underlie what have become routine recommendations.

Whether or not you agree with or ultimately accept all of Margulis' conclusions, I believe that all expectant parents (and anyone who cares about birth in the United States) should read The Business of Baby. The only way to make informed decisions is to gather knowledge, and The Business of Baby brings to light a lot of important information.

Have a question for Business of Baby author Jennifer Margulis? Leave it in the comment section below. She'll be visiting Blogging 'Bout Boys in the near future to answer your questions.

Full disclosure: Jennifer Margulis and I are both members of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I'm also quoted in Chapter 7 of The Business of Baby. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tips on Dealing with Anger -- from a 7-yr-old Boy

If you have kids, you've gotten angry. Felt frustrated. And quite probably yelled at your kids. (More than once.)
Photo by isforinsects via Flickr

If you're an enlightened parent, the kind who is always striving to do better, who is working hard to raise kids who are kind and compassionate, you're probably felt guilty about yelling. Probably vowed not to do it so much in the future. With mixed success. Because what, after all, do you do with all of that anger and frustration?

Listen to Alissa Marquess' 7-year-old son. The insights he shares in "How to Get Ride of Your Anger" are startling in their simplicity and honesty.

Seriously -- click over and read her post. It's quite possibly the most fantastic and important parenting advice I've ever read on the 'Net.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Homework at My House

1st grade homework project
I might not be a fan of busywork-as-homework. I might even encourage parents to think long and hard about why, exactly, they want to to "make" their sons do their homework. But that doesn't mean that I encourage my kids to ignore homework or to disrespect teachers.

After reading my original blog post, How To Get Boys to Do Homework, Part 1, a reader asked:

Are you teaching your sons to ignore/disrespect authority figures?

The short answer is no.

This is what homework looks like at my house:

The boys come home after school. They settle into comfy chairs (after rummaging through the cupboards) and plug into their electrical devices. I let them. After spending their whole day in school, following the demands of an exterior schedule, I give them time to unwind. To do what they want to do.

After awhile, I ask about homework. Boy #2 usually doesn't have any; he typically gets all of his assignments done at school. Boy #3 may or may not have homework -- a math worksheet, a science packet, or part of a larger project that needs to be completed. He is also required to read and practice math facts each month, and receives a grade based on how many math minutes and reading minutes he's completed at month's end. Boy #4, a 1st grader, inevitably has to read a book. He might also have a math worksheet to complete.

Boy #1, my high school freshman, is completely responsible for his own work, and that amount of work he has varies on a daily basis.

I do not push or force Boy #3 to do his reading and math minutes. As I discussed in Homework, Part 1, he knows that his grade reflects his effort. He knows what he has to do if he wants to earn an A. And often, he puts off his reading and math minutes 'til the end of the month. He has done a whole "month's worth" of reading in just three days.

If he has homework, or a looming project, I will remind him of his work. I may set aside some time to work with him. For instance, when he did a project about tourist destination in our state, I scheduled time for a family field trip to the destination. I helped him figure out Power Point; he'd decided to do a Power Point presentation, so we figured it out together. I reviewed his work when he asked me to, and I offered him opportunities to practice his presentation. (Each student was required to present their work to the class as well.) But when he declined my offer, I respected his decision. To practice or not practice -- that is his choice. He will get the resulting grade. And if it's not as good as he'd like, perhaps he'll make a different choice the next time around.

Boy #4 and I read together after supper. Sometimes, he asks if he can read the book to himself, instead of aloud. I say yes. I know from experience that he always stops and asks me words he can't read anyway. ("Mom, what is e-x-c-i-t-e-d?") We also talk about his book; I can tell from his answers (and his questions) if he's read and understood the material.

Boy #1 handles his homework on his own. He manages his time. He decides how hard (or not) to work on a particular assignment. I provide support as requested. I've proofread papers and projects and offered feedback -- but only when requested. I've discussed ideas and books with him. (Right now, we're both reading Cannery Row.

That's it. I don't get into homework battles with my sons, because it's their work. They -- not me -- bear the consequences of the choices they make. And in the end, if one of my sons decides to settle for a lower grade on a particular project or assignment because he doesn't want to put in the additional work for a higher grade, I don't push or prod or argue. His choice. His grades. I care more about sons' overall development than I do about any one particular grade.

