Being the mother of two young sons, I am always on the look out for new pieces of information that are relevant to raising boys. Old nursery rhymes might lead you to believe that having sons is a less than desirable condition (after all, those beautiful baby boys are made of “snips and snails and puppy dog tails”, right?). No matter what others might think, being the mother of sons can be quite a joy! I know that I definitely appreciate my sons’ persistently high activity levels, their tendencies to smell a little earthy when they come in from playing in the backyard, the stray turtles that come home in their tiny palms amid shouts of “Can we keep him?”, and their curiosity for exploring and manipulating everything that they encounter. These same kinds of characteristics, however, can sometimes get boys into trouble in certain circumstances.
In fact, boys are more likely to be diagnosed with a variety of behavioral difficulties and disorders, in part because their active behaviors make them more noticeable to the adults with whom they interact. Certainly, researchers speculate that there may be any number of reasons that boys are at risk for such difficulties (Mash & Wolfe, 2005; Parritz & Troy, 2011), but it is clear that boys’ penchant for externalizing and acting out behaviors make boys obviously more noticeable and easily identified (e.g., Achenbach, McConaughy, & Howell, 1987). Consistently, boys (relative to girls) tend to be diagnosed at higher rates with a variety of disorders, including Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (e.g., Parritz & Troy, 2011), Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Conduct Disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Boys (relative to girls) also may experience more extreme difficulties when they are diagnosed with specific difficulties, as in the cases of Autism (Baron-Cohen, 2002; Rodriguez, 2010) and Rett’s Disorder (Rinehart & Saunders, 2000).
In addition to these behavioral difficulties, boys are more likely to experience communication and learning disorders as well (Mash & Wolfe, 2005; Shriberg, Tomblin, & McSweeney, 1999). Even when communication and learning disorders are not diagnosed, boys are more likely to exhibit underachievement in their current school settings (Tyre, 2008). In part, it seems that such settings do not fully appreciate the nuances with which boys come. In fact, it seems that current school settings, with their emphasis on appropriate verbal responses, fine motor skills, and sitting still (all skills at which girls are better than boys), do not cater to boys’ natural abilities (e.g., movement, gross motor abilities, and need for physical activities; Tyre, 2008). Such discrepancies in boys’ natural abilities and the expectations for school settings may sabotage boys from the very start of their academic careers. Statistics are starting to suggest that boys are, in fact, struggling in school, with fewer boys making it to and graduating from college (Sax, 2007). If such trends continue, boys will begin having difficulty finding good jobs that will allow them to support their families.
So, the parents of boys have their work cut out for them. They have to be unrelenting guides and role models for their sons, providing a strong base from which their sons can explore the world. They need to be strong liaisons on their sons’ behalves, particularly with teachers or other adults who might try to label typical boy behavior as problematic. They need to be strong advocates for their sons, particularly when their sons do not have access to a learning environment that caters to their strengths. They also can offer useful suggestions to make learning environments more palatable for their sons, such as suggesting that their sons may be more likely to build their reading, writing, language, and math skills through more unique mediums than might be offered currently (e.g., via humor, physical activities, and actual objects that can be manipulated; Gurian & Stevens, 2005). Most importantly, though, they need to love their sons, so that their sons can grow into adulthood with the confidence that they can take on any challenge and maybe just make a difference in their world.
Achenbach, T. M., McConaughy, S. H., & Howell, C. T. (1987). Child/adolescent behavioral and emotional problems: Implications of cross-informant correlations for situational specificity. Psychological Bulletin, 101,213-232.
American Psychiatric Association. (2002). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders-Fourth edition-Text revision. Washington, DC: Author.
Baron-Cohen (2002). The extreme male brain theory of autism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6, 248-254.
Gurian, M., & Stevens, K. (2005). The minds of boys: Saving our sons from falling behind in school and life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mash, E. J., & Wolfe, D. A. (2005). Abnormal child psychology-Third edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
Parritz, R. H., & Troy, M. F. (2011). Disorders of childhood: Development and psychopathology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Rinehart, B., & Saunders, I. G. (2000, August). Silent angels: The Rett Syndrome story (VHS). United States: Discovery Health.
Rodriguez, D. (2010). Autism in boys and girls. Retrieved from http://www.everydayhealth.com/autism/boys-and-girls.aspx.
Sax, L. (2007). Boys adrift: The five factors driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men. New York: Basic Books.
Shriberg, L. D., Tomblin, J. B., & McSweeney, J. L. (1999). Prevalence of speech delay in 6-year-old children and comorbidity with language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 42, 1461-1481.
Tyre, P. (2008). The trouble with boys: A surprising report card on our sons, their problems at school, and what parents and educators must do. New York: Crown Publishers