Articles for Parents

Everything listed under: boys

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    How to Help Boys Thrive

    Not long ago, I wrote a provocative column concerning men and marriageability. At the end I asked, “What will we do to help our boys succeed in life and relationships?” The good news is, we can do all kinds of things to ensure that boys and girls have the same opportunities in education, earning potential and life in general.  

    Many researchers believe that the educational system itself plays a large role in how well boys do or don’t fare. Others cite technology and video games, the breakdown of the family, the focus on women’s equality or the lack of positive male role models as reasons - just to name a few. The reality is that ALL of these things contribute to whether boys succeed or fail. 

    Will Honeycutt, assistant director of counseling at The McCallie School for Boys, believes that technology plays a role in disconnecting boys from real life. Whether it’s binge-watching episodes of Game of Thrones over a weekend, playing video games or being entrenched in social media, technology is isolating boys from valuable experiences, interacting with others, engaging in conversation, learning emotional regulation and figuring out who they are as a person.

    So, how can we help boys thrive in an ever-changing culture? 

    Troy Kemp, executive director for The National Center for the Development of Boys in Chattanooga, Tenn., has some ideas we can use, whether at home or in the community. 

    BOYS AND GIRLS ARE NOT THE SAME

    Boys are different than girls - not better than - but different. Their bodies and brains mature differently, and they take in and process information differently. Boys and girls have varying strengths and weaknesses. 

    Research shows that teaching in educational settings leans heavily toward the strengths of the female brain, so actively addressing variety in learning styles and responses is a great place to start. Teachers can choose reading materials to reflect the interests of boys. Boys need to be surrounded by positive influences that will help them break through the popular culture’s narrow definition of manhood, and having more male teachers in the classroom would be a step in the right direction. 

    WHAT ABOUT AT HOME?

    Kemp feels that parents need to educate themselves about how boys (and others who wiggle) learn best and what intrinsically motivates them. Boys need examples of excellence, and using words and visuals can help them see things more fully and hold their attention. It is important that we don’t automatically assume boys aren’t trying if they don’t respond the way we want or expect. It may be possible that we didn’t clearly express our expectations, which may be very different from theirs.

    According to Kemp, boys also need to develop a proper vision for manhood and masculinity. In order to achieve that vision, they need to be exposed to male mentors who are balanced in their approach to life, learning, unconditional love and emotions. Having a community of men who are behind them makes a great impact and prepares them to mentor others. 

    “Boys need a crew and a cause,” says Kemp. “They need to know someone is counting on them and they can count on others. Boys need to know what is important to them is also important to parents…especially their fathers.”

    If you’re a father, get on your son’s level and don’t discount what is important to him. Give him choices within the choices you approve. Parents can model responsibility and healthy relationships with technology and everything else. 

    • Count the number of hours boys are in front of screens. Excessive amounts of screen time for children, especially boys, can be detrimental to healthy brain development. 
    • Make sure they are getting at least two hours of physical exercise every day. Don’t pull your son from a team or group if his grades drop. Work with the coach or group leader and use their power and influence.
    • Be intentional about teaching and modeling the qualities of healthy relationships and don’t assume they know what unhealthy looks like. 
    • Drive-time is a great time for conversation about what a lot of teens consider awkward topics. That way, nobody is looking at facial expressions. You can make it a media-free moment, too.
    • Take advantage of current situations to talk about accountability and responsibility, including healthy ways to handle anger or disappointment and treating people with respect who are disrespectful to you. 
    • Point them toward healthy role models beyond Mom and Dad - coaches, trusted friends and relatives - so they have more than their parents speaking into their lives and encouraging them on their journey into adulthood.
    • Spend one-on-one time with your child. Let them set the agenda for your time together. Fathers, try reading to and with your children. 
    • Volunteer together as a family. Go on a mission trip, help out at a local nonprofit or do something that involves giving to others. There is a real chemical reaction in the brain when we help others in need that makes us feel good and makes us want to do more acts of kindness.