How about you? What does school work or homework look like at your house?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How To Get Boys to Do Homework, Part 2

Photo by Lone_F

Are you tired of the homework battle? Here are some nitty-gritty tips to help you (and your son) get a grip on homework:

(First, if you haven't already, read How to Get Boys to Do Homework, Part 1)

Talk to your son. Does your son think homework is a problem? Why? It's crucial to get your son's input. If he truly doesn't understand the assignment, encourage him to talk to his teacher. If he thinks the homework is pointless, ask why -- and listen to the answer. While many boys struggle with homework, you need to understand what's going on with son in order to effectively intervene.

Talk to the teacher. If you son's homework is of the truly pointless variety -- if you son already understands the material, or could easily pass the test or complete the rest of the assignment without doing part of the homework -- schedule a meeting with the teacher to discuss the issue. Ask for alternatives. Perhaps your son could test out of certain homework assignments. Or do half of the assigned problems instead of all of them.

Beware: your son may not want you to talk to his teacher. He may be afraid that the teacher may simply assign more (and more difficult) homework. And that may well be the case. If the teacher wants to assign additional homework, though, ask if it can be tailored to your son's outside interests, or completed in an innovative way. (Could he make a website instead of writing a paper? Submit a spreadsheet from his side business instead of re-creating one from the textbook?)

Let him go outside. Forcing your son to sit down and do homework the minute he comes home from school is rarely productive. Instead, send him outside or to the gym to burn off some energy. You can even intersperse homework sessions with activity -- say, a half-hour stretch of homework followed by 15 minutes of physical activity before returning to homework. Believe it or not, those brief bursts of activity will actually improve your son's productivity.

Talk to your son about his goals. What does your son want to do in life? Help him see how his homework directly relates to his life goals. And whenever possible, link your son's homework to his goals. A boy who loves video games, for instance, might fight nightly reading -- but might be willing to read a video game magazine for a few minutes before bed.

Get outside assistance, if needed. If your son is truly struggling with a certain subject, or needs help with study skills, consider enlisting a tutor. Ask around at school; your son's school may offer resources such as after school study times or check-ins with teachers. School personnel and other parents may also be able to point you toward private tutors. (College kids and retired teachers make great tutors.) Outside assistance may also be necessary if your son has a learning disability.

Make it meaningful. Consider setting up an incentive system to encourage your son to do his homework. If he absolutely must get it done for whatever reason -- your sanity, his learning, whatever -- consider offering him a personally meaningful reward if he does his homework X number of nights in a row, for instance. So instead of fighting about homework on a nightly basis, pre-agree on a series of behavior expectations and rewards. Maybe you can make him his favorite dessert. Or maybe you can go to the park or museum together.

Some parents tie homework to negative consequences -- you know, the old, if-you-don't-do-your-homework-you're-grounded! scenario. And while that can work, in the short-term, it only reinforces your son's belief that homework is odious. It also takes away your son's responsibility for his homework, because effectively, you become the one who makes sure his homework is done.

Make it fun. Inject a little fun whenever possible. If your son has to practice math facts, consider writing numbers on a white board and letting him "shoot" the right answer with a Nerf gun. (One homeschooling mom I know tried this technique -- and ended up with all the neighborhood boys in her kitchen!) Practice spelling words in chalk on the driveway. Or trace them in the sand. Read outside.

Do you have any other tips to share? How do you help your sons with homework?

Monday, April 8, 2013

How to Get Boys to Do Homework, Part 1

Photo by mrsdkrebs via Flickr
My boys are back to school today after a long and
wonderful Spring Break.

They -- like many other kids -- were less than enthusiastic about going back. And clearly counting the days 'til the tyranny of school is over for another year. (47, according to my 10-year-old).

How's school going for your boys? Are they loving it? Hating it? How's the homework battle going?

If getting your son to do homework is a struggle, rest assured: You're not alone. I have heard "he won't do his homework" tales than I care to count.

Why Boys Hate Homework

Often, the boy in question is not dumb. Quite the contrary: He's usually pretty intelligent. So intelligent, in fact, that he sees through the homework games. He knows that the assigned work is just busy work, a way to make teachers and parents and administrators feel like they're feeding his mind after school.

Very often, the boy is right. Take a look at your son's homework. Is it really helping him learn and understand a new concept? Helping him expand his mind? Enlarging his understanding of the world? Or is it merely asking him to repeat skills over and over? To fill in the blanks?

Most of the homework I see still falls into the mindless repetition category. And if that's the case for your son's homework, is it any wonder he's resisting it? Why would he want to spend precious minutes of his life doing something he already knows how to do, over and over again?

