Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Book Club Part 2--The Trouble with Boys by Peg Tyre: Introduction through Chapter 3

Mom2MomEd Book Club: Part 2 -- The Trouble with Boys by Peg Tyre

If you didn’t catch our first book club blog post, please check it out HERE

We’ve just finished the introduction and first three chapters, and it was so hard to not read on immediately! We’ve pulled out some of our main thoughts and reflections on what we’ve read so far, and we’ve also outlined three action steps we hope you will find useful.

As a disclaimer, we want to be clear that in reading a book about the struggles of boys in education, we are not saying girls don’t have their own struggles. As women and with McKenzie having both a son and daughter, we are keenly aware of the struggles women face in education. However, so much attention has been drawn to the struggles of women at school over the last several decades and women have fought so hard for their rights in education that it is often assumed that boys are just fine.

As a result, boys often get overlooked when talking about education.

We hope you will take the time to get The Trouble with Boys by Peg Tyre (from your library or from Amazon HERE) and read along with us. Please comment and join the conversation here or over on Facebook!

Malea: I was immediately struck by the statement, “In many cases, there’s a big gap between what we think will help boys and what has proven to be effective.” As a private tutor and having spent hours upon hours in classrooms, I see this all the time.

Parents and teachers often have one idea of what their kids need that doesn’t quite match up with what’s really going on. It makes perfect sense when you consider the many competing interests and concerns parents have for their children and teachers for their students. It can be easy to overlook one issue in favor of another when so much is going on.

As a tutor, I am sought out far more often to help boys than girls. Parents describe their boys as “sweet” or “smart” or “trying so hard” yet their boys are lagging behind. They are disengaged, hate studying and doing homework, and are often in trouble at school. When they can’t sit still or stay quiet or turn in crumpled papers or any number of other unacceptable things, they receive messages over and over that they are bad or not good enough or will never reach the standards set out before them.

They give up.

Wouldn’t you if you were receiving messages over and over that you don’t measure up unless you change things that are fundamental to the very core of your being?

McKenzie: I was drawn to the statement, “I realized deep inside of me, that something was very wrong--but not with Chance.  The teacher didn’t have bad intentions, but I had allowed her to make my son the problem when really the standards of the school were unrealistic.”

I am so afraid of this for my son.

It seems like teachers point out every little thing a child does wrong or that doesn’t fit an unrealistic standard. The boy discussed above, Chance, says to his mom, “I just can’t be good.”

My own kids are people pleasers to a degree, but my husband and I have raised them to also be free thinkers and explore the world around them. They are going to go to school and ask questions like “Why are we doing this?” They are not going to blindly follow anyone if they don’t understand the purpose of a lesson or activity. That’s frowned upon in most schools. I fear that their natural curiosity will cause them to be labeled as problems.

After preschool last year, I realized that my son may need a different kind of support than he may receive at school—read more about his pre-K skills assessment here and you’ll understand why. I also realized as the mom speaking in the above quote did that it is my son that needs my support, not the school.
The Trouble with Boys by Peg Tyre
Chapter 1: Notes from the Front--The Edina Experiment
Malea: There were many things in this chapter that I found interesting, but none more than this: “There has been much in the popular press about high rates of depression among adolescent girls, and indeed girls are more likely to report feeling blue. But boys are much more likely than girls to kill themselves.”

My son and I were told more than once that he needed to “toughen up” and “man up” when he would become upset, even when his reaction was perfectly reasonable. On one occasion, my son had been hit hard enough in the face to break his glasses during a beginning sparring exercise at karate. This was against the rules of the exercise, but even more than that, it was startling and physically painful for my rigid-about-the-rules son. He immediately burst into tears. To myself and the instructor, it seemed like a reasonable reaction for an 8-year old regardless of gender, but another parent said, “He needs to man up.”

Another day with a different instructor, a younger boy was struggling to keep up. As his frustration grew, he began to cry. These were six, seven, and eight year olds in the class. This instructor tended to be militaristic even with young kids, and he began to berate the boy in front of everyone. The boy was told repeatedly to stop crying, that boys don’t cry, that this is karate not preschool. Of course, the boy started to cry harder.

