I’m a boy mom. With four boys ranging from 8 months old to 8 years old, I live in a house filled with legos, light sabers, and a lot of noise. It’s actually a pretty good gig.
But as a mom to these precious boys, I’m also aware of too many statistics that give me plenty of reason to sit up and pay attention. Statistics like those in the report, The State of Boyhood, which surmises that, as a group, boys are far more likely to get lower grades, more likely to achieve lower literacy levels, more likely show lower engagement, and more likely to drop out than are girls.
Or these from the Boys Project Every 100 Girls Statistics:
- For every 100 girls expelled from elementary and secondary schools, 335 boys are expelled.
- For every 100 girls diagnosed with emotional disturbance 324 boys are diagnosed with emotional disturbance.
- For every 100 females ages 15 to 19 that commit suicide 549 males in the same range kill themselves.
Perhaps most disturbing of all is the awareness that has come from recent tragedies. Mass killings, while rare, are overwhelmingly perpetrated by males. One reviewer of the grisly history puts the number at 94.4%. And in most recent US history, the majority have been young males — in their late teens and twenties
I look through all of these statistics and picture more than numbers. These were all sons. Before they were statistics, before they were vacant eyes, they were someone’s little boys. I can’t help but wonder what happened.
Some say it’s about video games, or family instability, emotional disturbances, or a violent culture. But any researcher or observer who’s really being honest will tell you it’s actually a lot of things.
Dr. James Garbarino, author of Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them explains it as “accumulation of risk”. Like a tower of blocks, he says, there are only so many you can stack before the whole tower tumbles. ” You can’t really say that the last block is the cause of the fall because if that block were there by itself, it wouldn’t fall over. Indeed, the research shows that it is the accumulation of risk factors that does the damage.” (Source)
Throughout this year, I’ll be exploring some of those risk factors in more in-depth posts. I’ll also look at the other side of the equation: the positive things boys need.
The Search Institute refers to them as “assets”. Following their research, they’ve developed a framework of 40 Developmental Assets that promote healthy development and positive outcomes. With tailored changes by age range, they list 40 Developmental Assets for Early Childhood (age 3-5), Primary Grades (grades K-3), Middle Childhood (ages 8-12), and Adolescents (ages 12-18).
I’ll focus on items on this list as well as lists composed by other experts in this field of research. I want to figure out how to build strong boys, because as Frederick Douglas said:
Of course, girls today face their fair share of challenges, and I have several posts planned to address some of those issues as well. But for this series, the focus is boys. At least once a month I’ll be writing about risk factors and assets for boys and how we can work together to build strong boys.
Now, I don’t want this to be misunderstood. I’m not a fan of man-bashing, and I certainly don’t believe there’s something inherently evil in the Y chromosome. While all the stats I mentioned above are extremely troubling, I do have to say that I believe the majority of boys and men are good, noble people. I’ve seen them around me my whole life. I’ve watched time and again as men and boys have given selfless service or shown that chivalry is indeed not dead. If you need to see some evidence of the young male heroes around us, learn about Connor Long or the Queen Creek Football Team. (You won’t regret watching these videos!)
I want to learn more – and share more – about what might make the difference. What are some of the pieces separating the young men in those videos and the young men in the statistics that make mothers and fathers of boys worry. From “failure to launch” and apathy, to violence and indescribable rampage, I want to find out what some of the missing pieces are.
I want to build strong boys. I hope you’ll join me.
What risk factors or positive assets do you want to learn more about?
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ann at mommysecrets says
I’m excited to hear you using the assets in your research. I’ve been teaching & writing about assets for 10 years, and it’s very solid research! THANKS for teaching us about boys!
I am so excited to read along AND that you are including assets! We always hear about the things we SHOULDN’T do….it’s so refreshing to have ideas of what we CAN do! Thank you!!
Ann and Jamie – I’m so glad to know you’re familiar with the concept of developmental assets. I think it’s good to be aware of risks, but that doesn’t really help as much as knowing what we need to do instead. I hope you enjoy the series!
Great post, thanks for sharing!
(ps – just fyi, frederick douglass has two s’s at the end!)
Thanks, Shereen! I had a feeling I had that wrong. I suppose that’s what I get for editing so late at night!