    All of these things combined can help boys thrive in school and in life. Boys with a strong support system have a foundation to build upon as they enter manhood and make wise decisions about their future.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 5, 2019.


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    Sons, Sex and Standards

    An interesting study just released in JAMA Pediatrics should grab our attention. The study, a joint effort between Johns Hopkins University and The Guttmacher Institute, raises a warning flag about boys and early sex.

    Two national surveys showed that between 4 and 8 percent of boys reported having sex before they were 13. Black males were most at risk, followed by Hispanic males. In some metropolitan areas, more than a quarter of young, African American men reported having sexual intercourse before age 13.

    Young men having sex before age 13 usually haven’t received the appropriate sex education and services, and we need a better system to respond to their needs,” says Arik Marcell, M.D., M.P.H., senior author of the study and associate professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. 

    “The cultural double standard about sexual behavior in the United States, in which it is OK for young boys, but not girls, to be sexually active, has prevented us from effectively addressing male adolescents’ vulnerabilities and their healthy sexual development,” Marcell adds.

    Marcell explained that he has heard boys and adolescents talking about their first sex encounters in a way that suggests they didn’t anticipate, understand or know what was happening or what’s appropriate and what’s not. It is concerning that such early sex experiences happening to boys could be unwanted and influence their future health. Marcell and his colleagues used the survey data to attempt to get a better look at the scale and pattern of this problem across the nation.

    The investigators underscored the importance of recognizing young people’s perspectives, and also noted that reports of whether a first sexual experience was wanted may be influenced by gender and race expectations, stereotypes, peer pressure and coercion. Parental education also appeared to have an impact. For instance, boys whose mothers graduated from college were 69 percent less likely to have sex before 13.

    As to why there are such variations in early sex rates, Guttmacher Institute researcher Laura Lindberg says, "Adolescent males' attitudes and values about their sexuality and masculinity are influenced by the social context of their community. 

    “Our findings reflect that where you live exposes you to different social norms about manhood," she added. "The variation across settings means that programs for young people's development and health need to be tailored and responsive to the communities they are in."

    In many instances, it seems like massive strides have been made when it comes to educating kids about sex, but this study clearly indicates there is still work to be done. All young people need to receive sex education and parents need to be ready to have open, honest and ongoing talks with their kids. 

    The best time to start talking with children about sex is when they are young. Look for teachable moments, such as when you see a pregnant woman or a peer's new brother or sister, as a natural discussion-starter.

    Focus your conversation with elementary-age children on:

    • the correct names of sexual organs and body parts,
    • explaining sex and reproduction,
    • personal boundaries,
    • pregnancy, and
    • building healthy relationships.

    If they are old enough to ask questions, they are old enough to receive correct answers, but make sure to clarify your child’s question. When you understand the question, answer it briefly and simply. Sometimes kids have questions, but they are afraid to ask. This is why it is important for parents to look for opportunities to discuss these important matters.  

    Talking about sex is just as important as talking about drugs and alcohol, smoking, stranger danger and pornography. If this feels overwhelming to you, you might want to practice talking privately with your spouse or another adult first. The most important thing is that conversations are happening and you are an askable parent.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 14, 2019.

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    Boys and Porn

    In Dr. Phil Zimbardo’s TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talk about the demise of guys, he states that boys are flaming out academically and wiping out socially with girls and sexually with women.

    In response to Zimbardo’s talk, Dr. Gary Wilson explains why guys are flaming out and what we can do about it. He bases his reasoning on years of research concerning the neuroscience of reward, sex and bonding.

    According to Wilson, most boys seek porn by age 10. At that age, a brain that is suddenly fascinated by sex drives the boys. Thanks to high-speed internet, boys have access to unending novelty. The boy's brain releases dopamine with each new image, and he will keep going as long as he can keep clicking.

    Eventually, the brain wires itself to everything associated with porn such as: being alone, constant clicking, voyeurism, shock and surprise - instead of learning about real sex, which involves interaction with a real person, courtship, commitment, touching, being touched and emotional connection.

