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Why Do So Many Boys Not Care About School?

by Michael Thompson


Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson, Ph.D. is a consultant, author and psychologist specializing in children and families. Read more »

Sorry, Michael Thompson is no longer taking questions.

Over the last 40 years, the United States has seen a remarkable change in the academic success of boys and girls. In 1970, 58% of college graduates were young men; now close to 60% of college graduates are women, and this gender gap continues to grow. There will always be boys who will thrive in school, but more and more, it's girls who do well academically and boys who are losing ground.

Two-thirds of the D's and F's given out in school go to boys. Boys are one-third more likely to drop out before finishing high school. Eighth grade girls score higher in both reading and especially in writing than boys do, and by 12th grade that gap has widened. Indeed, the average 11th grade boy in the U.S. writes at the level of the average 8th grade girl.

A few years ago, medical schools in the U.S. began accepting more young women than young men; soon medicine will be a female-dominated profession. I could go on and on with these statistics, but you get the point: on average girls outperform boys in elementary school, middle school, high school, college and graduate school.

Why is that? Experts disagree on the reasons. If you read Christina Hoff Sommers' The War Against Boys, you'll blame feminism for feminizing schools; if you read Leonard Sax's Why Gender Matters or Michael Gurian's The Minds of Boys, you'll think it's the brain differences between boys and girls that educators don't take into account; if you read Peg Tyre's The Trouble with Boys, you'll conclude that classrooms are unfriendly places for boys, and that teachers' techniques don't work for them. If you read other experts, they'll tell you that the "boy crisis" is overblown.

What we do know is that this is happening not just in the U.S. but in Western Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Once parents and educators removed the psychological barriers to higher education that used to exist for girls, that is, once we leveled the playing field, girls outstripped boys in school.

How can you motivate your son to do better in school? You may be asking yourself one of the questions that so many parents ask me: "My 7-year-old son hates school. It's a fight to get him to school every morning. "How do I motivate my 15-year-old son to care about school?" "My son is bright, but he's just cruising through school. He never makes an effort to do his best work."

I think you have to start by figuring out why your son hates school or doesn't think it's important. In my opinion, there are five different types of boys who aren't doing well in school.

The Struggling Boy. The vast majority of boys who get poor grades in school are not "underachieving." They are making their best effort and are struggling academically because they are of below average intelligence and the work is extremely hard for them, or they are of average intelligence in a very hard-driving school district. It is humiliating to know that you struggle with academics that other boys find easy; it's frustrating and makes you want to run away. These struggling students need teachers who can make learning fun, and they require the ongoing respect of teachers and their parents in order to stay motivated. These boys need to hear the old saying, "As long as you're trying your hardest."

The Learning Disabled Boy. Priscilla Vail, an expert in learning disabilities, used to say that one-third of boys have "funny brains." We know that boys have more variable brains than girls do, and that this affects their school performance. Two-thirds of children in special education are boys. Many of these boys have real learning disabilities. (Some are there for emotional or disciplinary reasons.) We used to call boys with learning disabilities "stupid" or "lazy." Now, we're able to focus on the areas of their brains that do not work as well as others. However, we do not have a cure for learning disabilities; they do not go away, and they are demoralizing for any boy.

The Cruising (or Good-Enough) Boy Student. These boys often feel that school is hard, and pretty boring, and that they do enough homework, and that there are other things to be interested in: girls, sports, a part-time job, cars, etc. It's not that a boy like this has a particular passion, it's just that--well, he doesn't like school all that much and doesn't see how it is related to his future.

The only ways to motivate a "cruising/good-enough" boy: 1) Continue to hold high expectations for him, and express your ideals and some sense of disappointment, or 2) Use incentives to induce him to change his priorities. (Getting a car? He must maintain a B average to drive it). Some parents react negatively to the idea of "bribes," but I call them incentives; they work in business, they work for kids.

The "Otherwise Engaged" Boy. There are boys who develop interests outside of school that are so compelling that school can no longer hold their interest. The satisfaction--not to mention the applause--that talented, athletic boys receive playing football, for example, or the sense of usefulness that other boys get from paying jobs, editing the school newspaper, being part of a band, or--gulp--computer games (or online businesses) are far greater than anything mere grades can offer them. Though it's exciting when a boy discovers a passion he wants to pursue, it can present many challenges to their parents.

