Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

10 June 2010

Highlights from Raising Boys

Here are a few of the highlights from my latest read through of Raising Boys, with particular reference to Stage Two boys.

Mums and dads remain important across all three stages.  Even though Stage One is primarily the mother's domain, Stage Two the father's domain and Stage Three the trusted mentor's domain, both parents, preferably happily married, are important right through.  This theme ran at the foundation of this book. 

And for mums it is important to keep both communication and physical affection up during all stages.  Biddulph rightly observes that some boys love hugs from their mums across all the stages but for others, hugs from mum become off limits.  In these situations it is important to find other ways to show affection like tousling hair or tickling, just to maintain that closeness, against the day when real comfort is needed.

Interesting information about testosterone.  At birth a baby boy has as much testosterone in his bloodstream as a twelve year old boy.  This settles down after a few months.  There is a surge at age four (oh yes!) but the levels drop again at five, just in time for school.  Between eleven and thirteen the levels surge again, reach their peak at fourteen and don't truly settle until the mid-twenties.  The surges result in rapid growth and at their peaks, the whole central nervous system has to rewire itself.  The peaks will bring times of irrationality, disorganisation and to quote Steve Biddulph himself, moments when "mother and father have to act as his substitute brain for a while!" (p. 37)  Forewarned is forearmed.  Moreover, this little amount of information may help to navigate these times with some understanding, patience and compassion.

Left brain-right brain stuff.  The left side of the brain is concerned with language and reasoning.  The right side of the brain is concerned with movement, emotion and the sense of space and position.  In girls the two sides of the brain are well connected but boys have less synapses connecting one side to the other.  So we need to develop the connections.  One way is to read to boys.  Biddulph recommends reading aloud to boys, even when they can read for themselves, up to eight years of age and older if possible and also telling them stories.

Explaining how things work - lots and lots of this - also helps.  Explaining how things work isn't just about the inner workings of cars, computers and the like.  It's about explaining how traffic rules work, money, rules of a game, how a meal is prepared, how a shopping list is prepared, the steps taken to make a decision - concrete things right through to abstract systems.

Boys also need to be taught order.  This will create a few more left and right brain connections!  They need to be taught systems for tidying their rooms, doing their homework, tackling a project in small sections, routines, time management, how to use a diary. 

I know some of this for a fact from teaching.  My last five years of teaching were spent teaching children in their final year of primary school.  If the boys mastered the use of a homework diary...which takes in all sorts of things including time management, breaking tasks down into smaller components and prioritising...and in some cases it took all year to master this skill...but if this skill was mastered, I felt confident to release them into the big wide world of high school and beyond.  This was my greatest goal for each child in their final year of primary school. 

And I know from life at home now that if I ask our sons to clean up their rooms then we generally don't have much success.  If I ask them to pick up all their clothes and then report back, and then pick up all the lego and then report back, and then pick up all the paper/books/craft activities and then report back...we have much more success.  (All the better if this is done in the context of a game or competition)!  It is all about teaching a system (favourite phrases include "Find a home for everything and then stick to it" and "Put away, not down") and teaching how to break a task down into small achievable units.

Boys need to be taught how to do housework and for a couple reasons, quite aside from the fact that their future wives will love you for it.
1.  It's another way of developing connections between the left and right sides of the brain.  The left side of the brain is used to work out systems of cleaning/doing and the right side is used with regard to space and position (and perhaps also the expression of emotion!!) so lots of synapses will connect when boys do housework!
2.  Boys, like men, don't like talking face to face.  They prefer to talk while doing something, preferably side by side.  So chatting over the dishes, while cooking at the kitchen bench, cleaning windows, doing the laundry, learning how to scrub out a shower recess...skills are being learned in the midst of an opportunity for conversation.

Biddulph particulary emphasised cooking as especially beneficial and on page 96 gave a delightful list of things boys like to cook...

Home made pizzas
Grills (fishfingers, chicken, sausages and chops) and barbecues.  (He also mentioned tofu in that list but I don't think so...)
Pancakes and ommelettes
Tossed salads
Hamburgers and steak sandwiches
Pasta and bottled sauce
Roast lamb and chicken (Really???  I can only just do this myself!!)
Stirfried vegetables and rice
Biscuits, cakes, muffins and festive (ie. Christmas) treats.

Finding those mentors.  When boys reach their teenage years it seems important to have a trusted third party - someone whose company a boy enjoys and whose opinion he respects.  The mentor then gets to be the boy's sounding board, if he can't approach his parents because of the natural separation taking place. 

I know when I taught year seven students I would always tell the parents at my information meeting at the start of the year that if they had any messages they wanted me to pass onto their children to let me know, because how often have we heard a child say, "My teacher said..." and it is exactly the point you have been trying to hammer home for the last six months!!  I also used to tell the parents to do their best to see homework done but not to ruin their relationships with their own children - and that I would do the "ranting and raving" because I wasn't there to be their best buddy.  Better to be on good terms but if I had to say the hard things then I would - it seemed to me that it was more important that parents and their children  preserved their relationships during that delicate last year of primary school.  It's not about parents abrogating their responsibilities.  These are examples of using a teacher as a mentor - part of the team of three in Stage Three.*

So the thing is to have mentors in place before they are needed.  Enter stage left godparents!  Or sympathetic teachers, a dearly loved uncle or older cousin, a sports coach, someone at church...  What is important is to spend the relative easier years of Stage Two fostering relationships with other families and interests in sports or the like so that these people will be around, connected and on board in a natural way when the era of the mentor is upon us.

