Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Boys: Embrace the Differences

Sometimes with the pressure to be politically correct, we are afraid to admit that boys really are different than girls. Nobody wants to stereotype girls and boys. I don't want to either. It's important that we understand the differences so we can break the stereotypes. We all want our daughters to be good at math and science and we hope our sons will do well in language arts. It benefits everybody.

When my daughter was born, I gave her plenty of opportunities to choose the activities she liked. I didn't care if she chose trucks or dolls. She chose dolls and crafts no matter how much I told her she could have any car or truck she wanted.

Then her first brother came along. I tried to provide him with the same opportunities to choose dolls or trucks. He chose the trucks. I tried to get him to participate in crafts, but he wouldn't sit still long enough to finish one.

Since my son was so physically active, I wanted to make sure he didn't cross between active and violent. I swore I would not let him have a toy weapon. Guess what? Yep, every stick became a sword or a gun and my toy weapon rule went right out the window. At one point, I got out the Barbies for my son and his friend. I wanted to discourage stereotypes. Big mistake on my end. Somehow, "Ken" made war on every Barbie and by the end of the play date, every Barbie was missing a head, leg or arm. That day, Barbies were off limits for my boys and G.I. Joe magically appeared and became a well loved play toy. Funny how G.I. Joe never lost his leg or head like Barbie.

Then son number two came a long and he was totally obsessed with guns and knives. He would climb on every cupboard and every drawer looking for a kitchen knife. I couldn't turn my back for a minute. I found myself agreeing to let him enroll in a gun safety course at the age of 12 and letting his dad take him shooting at the shooting range. No matter how much older he got, my son never outgrew his fascination with weapons. I learned that teaching him weapon safety and appropriate uses for weapons did more for keeping him safe then hoping his obsession would go away.

So what did I really learn about the differences between boys and girls as a parent. First, boys learn differently. They do better when they can move. Expecting them to sit still and listen was too much to ask from my boys. Accepting they had a different learning style and adjusting their activities helped my boys tremendously. Embracing their personalities instead of trying to change them helped my boys feel loved and valued. This doesn't mean boys should be pushed toward sports instead of reading. In fact, both of my boys would cringe at the thought of playing football and my daughter is the most athletic of my children. It just means boys can't be forced to learn the same as girls.

Numerous studies have shown that boys do better in all male language arts classes. When Benjamin Wright, principal of Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Seattle, Washington, made the change from coed classrooms to single sex classrooms in 2000, the results were staggering. The number of boys sent to his office for discipline problems dropped dramatically. Not only did disciplinary problems drop, but the boys reading level increased over 40% and their writing levels increased 30%. It is important to note that in the studies, both boys and girls were given the equal educational opportunities and the girls scores increased as well. The teachers were able to add activities in the boys classes that helped them learn by the style that worked best for them.

No matter what I tried as a parent, all three of my kids are completely different. My oldest daughter is the driven to succeed one, my middle son is the shy one, not always motivated, but loves to be alone and read. And the youngest, is the one who can't sit still, loves to have fun and always has a flock of friends around him. No matter what I did, there was no way my sons would sit and listen to Anne of Green Gables with the girls, but they would listen to the roar of a lion in Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? As the boys got older they would still listen to a book as long as they were allowed to play cars at my feet or thumb through their car magazine. As for reading on their own, the boys would do it as long as they could play outside afterward. I learned it is crucial to adapt your parenting or teaching style so that you embrace the differences in boys and girls


Kalina Zufelt said...

I love this post. It made me laugh out loud! Thanks for sharing!

Andrew Kozma said...

Interesting and thoughtful post (I hadn't heard about the single-sex classrooms in Seattle).

I feel it's equally important just to recognize that everyone learns differently. When I was young (and, frankly, this is still the case) I learned perfectly fine sitting still in a classroom, and I know girls who most effectively learn through action.

The gender bias re: toys is a little different, though. I think that probably has as much to do with what children see in the culture around them (girls playing with dolls, boys with guns) as it does with genetics.

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