The Allergic-to-School Boy. In my book, The Pressured Child, I talk about children who seem to be allergic to the school environment. There are some boys for whom the physical experience of being in a class all day, the psychological experience of having a teacher controlling everything, the frustrations of having to sit still, the humiliation of grades--or any one of a thousand annoying things about the school environment--are simply intolerable. If your boy is allergic to school in this way, it is going to be a struggle to keep him going until he finishes. He'll need teachers who understand and can work with boys who hate school without taking it personally. They have to be willing to modify homework demands and try to see the school environment through a boy's eyes--if he will let them.

Does your boy fit into one of the categories above? I welcome any ideas or questions you have about motivating boys in school.

Sorry, Michael Thompson is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.


Comments

Lisa writes...

I wrote about this in a recent blog post of my own: http://readlisaread.edublogs.org/2010/12/27/its-not-just-boys-who-will-be-boys/

I agree with much of what you say, but they are points that made me ask about how well, in general, our education system is meeting the needs of all of our learners. It's relevant that you refer to the 1950's and 60's...

Thanks for the thought provoking article.

My 7 year old son has a 140+ IQ. For the first time behavior has become a major issue at school. He has learned through example that the way to get attention within his school is through negative behavior. Why is he seeking this attention? My theory is he is bored. My fear - he will start to resent school and hate learning.

His school does not understand that many behaviors within the classroom are likely from boredom and not challenging him. I honestly do not think his teacher believes us about anything. When he tells them it's "too hard" - they listen and do not push him.

Spiral curriculum may be the way to go for some children, but for others it is keeping them from reaching their potential. As an educator, it makes me upset that the first item cut in with budget slashes are gifted programs, especially in the elementary level. Gifted children also have special needs that are often not addressed within the education system.

What also worriea me are the boys (and girls) that will fall through the cracks because they do not have advocates that know the system. Even as a teacher, I am stumped on what rights I have for my child within this economy.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Beth,

It is pretty common for seven-year-old boys to start hating school even if they mostly liked it in previous years.There are several reasons why they start developing behavior problems. Some of them have just figured out that school is is going to last FOREVER, and they hate that idea, so they start to do battle with their teachers. Others are suddenly frightened because reading now really matters. In Kindergarten and First Grade, the teachers are just pleased with any reading you can do. Starting in Second Grade the teacher wants you to read for information, to comprehend and to produce. This feels “too hard” to many boys, as if the teacher has changed the terms of their deal with school.

For a boy with a high I.Q. like your son, there are additional challenges. He may be bored, as you say, and for a boy who is bored the day is long and grueling. It is a tragedy when, for economic reasons, the school system cuts programs for gifted children because they are losing or alienating some of their best potential students.

I like it when teachers give gifted children the reward of reading their own books when they finish the work that the class is doing. That gives a bright boy a goal, something to work for. The problem here is that your son’s teacher doesn’t seem to “get it” that he has gifts, and she feels defensive with your suggestions. You need to talk to someone in the school whom you trust and who will help you to approach this teacher in a diplomatic and effective way. Do you like the principal? Does he appreciate your son? Is there a veteran teacher in the building who does know him and like him? I suggest you talk with that person and get some advice.

Meanwhile, I hope you and your son are reading books, playing board games, listening to books on tape, playing word games and math games in the evening…as long as he has fun. Don’t turn home into school, but help him enjoy his intelligence and problem-solving abilities.



TJ writes...

ok. well im a 15 yeah old boy and turning 16 in a couple of weeks. I have been having problems with school now as soon as i got into highschool. i used to be a good student in elementary and middle school now my grades have droped and my gpa is low from last year. idk what to do because my grades arent good enough to get into any university and my dad is pressureing me and punishing me to get my grades up. i really want to have good grades but i always am distracted and never feel like doing my work. none of my teachers really care that i have bad grades in there classes.

my dad has taken away everything from me and i cant even hang out with my friends until i get ab honorroll. last marking period i had all as and bs and one c. but this marking period im doing really bad and the grades are being entered soon. this isnt good cause then it will feel like a repeat of last year and with the grades like this it makes me sad but i think its because my working habits are so bad. i used to do my homework everyday and now i hardly ever do it. no one ever motivates me except for the incentive from my dad so i can hang out with my friends again.

i know that i am more street smart than book smart and im a really smart guy. but now that my grades are low, everone thinks im stupid and i feel stupid. so now i feel as if i dont have the ability to get the ab honorrol like i used to. and im not very talkative and kinda be the guy that would rather take the bad grade than talk to the teacher about that (prolly my laziness) and that hurts me alot but now ive been trying my hardest to get good grades but i just cant find the confidence cause now my goals are just not to get ds or fs not ab honorrol. my work ethic is poor which is prolly why im not doing good but once i do good ( or atleast when i think i do good ) no body cares. They are always expecting better and it makes me not wanna try anymore but i need to or i will end up on the streets(as my dad would say).