Plenty to ponder there.  And plenty to put into action. 

*  I used to say to the children, nearly every day, "Rules for life - be nice to your teacher and be nice to your mummy and all will go well for you."


Mrs. Edwards said...

Thank you so much for these "Raising Boys" posts. I haven't read this book, but I have read some similar books about brain development, child development, and boys. Some of these things (like the room-cleaning tip) are strategies that I've arrived upon by necessity, but I didn't understand why. I just felt like my boys have trouble staying on task. It is encouraging to see that this is somewhat normal for boys.

I also found the tips about physical affection very practical and helpful. I notice that my boys (still both under age 8) seek out hugs and cuddles, but await the day that they spurn it. I don't want to smother them, but I want to keep them emotionally tanked up as well.

As for the brain dominance quiz: I took this and scored 15-15 a tie. I'm not sure what that means, but my husband called it accurate. Is it relevant to this sort of dominance that I'm left-handed but do many things right-handed? Ambidexterity might be a different thing.

Meredith said...

Hi Amy,

I've just taken out he brain dominance quiz. I became suspicious that you got a tied result like I did. I did the test again two times, once putting in all A responses and then doing a wildly random set of answers and they all came out 16 to I don't think that particular quiz was working!!

What you say about ambidexterity is probably linked to using boths sides of the brain equally because ambidextrous activity involves crossing the midline of the brain as your brain processes what it needs to do next.

The brain theory stuff is all really interesting. Of course we know much more about the brain now than was known in 1997 when Biddulph wrote this book, which why I wondered whether it would stand the test of time. But his platform is essentially the bread and butter of brain theory work and really, that's all we parents need...just enough to navigate the stages!

Sarah said...

Thanks for reviewing this book, Meredith. My parents have a copy (although I'm not sure if they've ever read the whole thing) and they also his book, Manhood, as well.

You sound like a great teacher. Maybe if you ever teach again, I'll send my kids (if I have any) to your school :) Your post reminded me a lot of my Year 7 teacher and the great influence he had on the boys in my class. He was a very formal, old-fashioned kind of guy in his mid 40s at the time - wore a shirt and tie when a lot of the other teachers wore polo shirts and jeans. Everyone had to answer, "Yes, Sir," when he called the roll. He didn't take any crap from the boys, but he still had a sense of humour as well. It's interesting what you said about boys enjoying being read to. That's what this teacher did for us every week, and at first everyone thought it was childish, but soon it became our favourite time of the week, and the boys especially used to look forward to it. The boys still mucked around, such as calling out "Yes, SIRE" during the roll call, but I sensed they had a deep respect for this teacher and the way he pushed us hard to prepare us for high school.

I'm sure I'll find my experiences with this teacher and your book review very handy should I ever have sons.

Meredith said...

Thanks Sarah. I did like teaching the boys. I was less successful with girls. And God in his mercy gave us sons!

This is certainly a great book. I'm not so sure about the Stage Three stuff, much of which seems to centre on sex and the like. Just not sure what to do about it as a Christian parent. We hope our children will make good choices, including the best choice to follow Christ - and therefore be spared the consequences of making other bad choices along the way. But that doesn't take away what is going on physiologically for a boy who is turning into a teenager. And my good working knowledge of boys stops at age 12!

This probably makes getting good Christian mentors all the more important. But for the moment, we have some time on our hands here in this household. It will certainly be an area in which to do some research, reflecting and no doubt, some blogging into the future.

Wendy said...

Thanks Meredith. I'll have to think about reading this, though I am very suspicious of parenting books in general, this seems to focus more on practical strategies than guilt trips.

Meredith said...

Hello Wendy! An honour to have you visit, especially when you are so busy at this point of your life.

I too am increasingly suspicious of parenting books. This book is more of a psychology book - the psychology of boys for the layperson! And having grown up with three sisters (the only male company my dad had was our cat) and also being interested in how the brain works, I have found this book really useful, at least for this stage of our boys.

I have probably picked out the majority of the practical strategies, all of which seem obvious in lots of ways and achievable and the rest is really all about understanding the young male mind (and body.)

As I said in a comment above, I am less sure about what comes next for Stage Three...but then I also squarely placed my head in the sand over the whole teenage thing, given we are a few years off as yet, so I will be interested to see what I think of it in a few years time or else what others closer to Stage Three think.

The other benefit is that Biddulph writes in a very engaging way. It is a REALLY easy and quick read. You could knock it off in a couple of evenings I would think. Once you get over that scary page two!!

I'd be interested to know what you think if you read it.

God bless.