Boys also hate homework because it almost always requires them to sit and be still -- after hours of sitting inside, being still. Most boys would rather be out in the world  in some way, doing something with some meaning. Homework, instead, asks them to devote their time and attention to a very tiny little thing, in a very tiny confined space, towards no visible higher purpose.

Boys hate homework because homework, as far as they can tell, has no point. Boys tend to be very goal-oriented. But like most human beings, they like to work toward goals that have personal meaning. And while there may, perhaps, be a larger point to the homework -- your son's teacher, for instance, may believe that he must master square footage calculations in order to live successfully in the world -- you son doesn't see or value that connection. What he sees, instead, is that the homework is an obstacle between him and his goals.

So how you do get your son to do his homework?

Address Underlying Fears

First, take a step back. Why do you want him to do his homework?

That question might seem ridiculous to you. You might be screeching at me through the computer screen right now. But humor me.

Do you want him to do his homework because you're afraid that it will reflect poorly on you or your parenting if he doesn't? Because you believe that he must do whatever he's instructed to do? Because he'll get bad grades if he doesn't do his homework? Because he won't get into a good school if he doesn't complete his work?

Let me tell you something: Most of those worries and concerns -- most of parents' worries and concerns regarding their kids' homework -- reflect parental fears. Most of them have absolutely nothing to do with your sons' learning. To effectively support your sons' learning, you need to honestly and realistically admit and attack your fears, before turning toward your son.

Your kids' grades are not a direct reflection of your parenting abilities. Your kids' grades, at best, are an incomplete picture of their effort and ability in school. Academic grades are affected by a variety of factors, including student effort, effective teaching, parental support and the kids' overall environment.

One of my boys must read a certain number of minutes every month; part of his reading grade is directly aligned with the number of minutes he reads. If he reads X minutes, he earns an A. But if only reads Y minutes, he gets a B. My son knows the grading scale. He also knows how to read. As far as I'm concerned, his choices are ultimately what dictates that portion of his grade. Will I be a "better" parent if I push him -- force him -- to read X minutes so he earns an A? I don't think so. Will reading X minutes under duress make him a better reader? I don't think so; I think it's more likely that he'll learn to hate reading. So I let him control his own reading minutes.

Do you believe your son should do his homework simply because it's been assigned? Because we all have to do things we don't want to do? Think about this:  If your boss assigns you a task that you completed last week, would you say something? Or would you simply repeat the work?

If your son truly understands the material, do you really think he needs to do every single exercise? Why?

If you're worried about bad grades, again, ask yourself why. Do you think your son's bad grades will reflect negatively on you? On him? Do you think they'll keep him out of school, or make it difficult for him to achieve success in the world? Let me ask you this: When was the last time someone asked to see your report card? Do you believe that your success is truly linked to the grades you earned in grade school, high school or even college?

I write this as a former 4.0 valedictorian. Clearly, at one point in my life, I valued good grades highly. But you know what I've since learned? Good grades don't necessarily reflect learning. They don't reflect compassion or potential. And while it's true that my good grades helped me get scholarships, no one has asked to see my transcript in years. The truth is, no one cares what kind of grades I earned.

Instead, they care about how I make them feel. They care about my ability to work with others, my ability to communicate, and my ability to put ideas together. They care about my honesty and dedication.

Those qualities are what will bring your sons success as well. And your son can have those qualities in spades, even if his report card is littered with Ds.

So before beginning any homework intervention, separate your fears and concerns from reality. If your son is happy and joyful, learning and growing and engaged in the world, are the grades on his report card really so serious? Do your son's grades  reflect a problem with your son's learning, or something else?

Tomorrow: Concrete steps you can take to deal with homework 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spring Break

Know what my boys are doing for Spring Break this year?


Well, not exactly nothing. They're doing chores. Playing Minecraft. And eating Easter candy. Right now, they're outside playing a game called Survival with two friends. I don't know what exactly this game entails, except that there are two teams and it involves mud.

In other words, this Spring Break is almost completely unstructured and unplanned.

I felt bad about that at first. Last year, we went to Chicago over Spring Break.

This year, I neglected to pencil Spring Break into my work calendar -- and my boys' 11-day Spring Break co-incidentally coincides with a slew of April deadlines for me. The result? Spring Break at home.

And you know what? The boys are having a great time. After weeks and weeks and weeks of structured time -- think school and sports -- they're loving the fact that they get to decide what to do when. They're more relaxed than I've seen them in a long time. And they're using their brains and bodies to explore and experience the world.

Sounds like a perfect Spring Break to me.