Can I please have help because i would usually never type one of this websites but im desprate.
i need an answer explaining what i need to do to reach my ab honorroll goal and how.
thank you.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Dear TJ,

How brave of you to write in to the PBS Parents website with your school problems. I never expected to have a fifteen-year-old boy write to me. I very much admire and respect your wish to do better.

There are four things that might be going on: First, you may have a good mind, but not have developed good study habits in elementary. Everything came easy for you and you breezed through it. Now that the material is harder, you get easily frustrated. It will take time and practice to overcome that frustration. Second, perhaps you have some learning differences or disabilities that are not diagnosed and so, though you want to learn the material, you get easily frustrated and walk away from it. You will need to talk to a counselor or psychologist to get some help in understanding how your brain works, and where it stumbles in learning.

Third, you may be a normal fifteen-year-old who wants to be independent and strong and you find lots about school and homework annoying. Your father, I think is operating on this third theory, trying to get you over your irritation with school. He’s right to try, but too much warfare between you could make you hate school even more.

Finally, you may be one of those boys for whom school doesn’t make a lot of sense, because you don’t see how you are going to use it. Elsie, who wrote the posting just beneath, talks about her cousin, who didn’t start to “get it” about school and learning until he was in the Marines. Sometimes it takes a different situation for boys to finally “click” and get the point of school. My cousin didn’t really start to work hard until he went into the Marines (after college!); now he’s in law school.

She’s right that you need to go for a GED if you can’t tough it out any longer. Then go to a trade school, the military or a community college. Many boys who hate high school have found community college suits them better.

Elsie writes...

TJ:

Please talk to your school counselor or a teacher (surely you have at least one good teacher) about your options. Only someone who knows you personally can help you figure out what you need to do.

My cousin was in your position, a smart guy struggling to make passing grades while under heavy parental pressure to get the high grades needed for university admission. He managed to finish high school, then he enlisted in the Marines where he excelled in every class. He wasn't high school smart; he was military smart. After he completed his service, he went to college for free (on the GI Bill) with a better idea of where his talents lie.

You absolutely must finish high school; you can't make a living without that diploma. Your counselor might recommend a GED if you really can't tough it out any longer. From there, head to tech/trade school or military service. You are smart; you just need to find where your talent really is. School counselors are trained to help you find that. I wish you well.

Joy writes...

I really think there are a lot of factors involved with this. I have 2 boys (14, 8) and 1 girl (12). My oldest has the school allergy. He gets physically ill when he thinks about going to school. My youngest has a male teacher this year and, contrary to last year, looks forward to going to school every day. My girl loves school and gets good grades. I have observed a kind of discrimination against boys in schools by female teachers. I don't think they really understand the differences between boys and girls and how to teach in a co-ed classroom. For example, my oldest gets in trouble for drawing during class but if he is expected to sit still he can't pay attention at all. We need more male teachers, especially in elementary schools. Teachers need to be better educated regarding different types of children and how they learn and on how to engage children in learning. This is not overblown at all and has been going on since I was in school 20 years ago.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Joy,

When I was in school, I doodled and drew constantly in class. No teacher should ever object to a boy doodling as long as he is following the discussion and is able to pass the tests. It helps many boys to move a bit in class. I believe in giving them squeeze balls, sponges, chewing gum or anything that absorbs their restlessness. It makes them better students

Mary Beth writes...

I love how succinct the definitions are of each boy...I have a 16 year old, smart and funny boy, who is a cruiser through school. He's a freshman, his grades are suffering, but he's popular and polite. His problem is that he is glib, an old and underused word! It will hold him in good stead as he finds his best talents, but school is a social party for him until he finds his way! As a parent, I am struggling to find a way to hold him accountable, while encouraging his strengths. I may definitely fall back on the driving carrot...

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Mary Beth,

I’m not sure I know what the “driving carrot” is, but my guess is that it has to do with your sixteen-year-old using the car. That’s a huge motivator for boys that age.