THANK YOU!!! I am looking forward to this. I have a boy who is a loud, non-stopping bundle of high energy. Don’t get me wrong, no signs of ADHD or anything, but just 100% boy. I am concerned over the way schools treat boys by making them sit still and act in ways that are not them! I can’t wait to see what you have to say. I am looking forward to adding these things as I raise my little man.
I know exactly what you mean, Jen. I’ve had the same concerns with some of my boys — worry that the brightness of their personalities will be mistaken for some kind of pathology. I hope you enjoy the series!
Jen, your son sounds exactly like mine and I have the same concerns.,I’m also looking forward to reading these posts.
I can’t wait to read more! I’m a boy mom as well and I get frustrated with family and friends who just have girls and say things about how crazy, loud, disruptive, etc our boys are. There’s nothing wrong with them…they are normal, healthy boys. Having research that proves that boys have different needs than girls will be fantastic!
I will certainly keep that concern in mind! In the meantime, you might enjoy this post from last year — https://notjustcute.com/2012/07/20/boys-and-girls-are-not-the-same/
Thanks for sharing such useful and, in a way, new information. I have a two-months-old son and, until now, I hadn’t realized about such things. I invite you to watch this video from TED: http://www.ted.com/talks/colin_stokes_how_movies_teach_manhood.html
It reflects on the roles assigned to boys and girls in the (animated) movies and how they influence them. Although it focuses on the female models, there’s an interesting reflection at the end.
I hope you find it interesting.
I’m looking forward to your following posts!!
Cris- Thanks so much for sharing! I love TED talks and had to jump right over and watch it. Really made me think. I’ve tagged it for a later post. Thanks!
Louise Rogers says
I have a 4 year old boy and a 2 year old girl and already I can see that my little boy is more fragile and more sensitive whilst appearing to be your average whirlwind little boy. I look forward to reading more!
Great idea! I’ve often thought I’d like to see a website that is parallel to the blog/facebook postings from “A Mighty Girl” -many of their postings and themes are gender-neutral, but their perspective is “for girls”. Also, you might find some useful resources from this organization here in Maine: http://www.maineboystomen.org/. I don’t know a lot about them but they seem to be doing some really interesting projects.
Thanks for sharing that, Joy. I’ve marked it and am excited to read about it!
Amanda, I’ve been really looking forward to this series! (I was so sure it would be good, I already linked to it my last post about boys and literacy.) As a mom of three busy boys, I’m definitely invested in this topic and I can’t wait to hear more!
Aww, thanks Erin. That’s really flattering! I can’t believe I haven’t read your boys and literacy post yet — I’ll have to go check that out now. Your stuff is always so fantastic!
I am pregnant with our second child and first boy and am excited to read along with you…
Congratulations, Steph! Boys are so much fun! I hope you enjoy the series!
Thank you Amanda, great resources and inspiring stories.
I am so excited for this! Thank you for sharing with us!
I’m so glad you’re researching and writing about this. It’s a very important topic. One I think we all need to learn more about. As a mom of one- a boy, and almost all my friends are moms of only boys, it’s close to home.
Tan @ tan/green says
Oh this is an exciting series! Jen’s and your comment above echos my thoughts as well – I am so nervous about putting my dear boy out in a world where there seems to be less tolerance for little boys. I so hope you find enough to share that we see this series more than once a month!
I work in higher education and as the mother of two very young boys, I’m becoming increasingly alarmed at the gender gap I see on my campus. College attendance among men is dropping , and college “disruption” (dropping out or taking breaks) among men is increasing. Of course it varies by field, but I’m surprised that I really don’t hear a lot of conversation about this. I really think that the best way to approach this trend is to start with the very young–understand them better and guide them appropriately. Looking forward to more!
Adriel Booker says
I’m very much looking forward to this series and appreciate that you will have a focus on assets – not just what not to do… but how to be proactive.
Those stats are incredibly sad and scary. But, yes, the stats represent boys and men with precious hearts that God longs to capture and redeem.
I am a mom of 4. My oldest is a girl and I thank the Dear Lord for her EVERY single day…I’m not sure if I’m raising the younger 3 boys right. My dear hubby says to me quite often in a day, they’re just boys let them be…but how to raise them up to be God-fearing men of “courage” who will lead their family through the trials of life! Wow! That’s a big challenge…my mom did it with 2 boys and my mother did it with 4 boys but I have NO clue how to do this…I look forward to reading your posts and what you come up with!
