Raising Boys to be Real Men

Boys are misunderstood.  Too often, they are disciplined and shamed by their teachers, parents, or grandparents because it is falsely assumed that good boys should act just like good girls.

Raising boys is a topic of numerous books, but one that stands out is Raising Cain, by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.  I had the privilege of hearing them speak at a conference, and their wisdom impressed me deeply.  Here are my notes and thoughts from two of their sessions.

Emotions.  Give boys permission to have an internal life. Give approval to their wide-ranging emotions, as long as they behave civilly. Their tendency will be to hide their emotions at every turn, but this is not healthy. Help them use words to express their feelings effectively, since it is not in their nature or in their culture to speak openly about their feelings. So, give respect to their inner life, and speak about your own inner life. Share your likes, dislikes, fears, sorrows, regrets, hopes, and weaknesses with each other.

Activity.  Accept the high activity level of boys as a healthy part of who they are. Give them a safe place to express their need for action. Embrace their physicality as natural, normal, and in need of channeling, rather than suppressing.  Boys need to learn to manage their physicality, but they do not need to be shamed for their exuberance.

Speak to them.  Talk to boys in their language – in a way that honors their pride and masculinity. Be direct with them. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  And when possible, use them as consultants and problem solvers. They will love feeling important to you. It is important to communicate with them in a way that honors their wish for strength and respect.

Re-define courage.  Teach boys that there is more to being a hero than physically defeating an enemy. Continue reading “Raising Boys to be Real Men”

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Growing Up Too Fast

Our culture tends to throw kids in the deep-end of the pool without teaching them how to swim. Kids are given adult freedoms and privileges, without the responsibilities and training to help them handle it.  Now more than ever, it’s essential to give kids age-appropriate responsibilities, privileges, and freedoms.

Knowing exactly what is and is not age-appropriate is no simple task.  The unpredictable nature of adolescence makes it especially difficult. Every day I am amazed at how 13-year-olds are both incredibly immature and mature.  With any group of seventh graders, there will be some kids with tremendous maturity and some with absolutely none.  Even more amazing is how a single student can seem so mature one moment and so utterly immature the next moment.  It’s a paradox that makes my job as a father, teacher, and coach constantly interesting and challenging.

This is not a new phenomenon, but I think it has grown from a simple stage of development to a societal problem.  The problem is that many children are growing up too fast without developing properly.  Kids are growing up fast but not well; they are not ready to handle the adult things that they are getting in to so young.

David Elkind wrote The Hurried Child in 1981 and has updated it several times since, in response to the fast-changing world of media and technology in which kids live.  He discusses the effects of television on kids in great detail.

Continue reading “Growing Up Too Fast”

Doodling

My wife, my 13 year old son, and I went to see The Taming of the Shrew outdoors last night in Forest Park.  Since it’s a free and first-class show, we had to get there very early to get a spot with any sort of good view.  Before the show started, just as we settled into our lawn chairs, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and I turned around to see a young man in his 20’s in hipster attire.  Remarkably, my brain processed that it was a student of mine from many years ago, and the name Dustin popped in my head.  He was as impressed as I was that I had remembered his name, since we haven’t spoken in probably 8 or 10 years.  We had a nice conversation for about ten minutes, catching up on the basics of our lives.

Dustin is now 23, graduated from college, working two jobs, and pursuing a career in cartooning. He seemed very happy to talk about how much he loves his art, even though it can be exceedingly time-consuming and often frustrating.

Continue reading “Doodling”

Too Much Internet, Too Soon

What was the most popular Christmas gift this year for 5th graders?  The Apple iPod iTouch.  What is the most popular gift for 6th grade birthdays and graduations?  Hands down, a “smart” cell phone.  And what do they have in common that makes them so popular?  The most coveted feature is the wireless internet accessibility, so that kids can surf the web, email, instant message, and play web-based games from their pocket-sized device at any WiFi hotspot (home, school, coffee shops, bookstores, etc).  At first glance, it seems like a really fun toy and a great way to keep in touch with preteens who are increasingly mobile.  In fact, it seems like a great safety device – a way to keep in touch, to know where kids are and what they are doing all the time, and to allow kids to call for help when needed.

But at what cost?  What are the hidden costs that counter these benefits?  How many parents are even aware that there are dangers in this wireless revolution?  Well, let me pull back the curtain a little to show you what is really going on in the digital lives of many children and teenagers (and these are not just a few latchkey kids).

Continue reading “Too Much Internet, Too Soon”

Helicopter Parents

D.H. Lawrence, the literary giant, advised parents and teachers a century ago: “How to begin to educate a child. First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning.”