If you have a boy who is cruising, there are three things that may help him. One (which we all hope for) is a passionate teacher who lights a fire under him. Second, an ambition or interest which motivates him and some parental rewards for doing well. Third, fear of not being able to drive the car if he doesn’t keep up his grade average.

Jen writes...

We keep looking at the schools as the problem. Schools are busy trying to address the numerous increasing challenges, including the challenges facing boys. But many of the underlying problems are not a result of the schools but of our rapidly changing society. Raising both a girl and a boy, I have been alarmed with the differences in toys, clothes, movies, videos,... It has not been difficult to find respect in the girls departments, but the boys areas in the stores are shocking. The boys areas are full of loud, in your face violence and disrespect.
I have also found myself having to teach and encouage my son to sit and attend to a task, whereas that has come naturally for my daughter. I do believe my son can and will learn the skills needed to attend and learn. I am frusterated that I don't see more parents trying to teach their sons self control instead of just saying they are "all boy".

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Jen,

Yes, boys need discipline and they need some one who sticks with them to develop that discipline. I agree that it is wrong to just say that a boy is “all boy” and ask nothing of him. I work at a demanding boys’ school and the expectations are high. The boys grumble about them, but they are proud when they earn the teachers’ ---and their parents’---respect.

Kim writes...

I have a son who will be 14 this month. School has been a struggle since kindergarten. In fact, he even had trouble in the day care centers he attended when he was a toddler. In elementary school he was a serious behavior problem, with the biggest problem being refusing to do work or participate in class. He would literally lay on the floor in the classroom and refuse to get up. He was tested by the school psychologist and his IQ was above average. We tried several TSS workers, but that having a person one on one just escalated his behaviors. He was sent to a special school for two years for children with behavioral problems. He has seen a psychiatrist, two neurologists, and other speicalists. Finally he was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder. When i looked it up online I cried because this exactly described my son. However, there is no cure and it is not well known. There are few therapists who specialize in it and insurance does not cover the costs. Now that he is older the only behavior problem he has is refusal to do work and is very difficult to get up in the morning and ready for school because he hates it so much. So the category of yours that I would put him into would be the "allergic to school" category (coincidentally, or maybe not, my son has severe allergies to many things). He is very easily frustrated and is a perfectionist who feels that if things aren't exactly the way they should be, he cannot proceed. Also, he has never been able to learn cursive and his printing is terrible and it takes him so long to write things that it is no wonder he hates school. Very few teachers have any tolerance for him. He is now in all regular classes due to my insistence. He does buckle down at test time and gets 100 on most tests, but his grades suffer because he does not complete any of the work. I suspect there are alot more kids that are similar, but their parents complete the work for them, which I will not do. Any suggestions?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Kim,

I agree that your son sounds allergic to school; and yes, there are lots of boys like him in schools around the country. His ability to manage the noise, confusion and demands of school was no doubt affected by his sensory integrate problems. Reading your email, I think you are doing pretty well with your son, considering what a bad start he had in his school career. He has overcome a lot of bad feelings about himself. Focus on his strengths and keep doing what you are doing!

Does he like any teachers? Does he feel as if someone in the building understand and respect his struggles? Does someone in the building give him hope? If not, I’m hoping he’ll find someone, or that he’ll get hope from his friends, from sports, or from an outside job.

roshni writes...

This is referring to the normal kids that are simply not interested in school:
I truly believe it's not the schools or parents particularly that are responsible for this. It's the society as a whole. The culture here in US is to do the least and get the most out of everything. No one is interested in working hard in order to EARN the money that they get. Almost everyone wants to just cruise through everything but get the full pay. This attitude is then transferred to the kids. Most don't care about the elderly and have no respect for the community as a whole. "I do what I want" and "I don't care what you think" or " I simply don't care" attitudes are very common in most people. Children see this very easily and have no reason to do any better.
We must learn from other countries to see how they are getting better and better while we keep getting worse every day.
People are too worried about being politically correct and 'not hurting people's feelings', but some serious and harsh decisions need to be made in order for the whole society to flourish.
There is absolutely no appreciation for what this country provides everyday people, just complaints about what think they are entitled to have.
Why do people keep blaming others instead of seeing what they can do to make things better.


