Be your son’s best advocate at home and school

It’s a fact that many are overlooking: Boys are simply not thriving in school. Across all ethnic backgrounds and economic levels, girls graduate high school at higher rates than boys, participate in more extracurricular activities and, overall, earn better grades.

As Peg Tyre explains in her book, The Trouble with Boys (Crown Publishers, 2008), “… For the most part our schools, our communities and our elected leaders are ignoring boys’ widespread underachievement. Yet even as some folks turn a blind eye to the problem, the way boys struggle in school has begun to set off a cascade of effects large and small that are likely to change the fabric of our communities for generations.”

Tyre delves deep into the issues that many parents of boys face: What should I do when Johnny isn’t succeeding in school?

She offers some useful suggestions:

•Boys learn more when they participate in active and hands-on learning. Ask your son’s teacher how much time is being spent “in desk” (i.e. filling out worksheets, quiet reading time) and how much time is dedicated to hands-on, project-based and/or group learning activities.

•Boys absolutely need time to let off steam, and many children today receive less than 20 minutes a day of free, outdoor play. It’s simply not enough. Physical education classes have also seen cutbacks. Ask your school principal how much time is set aside each day for active play, a key component in the stress relief and overall health of our children. When your boys get home from school, encourage them to head outdoors for play. Better yet, grab that ball and glove and go play catch or go for a nice family walk after dinner.

•Boys need to be encouraged to read, and not just by mom. How do male role models in your family share the importance of reading with your son? Boys need to know that men do indeed read, not just for work, but for pleasure. Encourage your son to find books that match his interests: comic books, graphic novels, magazines-it doesn’t need to be literature. Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, Part 1: The Night of the Nasty Nostril Nuggets may not be War and Peace, but the important factor to remember here is that your son needs to be encouraged to read for fun.

Video game generation

Tyre also tackles the issue of video games. Will playing video games affect boys’ IQs? Could video game play time be contributing to the underachievement of boys at school?

Many teachers will agree, myself included, that boys who overplay video games can be harder to teach due to lower attention spans. Sadly, it also appears that video games seem to be contributing to the diminishing participation of boys in after-school activities and sports (that in turn improve socialization and in-school participation).

Kids themselves agree. A recent study by the National Institute on Media and the Family surveyed children on video game usage. Fifteen percent of children surveyed stated that they feel as if they spend too much time playing video games. One in 10 admit spending so much time video gaming that it has cut into time dedicated to homework and study.

Such results suggest that parents should limit video game usage at home. Set limits: If your son (or daughter) spends more than one hour a day on video games, pull the plug. We all know that kids secretly appreciate and adore parents that set reasonable limits, and they will soon learn to fill their free time with other engaging, healthy activities.

Tyre also points to the research of Judy Chu, who teaches a class on boys’ psychosocial development at Stanford University in California. Chu found “for boys, having at least one close confiding relationship was the single best predictor of psychological health and well-being.”

Our sons need to know that home is a safe place where they can share the ups and downs of school life, be supported in their efforts and guided in academic life with love and concern.

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