I’m so excited that I stumbled upon this! I cant wait to read more.
This post popped out at me on Twitter because I am the mother of two boys, and I have been researching and writing a little on this same topic. I’m very excited to follow along, and I’ll be sure to link to you on my blog. Thanks for taking the time to do such comprehensive research and share it with us.
Hi Amanda, I am a longtime follower of your blog and I have 3 boys myself. I just read and agreed with everything you have written. In Australia, there is a similar culture unfolding where boys and young men are becoming increasingly violent, making negative life choices that impact on their lives for the worse. This post is so powerful. I have started a series about parenting boys myself on my blog but will be linking up to your research and expertise to spread the word about this growing culture in boys.
A topic very close to my heart too! I have three little guys. I am their long term foster Carer and between the three of them we have a very interesting (shall we say!) mix of cultural backgrounds, genetics, disability, infant mental health issues and so much more! But also a lot of love, fun, physical activity, monster trucks, tractors and therapy. I look forward to your posts!
I wondered if you have heard if celia lashlie? She wrote a wonderful book called ‘he’ll be ok, growing gorgeous boys into good men’ a fantastic read. Here is her site.
Those are some fascinating and scary statistics! I have a 19-month-old son, and while I feel like I’ve got the “mom” thing down (most days!), I don’t really know if I know how to be a mom to a BOY. Can’t wait to learn more!
Thanks Amanda for this thoughtful and thought-provoking series!
Have you read _The Male Brain_ by Louann Brizendine? It might be a good addition to your series. She does a great job explaining the science of the male brain and how it works. I’m reading it right now and finding it fascinating. She also has written _The Female Brain_, which I haven’t read yet, but its on my book list for the future! Just thought I’d share.
Thanks for the recommendation, Britt. I can’t wait to check it out!
I was given a copy of the Developmental Assets when I gave birth to my oldest son. At the time it was a great check list for me to direct my newly forming parenting skills. But almost 4 years later (including the birth of another boy) I have learned that those are easier said than done. In the External Assets it states a strong community that cherishes and values young children, safety in the neighborhood, and caring, consistent relationships outside the family as necessary … this seems beyond my control. I can do my best to find all of this, but we’re a family without family. We live far from extended family members and have a hard time finding a good strong community in the area we live in. I’ve noticed that boys really seem to need a lot of adult male influence; and it’s best to come from “strong” adult men. So what happens when there are more broken adults and less healthy, caring, and responsible adults for our children to interact with? What can I do to help my children if I do not have the luxury of a neighborhood that “provides emotional support and a sense of belonging”? What if it’s really hard to meet some of these assets, especially the external assets? I’d love to hear your ideas. Aside from the person who gave me this list originally, I have never met anyone else who knew of these or practiced these in their parenting. Thanks for this series!
I think, first of all, it’s important to remember these assets are like a tower of Jenga blocks. Having one or even several pieces missing will not likely cause a collapse in and of itself. It’s often the compounding effect of several missing factors that lead to real problems.
Finding positive, strong adult male role models can require a lot of effort and proactivity depending on your personal situation. You could possibly open a dialogue with your son, talking about the qualities in men you admire. Those may be people he knows personally, or it may be figures throughout history. Make a collection of biographies and point out the strengths you admire.
Similarly, with the neighborhood, you may not find that belonging in your immediate area, but may find a similar strength by joining a group — church, sport, club, etc.
The biggest thing to remember is that the assets are a list of ideals, a pattern to strive for, but few people have ALL of those items in place all of their lives. If we do our best to fill as many as possible in the best ways we can, we’re actually doing quite well for our children.
i am so glad i lucked onto this series. my son is recently divorced and has about 40% custody of his 4 year old son. the PreK class his mother has chosen gives me some concerns. the first day we were told he wasn’t a good listener. he told us the teacher yells when “he is bad”. i asked what “bad” is and he said when he doesn’t go to sleep at naptime or doesn’t stay in his seat during the day. he has been in a Parents Day Out program 2 days a week for 3 years. they always praised him for being such a wonderful student. needless to say, i am very concerned about his present school. but there is only negative communication between the parents right now. so hopefully this series will help his dad and me with ideas of encouragement and confidence. by the way, apparently he has some pretty good coping skills because after the first week of school i asked him how it was going. his reply was, “ok, the teacher still yells but now i just cover my ears”. 🙂