AND Jim::
If you can't motivate yourself no one in this world can. I bet you never listen to anyone's advice unless you like it, and you only like what lets you do what you want at the end of the day.
You will never recover from the cycle if you are not honest with yourself and understand your downfalls and do something about them yourself. People can help, but you have to do all the work and you must EXPECT only yourself to do all the work. Stop blaming others.


What I hate the most is that I have a son that's about to start school and environment filled with kids that are so uninterested in school will create a horrible environment for kids that have potential to do better.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Roshni and Jim,

While I do see boys in school who are disrespectful, entitled and unmotivated, and I worry about them, I see many, many boys who are respectful to their elders, motivated to do well, but who struggle with different aspects of school and learning. Many come from families who do not send them to school prepared to follow rules and to learn. However, this is not just an American problem.

England, Germany, Spain, Australia and New Zealand are all reporting the same data; girls are getting better grades, and there are more girls than boys in college in those countries. Indeed, girls are outperforming boys in virtually every country in the “older” industrialized world. The rapidly developing world is a different matter. When I travel to Asia or South Asia, I see something quite extraordinary, strikingly different from what I see in the U.S. Everyone in China, Korea and India is focused on learning and school; for the most part they don’t care about town sports, extracurricular activities and the prom. Parents don’t watch television; they do homework with their children. It is study, study, study every night. This intense focus can be hard on kids, especially slow learners, but some of these countries are getting some impressive results. Whether or not it is good for all children, whether it will foster creativity and independent thinking is another issue---too big to debate here.

EJ writes...

Here in NYC, the problems begin at pre-K, when a 4 years old is asked to take multiple tests in order to get into a good school. The only way to improve his score in the tests is to make him practice linear thinking and structured forms. The result is a long painful process, taking him away from his Superman, Star Wars toys and playdates.
No imagination needed, no exploration experiences, no talent required, nothing. Sad.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

EJ,

I agree with you: imaginative play can help brain development and creativity more than rote learning and test preparation.

Lynn Greene writes...

How can parents assist our boys to become empowered problem solving men within the current educational system?
Mom of a 13 year old boy

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Lynn,

What a huge question. I’m not sure I can tackle it all here. When teachers do their jobs by making school both interesting and challenging, boys develop into problem-solvers; when schools create a moral environment and have high expectations for behavior, boys turn into leaders and good citizens.

Your job is to hold your son accountable for his behavior and show him why it is good to be an educated person. I hope you read with him AND read on your own; I hope you take him to plays and museums; I hope you venture with him into the out-of-doors and let him tackle the challenges there. A boy who paddles a canoe or fixes an outboard engine feels empowered. Practical skills outside of school can help performance in school.

Manja writes...

I have a 7 year old in 2nd grade. He has been struggling since K. His problem seems to be that he has no confidence. he looks at his homework and thinks he can't do it. Telling him he can and praising him after he does it makes no difference. I don't know where this attitude came from but I think his K teacher is partly to blame. I don't know how to help him.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Manja,

Many children find school discouraging, especially in second grade when things begin to really count. Many boys find homework demoralizing, at least until they have mastered the concepts, and they try to avoid it to avoid feeling humiliated.

Just praising children is pretty useless. What they need is the experience of skill-building and success. Confidence comes out of doing well, not someone telling you that you are good. A skilled teacher provides lessons that are age-appropriate and do-able. Bad teachers just give homework so they look demanding. A successful parent provides support, patience and encouragement. Sit with your son when he is working; don’t get pulled into his discouragement. Just say, “Well, let’s see if there is one of these problems that you can do.” After he does one, say, “Well, maybe there’s another you can do.” And read to him at bedtime. Enjoyable, recreational reading can be the key to a successful, educated boy.

Kari writes...

I have a 5-year old boy who missed the age cut-off for kindergarten by 2 days. He's in pre-k now and HATES it. He bridles against every rule and every activity and therefor is in trouble every day. His teachers know he isn't a "bad boy" and he's very smart- just stubborn. I worry about how he will do when he gets into "real school" He loves to learn and do well, just on his own terms. Will he outgrow this?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Kari,

Boys are both proud and competitive. Tell your son that you agree that he probably could have done the work in Kindergarten and you know he’s angry, and perhaps he has a right to be, but rules are rules. Don’t ask him to change his feelings, just require him to behave himself. Are there any boys in his class who are close to his age? Invite them over the your house, drink coffee with their moms, let the boys hear you say that you both understand how frustrating it is that they are still in pre-K, because they are so capable. A good friend and playmate can make pre-K seem more tolerable.