I never saw that boy at karate again.

How damaging were that instructors words for all of the boys—and the girls—in the class? For the parents and guests watching the class?

When we tell our boys to “toughen up” or “man up” or “grow a pair” we are doing them a disservice.

We are telling them that their emotions are wrong and should be stuffed down within. Is it any wonder that so many boys are more likely to kill themselves than girls?

McKenzie: I was particularly interested in “Boys who need to move around a lot attract lots of negative attention. They get beat down early. They lose their spark.”

This is in the forefront of my mind right now with Hank entering kindergarten. He’s an active kid and will do best in non-traditional school environments. At the same time, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to get over stereotypes and I have to remind myself that “boys will boys” isn’t a healthy attitude.

A child who needs to move a lot gets ino trouble and takes in a message that they are somehow bad. The boy then gets upset and might start crying prompting a message to “toughen up.” It sets the tone for the rest of their educational careers and even impacts their lives outside of school.

Just one comment about a boy’s behavior, without any thought to why the behavior exists or whether or not it is normal or age appropriate or situation appropriate, can change a child’s entire perspective on life and can have lasting consequences.

Kids also often want to emulate their parents and will pick up on habits and behaviors of the parent they spend the most time with.

When my son was only two or three, he wanted me to paint his toenails. He saw me painting mine regularly and wanted to be like me. It was a bonding experience for us and had nothing to do with gender. One day my husband said to our son, “Boy’s don’t paint their toenails. You can’t go to school like that.” My son hasn’t wanted his nails painted since.

It’s pretty typical to view boys and girls as different, but it can change our children when we express these views. As soon as Hank was exposed to stereotypes about gender, he changed. He began to pick up a lot of lasting behaviors after being encouraged to be tougher or more masculine. Only time will tell if those changes are for the better or detrimental.

It can take just one comment to make lasting change in a child’s life, even if the comment is well intentioned.

Both of us: On the one hand, boys are told to “man up” or “be tough” and given messages that boys shouldn’t cry or be sensitive or be tender. On the other hand, when boys act out or are aggressive, parents and teachers say things like “Boys will be boys.” Boys who express emotions or move a lot receive messages that nothing they do is right. They have to toughen up and be more boy-like, but at the same time they then get into trouble for behaving in wasy ascribed to being male.

Kids need to interact with the world around them. They need to explore, move, and question. And they need to be told that emotions, movement, and exploration are acceptable regardless of gender.

Chapter 2: The Scope of the Problem--It's Not Just Your Son
Both of us: We were both drawn to the same portion of chapter 2: “We...should not simply accept with a shrug of our shoulders that boys will be boys” and “This is not just an America problem…[it’s a problem of] any industrialized nation.”

As touched upon above, we both find the idea of “boys will be boys” troubling. This allows truly bad behavior to continue, but it also harms other children who don’t fit certain stereotypes. Boys who are rough and tumble and active and aggressive are shrugged off as “just being boys” and don’t learn to control their own behaviors that may be harmful to others, but boys who are sensitive, quiet, or less active receive messages of somehow not measuring up to what boys are supposed to be.

We both have experienced our sons facing larger, more active and more aggressive, other boys at school and we both were told that these other kids were just being “boys.” We were told to be more understanding, even when the behavior of these other kids was putting our own children and others in the face of real physical harm. Our kids (and us as well) were receiving messages that they are powerless and that nothing could be done. But if our own kids then started to behave in the same manner, they were then told that such behavior was wrong.

Boys can’t win.

Either they are told to just put up with the behavior of others because “boys will be boys” or they are told that they are bad for behaving in the same manner. They receive messages that they can’t do anything right.

With that kind of double standard, is it any wonder that boys disengage?

Chapter 3: The Doubters--Why Some People (Mistakenly) Say Boys Are Doing Just Fine
Both of us: Girls are told they can be and do anything--jobs, career, college. Boys don’t get that same encouragement. If a girl wants to be an electrician or a police officer, she receives messages of “you can do it!” or that going outside of stereotypes is somehow cool or acceptable or worthy of praise.