    Porn Is A Serious Addiction

    In 2009, a Canadian researcher attempting to study the impact of porn could not find any college males who weren’t using porn, so he had no control group for his research. He asked 20 male students who had been using porn for at least a decade if they thought porn was affecting them or their relationships with women. All of them said they didn’t think so. However, many of these males were dealing with social anxiety, performance anxiety, depression and concentration problems.

    “Of all the activities on the internet, porn has the most potential to be addictive,” says Wilson. “Everything in the porn user’s life is boring except porn.”

    Interestingly, there are thousands of men, young and old, who are giving up porn. Why? Because it is killing their sexual performance.

    A guy in his 20s reports, “I have been to psychologists and psychiatrists off and on for the last eight years. I was diagnosed with depression, social anxiety, severe memory impairment, tried numerous medications, dropped out of college twice, have been fired twice, used pot to calm my nerves, and have been approached by women but they quickly left because of my weirdness.

    "I have been a hardcore porn addict since age 14,” he says. “I stopped porn completely two months ago. It has been hard. I have quit all of the medication I was taking. My anxiety is nonexistent… My memory and focus are sharper than they have ever been and my erectile dysfunction is gone. I feel like I have a second chance at life.”

    “Widespread youthful erectile dysfunction has never been seen before,” Wilson says. “This is the only symptom that gets their attention.”

    The high-speed internet has taken porn to a new level and it is messing with our children. Watching porn digitally rewires boys’ brains in a totally new way for change, constant arousal, novelty and excitement. This creates real issues when it comes to romantic relationships that grow gradually and subtly.

    Do your children know what healthy relationships look like? Have you taught them about the perils of the internet? Are you paying attention to their computer use?

    It’s time to take back our boys. Their health and future relationships are hanging in the balance.

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    What Parents Need to Know About Preventing Teen Pregnancy

    Teens want to know what adults think, even if they don't act like it.

    • Adults are powerful figures in the lives of young people and hold the key to preventing teen pregnancy.

    • An MTV poll found teens ranked their parents as their #1 heroes.

    Forget about "The Talk." It is an 18-year conversation about love, relationships, values and sex. Start early and let your kids know that you are an "askable parent."

    • Teens tell us their parents tend to give them information too late and in too vague a way.

    • They can get clinical information from school or books (and they already know more than you think), but what they really seek are parents who are comfortable talking with them about relationships, how to handle peer pressure to have sex, how to say "no" without hurting feelings, and other such issues.

    Don't let your daughter get involved with a much older guy.

    • Teen girls who date much older guys are more likely to report later that they didn't really want to have sex in the first place and are less likely to use birth control/contraception.

    • Among mothers aged 15-17, about one in four has a partner who is at least five years older.

    • Older boys and men can lead younger girls into very risky situations and relationships.

    • Seventy percent of teenage pregnancies are caused by guys over the age of 20.

    Sometimes, all it takes for teens not to have sex is not to have the opportunity.

    • Many teens say that if they had something to do after school that's fun and interesting, they are less likely to experiment with sex, drinking, and other risky activities.

    • If parents can't be home with kids after school, they need to make sure their kids are busy doing something constructive and engaging.

    Parents need to make girls feel valued and important. You can't give a girl self-esteem, but you can give her the opportunity to develop it -- encourage her involvement in sports, volunteering, drama classes or other activities that make her feel talented and confident.

    • Girls involved in sports are half as likely to get pregnant as non-athletes, regardless of how much sex education they have. They are more likely to delay sex until they are older, and to use protection when they do so.

    • Another study shows that girls who are active volunteers throughout their high school years have half the teen pregnancy rates of the average for their peers.

    • If you give a girl something positive to say "yes" to, she'll be much more likely to say "no, not yet" to sex and pregnancy.

    • Remember, condoms do not protect the heart.

    Talk to sons as well as daughters. The nearly 1,000,000 teen girls who got pregnant each year don't do it alone.

    • Boys need to know that teen pregnancy happens to them, too. We need to talk to boys - not just girls - about consequences, responsibility, sex, love and values. Surveys show that boys want to do the right thing.