Mandy writes...

You forgot the "bored" boy. There are many boys who are under stimulated and under-engaged by their teachers and school system. these boys tend to check out until a teacher comes along and finds ways to keep those boys engaged with stimulating and interesting learning opportunities.

my husband is a perfect example of this. he would routinely finish his work ahead of the rest of the class, and most teachers would tell him to just put his head on his desk, or punish him for working ahead. it wasn't until a teacher gave him extra credit work, more advanced than what the class was working on, that he felt he was being adequately challenged. he coasted through most of school by turning in assignments, he found simple, late and losing letter grades as a result. he ended up attending a somewhat mediocre college and did ok, until he realized his laziness and lack of engagement was holding him back. eventually he graduated in the top 20% of a top 25 law school and is successful at what he does.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Mandy,

Thanks for the great story about your husband. Perhaps it will give some mothers hope about their “bored,” underperforming boys.

Rebecca writes...

My son is 6 year old kindergartner and he is allergic to school. He often tells us that he is bored but when I have helped out in his class I have seen how that is possible because the teacher spends a lot of her class time dealing with the other boys in the class that appear to have the same affliction. My husband and I are beating our heads against the wall trying to get him to understand the importance of school but he doesn't want to hear a word we say. He loves any topic that has to do with space and the solar system but talking to him that if he wants to study and understand these subjects more, going to school is part of that process he wants to jump from point A to point D without doing all the leg work in between. And getting him to do homework is such a major production in our home that I dread getting his packets every week. But when we FINALLY get him to do the work he is very capable of doing it. In fact he tends to test in the higher percentile when he has been assessed.

And now because of the teacher's constant compliant about his behavior, we are at the point that we are looking for a school with a smaller student body. The school has also suggested getting him behaviorally assessed because he can be such a major distraction in class sometimes. My husband and I are a bit hesitant to start getting him evaluated because we honestly believe that this is his personality and growing process for his brain. We understand the schools need to get him under control behaviorally but I don't want the school to start a behavioral file on him at such a young age.

Any suggestions in how to help us work with our son would be greatly appreciated.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Rebbeca,

You are doing the right thing by finding a new school for your son, one with smaller, more challenging classes, Stop preaching to him about loving school and stop spending hours fighting about homework. Kindergartners shouldn’t be getting homework. Whatever educational value homework has for boys isn’t worth all that fighting with their mothers! Since he has homework, just set aside a a short “study hall” period every night and let him do what he can do in that time. If he doesn’t get it done…well, so what? Support his strengths, his outside interests, his reading. Enjoy his intelligence and curiosity.

I don’t believe in homework in Kindergarten. I think it makes more boys hate school than almost anything else. I believe that, at most, there should be ten minutes of homework in first grade and twenty minutes in second grade. What I’d like to see instead of homework is half an hour of pleasurable reading, with both mother and son, or father and son taking turns reading something they both love.

sandra writes...

THE TALE OF TWO KIDS
My son is an average student with learning issues - with average grades "B" no higher no lower. He attends a competitive private school. He is not motivated to do better. He loves spending his time tinkering with electronics and computer software. He also started his own business at age 17 fixing computers and developing websites. When he was younger it frustrated me to see him so unmotivated. But now I see the value of balance- He has balanced his work load with his true inner passions. We work hard to achieve balance our lives- in our 40's - why cant we teach our children to balance - what you love with school.
My daughter does not have any learning issues. She also attends a private school. She is very competitive and works until 12:00 or 2:00 in the morning to make good grades. She has very little time to find her inner talents. She works like a machine and produces what we expect her to produce - she is then recognized for her achievements.

What will become of these two?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Sandra,

Both your son and your daughter are going to turn out great. They are both going to get a good education at their school. Your daughter may do something more school related; perhaps she’ll go to graduate school, get a Ph.D. and become a professor. Your son will follow his passion and become a software developer or an entrepreneur. I don’t know that you can teach “balance.” I think kids have to find balance on their own. It helps if their parents trust in their development, and it sounds as if you do. (But get your daughter to bed earlier. She must be exhausted.)

Terri writes...