At first glance this seems to be the worst parenting advice in the history of written words.  And to support that further, Lawrence had no children. However, there are situations in which this radical advice should be heeded: Helicopter parents. Paranoid teachers. Paralyzed administrators.

TIME magazine’s cover story (11-20-09) is a lengthy editorial, worth every bit of the 15 minutes it takes to read, especially if you are a hard-working, highly-committed parent or teacher under the age of fifty.  You may not be a hovering, smothering parent or teacher; however, you still might benefit from a good dose of reality about how we — sometimes in subtle ways — over-protect, over-nurture, over-schedule, and over-stimulate the kids in our care.

Sometimes, less IS more, when raising kids to be significant, successful adults.

Give it a read, and please feel free to leave a comment about it below (anonymous comments are welcome).  I’ll start it with my own comment.

The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting, by Nancy Gibbs, Friday, Nov. 20, 2009

21st Century Beauty vs. Girls

Beauty is complicated.  I feel sorry for our girls who have to grow up in this modern American society which twists and enlarges the meaning of beauty at every turn, every day.  It’s a hostile environment for the self-image of young women.

Sometimes, it helps to go way back in time to find some truth.  How about two thousand years?  First Century Christians were taught this about beauty: “Let your beauty not be external – the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes – but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)  The world has changed, and always will, but truth has not.

External beauty is elusive, shallow, and fleeting.  It’s mere eye candy.  However, inner beauty is obtainable by all, deeply-satisfying, and eternally valuable – it’s just not as immediate, apparent, or exciting.  Our girls need to know this as soon as possible. We can help them see real beauty, but as usual, it’s going to take some direction and a lot of love.

Related Article: Sexy Too Soon

Social Skills Needed: Apply Here

There is a social epidemic that has swept the nation.  While it used to be contained to young teenage girls, it is striking adults at an alarming rate in recent years.  It sounds like this: “Um, it’s kinda like, well, you know when you just can’t really, like, seem to just um say like what um you like want to say?   Like, um, do you know what I mean?

Rolling eyes

The epidemic is clearly some kind of communication disorder, but it lacks a name.  We need a good label.  How about Unintelligible Verbal Skills Syndrome?  Adult Communication Avoidance?  Teenage Verbal Nonsense Disorder? Arrested Social Development?  I think that one fits best – Arrested Social Development – because it’s really all about kids not growing up.

This communication deficiency is a sign of a larger problem.  It’s more than just the inability to make coherent statements with purpose and confidence.  It’s the larger problem of young adults not growing up in their speech, in their manners, or in other social skills.  It’s seen in adults who talk and act like immature teens, even preteens, in so many ways.

Historically, parents have taught young children to shake hands with adults, look them in the eye, and say something positive, such as, “It’s nice to meet you.”

Continue reading “Social Skills Needed: Apply Here”

The Solemn Process of Growing Up

Like Autumn, growing up is bittersweet.  Poet Billy Collins says it well.

On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the windowstockxpertcom_id129022_jpg_3daea408b338a37f876b18949df4f679
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Billy Collins



The Pitfall of Comparison

“Senior class president, she must be heaven sent.  She was never the last one standing.  A beautiful debutant, everything that you want.  Never too harsh or too demanding.  Maybe I’ll admit it, I’m a little bitter.  Everybody loves her, but I just wanna hit her.  I don’t know why I’m feeling sorry for myself.  I spend all my time wishing that I was someone else.” (from the song “The Girl Next Door,” by Saving Jane)

stockxpertcom_id279338_jpg_45a7232e3d293b7cabd3c49ee6b519b3
Adolescents ask themselves all sorts of questions related to their identity.  Am I athletic and strong enough to play varsity?  Am I good looking and fashionable enough?  Do I have the cool clothes and gear?  Do I like the right kind of music?  Do I have the right friends?

Even long after high school, we measure ourselves by how we compare with our peers.  Depending on our values, we assess our self-worth based on things like our socio-economic status (house, neighborhood, cars, vacations, private schools), educational level, beauty, fashion, fitness, career success, and even our volunteer activities.

It’s human nature.  We judge ourselves (and each other) in every area that we value.  If we value athletics, then that is how we compare ourselves to others.  If we value fashion, then that is how we compare ourselves with others.  However, we need to learn that anytime we compare ourselves to anyone else, we are falling into a pitfall, a trap without any good results.

There are three possible outcomes when we compare ourselves with someone else:

Continue reading “The Pitfall of Comparison”

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