    Learn the facts yourself. It is a scary world out there. Sexually transmitted diseases have multiplied at a frightening rate in the last 30 years.

    • We have gone from two to 38 identifiable Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s), and some of these – including AIDS, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), and Herpes – are incurable.

    • HPV causes more than 90 percent of all invasive cervical cancers, and condoms do not prevent HPV. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 45 million Americans have HPV.

    • In addition, chlamydia is rampant and is frequently symptomless. Chlamydia is a leading cause of infertility in later life.

    Adapted from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy Tips for Parents

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    8 Ways to Help Boys Become Men

    When it comes to strength and courage, males have always dominated society. Therefore, it may surprise you that boys are having a hard time growing up and understanding what it really means to be a man.

    In fact, research indicates that boys are in real trouble.

    They receive lower grades than girls. Two-thirds of them have learning disabilities. Boys are the suspects in 8 out of 10 arrests for alcohol and drug charges. They are also responsible for more than 70 percent of juvenile crimes.

    “You can’t go to a newsstand without seeing a steady stream of magazine articles questioning the role of males in today’s society,” says Dr. Kirk Walker, retired headmaster at McCallie School. “It is rare that you pick up a newspaper without reading of the problems males are experiencing and causing – and most of the articles concentrate on the problems facing adolescent males. Something is amiss and the national statistics are chilling.

    “Six-year-old boys who kill do not have a relationship with strong adults who can rescue them. In most boys' lives, human moments and interactions are gradually being replaced with electronic ones; the power of the human touch replaced by a touchpad. The values of honesty, integrity and responsibility are replaced with the values of popular culture – a culture dominated by fame, sex and violence.”

    Tim McGraw’s hit song Grown Men Don’t Cry says, “I don't know why they say grown men don’t cry.” Actually, there are a number of people questioning why our society teaches boys it is not okay to cry.

    Michael Thompson's book, Raising Cain, stresses that it is critical for parents to give their boys permission to have a full range of human emotions - including permission to cry. Thompson believes that helping boys develop an emotional vocabulary helps them to better understand themselves and to communicate better with others. These skills will help them develop into well-rounded adults.

    Dr. William Pollack, author of Real Boys, agrees with Thompson. He says that boys are beginning to question the double standard of masculinity. That double standard pushes boys and men to choose between being the kind of tough, competitive, unfeeling, uncommunicative man traditionally celebrated as “masculine” (the boy code) and being the kind of open, expressive, egalitarian man now heralded as ideal by much of contemporary society.

    “If we don’t let our boys cry tears, they’ll cry bullets,” says Pollack.

    “Depriving boys of the opportunity and encouragement to grow beyond the strict guidelines of the 'boy code' leaves many boys with an impoverished repertoire of emotions, a sense of shame at their weakness, sadness, anger and aggression," Walker says. "Some have said that we are in an ‘anger epidemic.’ The boys feel fragile and respond to that feeling by hurting themselves and others.”

    Walker believes that parents as well as the community-at-large play a critical role in the lives of boys.

    Adolescent boys are not "guided missiles." Instead, they are "guidance-seeking" missiles. Boys need and want positive role models to help them define themselves.

    If you want to help boys in the journey from boyhood to manhood, here's what Thompson encourages:

    • Recognize and accept the high activity level of boys and give them safe places to express it.

    • Talk to boys in their language in a way that honors their pride and masculinity.

    • Be direct with them.

    • Let them solve problems and be consultants.

    • Teach boys that emotional courage is courage. Courage and empathy are the sources of real strength in life.

    • Use discipline to build character and conscience, not enemies.

    • Model a manhood of emotional attachment.

    • Teach boys there are many ways to be a man.

    “It is our responsibility to break the stereotype of what the popular culture defines as a ‘real’ man,” Walker says. “It is our responsibility to help a boy learn to be ‘real’ and to be a man. And it is our responsibility to help a boy define his self-worth in ways that are worthwhile to his community and to himself.”