How do you get a young man ( he is now 18) to overcome himself? He has been diagnosed ADHD and bipolar, and has impulsivity issues. I am watching him struggle in a job he hates, wanting more, but as his disappointment in the world grows, so too is his self loathing and self esteem. My son is gifted ( truly- IQ is higher than 140), but impaired. How do we as his family help him become happy with his choices and himself?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Terri,

Of course your son is gifted. Bipolar illness is serious, but try to stop thinking about his diagnoses and focus on his strengths. Dr. Edward Hallowell’s books on ADHD are particularly helpful in this regard because he advocates a “strength-based approach.” I recommend Driven to Distraction, Answers to Distraction and Super Parenting for ADD.

sian writes...

My son is one of those for whom school has turned into a place for socializing.

He says gets bored with class especially science his best subject. I think this may be partly our fault for exposing him to more advanced sciences. He loved it then and still does. What do you do when he goes to school and finds the class not his speed? Or at least he thinks it isn't.

Even telling to just get through doesn't even work. I tell him he needs to put forth the effort to let me know that putting him in a school that would exceed his needs would not be a waste of time and money. He needs to do his part. You can't just be above things and not do it. Hard work gets you places.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Sian,

You didn’t tell me your son’s age, but I’m guessing he is in high school. Many boys with scientific ability are bored, until they get that great teacher who challenges them and turns them on to science. I hope that happens for your son. You did not make a mistake by exposing him to more advanced sciences. It is never a mistake to introduce challenging and interesting material into your son’s life.

Anna writes...

Interesting that the majority of these comments are from women...
----
Has anyone considered that it is the lack of a MALE ROLE MODEL? So many children come from broken homes these days and a lot of the time they are single-mother homes. The girls, who naturally want to imitate their mothers, work hard because she works hard. The boys have no male role model to show them the value of hard work and thus they do not work hard.

It's culture that's the problem, not boys. Ask any old person about one-room schoolhouses and how the boys acted then. They were expected to come to school and LEARN without messing around. They had both parents and there were social incentives to do well at school.

Perhaps it is also the jobs that schools are "preparing" them for working. No boy wants to sit at a desk all day clicking a mouse (and if he does, he's probably playing instead of working). He wants to be moving, using his body to accomplish something. The shift from blue-collar labor to white-collar is advantageous to women, not men.

Women are not smarter than men, and men are not smarter than women. Each sex has its own strengths in cognition and behavior. Culture is the problem, not biology.

I wonder what the grades are like in Asian countries, where there is, stereotypically, an extremely high value placed on education?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Anna,

Thirty-five percent of American boys are being raised in a home without their biological fathers. That is a huge problem, especially in poor neighborhoods in the inner city where sixty and seventy percent of boys may not have a dad at home. As you say, they have no role model and research shows that boys from single-parent homes are statistically at risk.

However, even in homes where a boy has a dad, he may not have a father who helps with homework, reads with him or ever comes to a PTA meeting. The only time a boy sees his father is when he is playing town soccer or ice hockey. If the only thing your father cares about is sports, well…boys aren’t stupid. They are going to focus on the thing that wins them their father’s love and respect.

Asia is different. Asian parents, both mothers and fathers, talk about the importance of education. However, the dads aren’t necessarily more present in their sons’ lives. Women in Hong Kong tell me that sometimes very absent fathers come home, find their sons don’t have good grades, and berate or beat the mother. The mother is held responsible for the son’s achievements.

Rhonda writes...

I am the mother of 3 boys and 1 girl-I feel that any issues my children may or may not have when learning are based on my own abilities to teach and help them. I know my children best, so I feel that I am the most qualified to assist them when necessary. It is my opinion that too much blame is placed on the schools when children struggle-it starts at home. I also feel that learning starts at a very early age and if that opportunity is missed then children sometimes struggle in the schools. I also don't feel society is to blame-we as parents are to act as filters-controlling what our children see, hear and learn. One more thing that people seem to forget is that we are dealing with individuals, not every child is the same and we need to stop assuming that all children have the same abilities. Not every child is going to excel in school-some will be average and some will fail. That is life.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Rhonda,

I agree with you that parents know their children best, but they aren’t always their children’s best teachers. Sometimes teachers can do for a child what a parent cannot. I also agree that understanding your own child’s individual strengths and temperament is crucial. And not all children will do well in school. There always has to be a bottom quarter of the class

Jenny writes...

I am a high school science teacher, and have two classes of retake biology students. About 80% of the students are boys. Of these students, I see many of the boys listed above. As a teacher, trying to show the students that we care, and presenting the information in a different way is the easy part.