But, if a boy wants to run a daycare or be a teacher or a dancer or a nurse, they tend to get made fun of or they face bullying. WHY?

When we allow this double standard, we fail boys.

McKenzie: It’s a luxury to be able to stay on top of the system and my child’s needs, but how do families who have to work manage? They have to trust that other parents are willing to look out for more than their own children. They have to trust that other parents, teachers, and community members will speak up and point out that “boys will be boys” isn’t a healthy attitude. They have to trust that a teacher will take time to understand a child’s need to move, question, and explore. They have to trust that others will notice when their sons (and daughters) are disengaging.

Raising healthy, well adjusted children really does take a village.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if all teachers were able to reach out to parents before the start of school to find out if there may be any potential issues or behaviors that might need to be addressed ahead of time? Teachers, parents, and students could work together from the start to manage expectations all the way around and to integrate atypical kids into the classroom in ways that support the child instead of tearing him down.

Addressing problems at the start of the year in a way that supports a student as they are may resolve an issue before it becomes a problem. It may have lasting effects for years and years to come.

Malea: My son is nearly 18 and lately has been talking about wanting to be an engineer. He definitely is not interested in learning to dance. He likes the colors pink and purple. He likes computers and technology. He’s not into sports unless it’s to discuss the physics involved.

As a single mom, I haven’t always been as available to volunteer in classrooms or activities or to intervene immediately if my son faced bullying, challenges in school prior to our homeschooling, and so on. I had to rely on other parents, teachers, and others involved in my son’s life to fill in from time to time. But, there were times when my son still fell between the cracks.

He was bored at school and got into trouble for staring out the windows.
He wasn’t interested in sports and was ridiculed on the playground for talking about the solar system instead of playing kickball.
He was sensitive and called a baby or told to man up if he showed his emotions.

He began to disengage at school, to hate social activities, and to developed serious social anxiety.

Thankfully, I recognized the signs and he had wonderful teachers in the couple of years before we began to homeschool. But, what if I’d been able to intervene sooner? I’ll never know...

The “boys will be boys” attitude that allows bullying and stereotypes to perpetuate and the “man up” mentality have both hurt my son and have lasting effects.

We were able to find solutions and support through various workbooks and  counseling, homeschooling, and changing our lives entirely with a move 3,000 miles away to New York City, and by seeking out friends who accepted my son as he is.

But, so many families don’t have those luxuries.

Before moving on to the next few chapters, we want to hear from you! What challenges have your kids, your sons in particular, encountered in school? How have you helped your kids or managed the school’s expectations in light of your child’s needs?
The Trouble with Boys by Peg Tyre
We also have four action steps for you if your sons (or daughters) are being singled out as “problem” students:
#1: If you can, spend time observing your child at school or in other similarly structured settings, preferably in a manner that you child won’t notice you watching. It can be eye opening and you may see behaviors (your child’s and those of others) that your child isn’t able to articulate clearly.

#2: Check in with your kids (both boys AND girls) about how they are feeling internally and allow boys to express their emotions and be supportive--allow boys to cry and express tenderness. Boy’s don’t need to be tough guys all the time.

#3: Be supportive of boys who want to go outside traditional gender stereotypes--point out examples of males who do jobs considered to be "women's work". For example, Mikhail Baryshnikov was one of the worlds best ballet dancers and exceptionally athletic and masculine at the same time. Point out male teachers and daycare workers, male nurses, and anyone else you can think of working in jobs often considered reserved for women. Also, point out stay at home dads!

#4: Finally, keep in mind that stereotypes hurt the kids that fit traditional gender expectations hurt those kids as well. Boys who love sport aren’t just “dumb jocks” or unfeeling brutes.

It’s less about gender and more about being HUMAN.

Identify the problem, validate the child’s feelings and concerns, and provide support.

Be sure to check out these other posts in our series on The Trouble with Boys by Peg Tyre:

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