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    The Reason Why Boys Are Struggling

    Activist, educator and author Dr. Warren Farrell is at it again with his book co-authored by Dr. John Gray, The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We can Do About It. For many years, Farrell has been concerned for the welfare of boys, and he believes that fatherlessness is at the very heart of the issue.

    In an Institute for Family Studies interview, Farrell asserts that today’s boys often struggle with a sense of hopelessness and a lack of purpose linked in part to family breakdown and father deprivation. He also believes that boys’ and men’s weakness is their facade of strength. 

    A United Nations study found boys lagging behind girls in all the developed nations. The women’s movement has really helped young girls recognize that girls can take many paths and be successful. However, while girls’ sense of purpose has grown, boys’ sense of purpose has not. Boys seem to hear either that it’s all about earning money or being a loser. Farrell wonders what would happen if we told boys that being a full-time caregiver is a worthy option?

    After poring through the related research, Farrell believes the gap between dad-deprived boys and dad-enriched boys will become the single biggest predictor of those who become economically poor versus economically rich. 

    Boys with little to no father involvement often look to their dads as role models, but without much time with their dads, their role models are more “straw men” or “straw dads,” says Farrell. 

    “These boys don’t benefit from overnights, hang-out time, and the many hours it takes for boys to bond with their dads and trust that their feelings won’t be dismissed. Dads tend to build bonds with their sons by, for example, playing games and rough-housing, and then use the resulting bond as leverage for their sons to “get to bed on time” lest there be “no playing tomorrow night.” 

    This boundary enforcement teaches boys postponed gratification, whereas boys with minimal or no father involvement are more frequently addicted to immediate gratification. Additionally, having minimal or no father involvement increases the chances of video game addiction, ADHD, bad grades, less empathy, less assertiveness, more aggression, fewer social skills, more alienation and loneliness, more obesity, rudderlessness, anger, drugs, drinking, delinquency, disobedience, depression and suicide. Fatherless boys are also more likely to be imprisoned. 

    In a TEdx Talk on “The Boy Crisis,” Farrell cites that since 1980 in California, 18 new prisons have been built, but only one new university. There has been a 700 percent increase in the prison population and it is mostly a dad-deprived male population. 

    As an example of the pain of fatherlessness, Farrell mentioned Anthony Sims, known as the Oakland Killer. His last Facebook post was this:  “I wish I had a father.”

    While many see guns as the problem, Farrell contends that school shootings are mostly white boys’ method of acting out their hopelessness. He says guns are also white boys’ method of committing suicide, and serve as a reflection of our inability to help constructively track boys to manhood. He points out that girls living in those same homes with the same family values and issues are not killing people at school.

    Farrell speaks of attending a party once where he learned that a men’s group formed by Farrell had impacted a man named John more than any other thing in his life. When group members asked the man, “What is the biggest hole in your heart?” he blurted out, “I was so involved in my career, I neglected my wife and my son. That’s the biggest hole and a deeper hole because I ended up divorced. I remarried and the group knew that my wife was pregnant with our son.” The group then asked, “If you could do anything you wanted, what would you like to do?” He said he would take five years off and help raise his son. He talked with his wife, who told him to go for it. He shared that it had been two years.

    When Farrell asked John if it was a good decision, he replied, “No. The best decision of my life. Up until I took care of my son, my whole life was about me, me, me. Suddenly it was about my son. I suddenly learned to love and be loved.” 

    As they were wrapping up their conversation, someone asked for an autograph. Farrell thought it was for him, but it was for John. Farrell said, “I guess you’re famous. What’s your last name, John?" 

    “Lennon,” he said. John Lennon had discovered he was not giving love by earning money as a human doing, but by being love. 

    Many boys wander aimlessly, looking for their purpose. Farrell and many others believe one way to end the boy crisis is for fathers, uncles, grandfathers and other male role models to step up and stand in the gap, and for women to encourage men in their efforts to raise men of purpose.

    For more information on the importance of fathers, download our E-book "Why Being a dad is a BIG Deal."