The difficult part for me, is that it is not easy to reach all students in large classes. My retake classes are small,so I can give the kids much more attention. However, I still have kids that struggle with reading level, test taking, and the ability to sit through the whole school day.

Usually, the students that are the biggest behavior problems, are the ones that teachers get the littlest support from home. I have several students that refuse to do any work, even refusing to take any tests, but still have cell phones and drive their cars to school.

I do think culture has washed away most childhood expectations from our society, and that being lazy, rude or a jerk to others is considered funny. But, we can't throw the blame on the culture. As parents, we have to take the responsibility of instilling these values in our children. We should expect that our schools will support us in expecting work ethic, quality, and manners from our children, but the kids should learn this at home, practice it at school, and then reinforced again at home.

In most cases, children will rise to our expectations, but sometimes it is a huge battle.

The good news, is once the dance is done of them trying to figure out that I do care about them, and I'm willing to try new things to help them understand, they will do the work.

It's also amusing to me that no matter how much the upper classmen that goofed around their first few years and won't graduate in time, try to tell the Freshmen not to make the same mistakes, some kids just have to have that experience themselves.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Jenny,

Thank you for your thoughtful email. You are certainly the voice of experience, and it is clear that you know your boys well. It is also true that many boys have to learn through their own experience. You can’t give 9th graders the wisdom they need; they are going to have to live, make mistakes, take short cuts, get knocked down and finally develop some judgment on their own.

Sandra S writes...

My husband and I are the proud parents of two wonderful boys. My eldest is 6 1/2 and in the first grade in a public elementary school. He struggles with reading and writing and is below the reading benchmark for his grade level. For this reason, he receives extra help through the school and works with a reading tutor each day for 30 minutes on top of his daily class reading. Generally, there is at least 45 minutes of language arts homework to do each night and my son is not motivated to do it. He's reluctant and often whines and complains or finds reasons not to do the work. I know he can do the work when he tries, but it’s like pulling teeth. His teacher and I are always in contact and I'm as conscientious as I know how, but I can't seem to help him get around this. I’m at my wits end. What can I do to?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Sandra,

When a boy finds school work hard and discouraging, it is difficult to get him to do homework, no matter how conscientious you are. What you need to do is make sure that the battles over homework don’t go on for hours. There should be a “study hall” time at night. Clear the table after dinner and everyone in the house should sit at the table readiing, writing or doing their homework. The TV shouldn’t be on in the background. You can’t ask a boy to read if his dad is watching television and his brother is playing video games. But do what you can for an hour, from 6:00-7:00 or whatever and after that let him do something he loves to do as a reward. He has to have a positive end to his night. And don’t forget to read to him at bedtime. He needs to love stories and reading, without all the work and pain, and you can do that for him every day. Bedtime reading might turn out to be more important than homework in helping him to stay engaged in school.

Audrey writes...

Honestly I believe that the schools expect too much out of these children at an early age. Children should not have homework in Kindergarten! I didn't have homework until I was in 2nd grade! In my day children learned how to read in 1st grade. Now they're expected to know how to read, do geometry etc.. in Kindergarten! These children are just not ready for this yet. Let children be children and learn at the pace and age that they are. If you are able to stay home and teach your children all this before they go to school then great but for those of us that work full time plus have other children there's just no way. Teachers do not want to teach they want the parents to teach. That's just my opinion.

Sharon writes...

Do you have any suggestions? My 8 yr. old adopted son when neuropsych tested, was/is extremely bright& was diagnosed with possible mood disorder.He& his bio. mother tested positive for alcohol & cocaine @ birth; bio mother smoked, had poor nutrition & no prenatal care.Pediatric neonatologist said he was fine, but may have > risk of learning disabilites.'Adopted' @ birth. There is a disconnect between how much my brilliant son knows & being able to express it in writing.He is creative, an inventor,thinks out of the box,loving perceptive.He worries about what everyone thinks (won't wear his glasses,clothes sensitivities) and about being embarrassed, diminutive for his age (at recess). He jumps around a page to complete work, rather than moving from left to right, or from ?s1,2, etc. Des not have an IEP or 504 plan. Math & science are stronger than reading / spelling skills. Can hold it together for school & aftercare, but can't seem to be calm or focus at home, even though there is no TV,Legos or video games until the weekend.Once he starts anything, he can not seem to stop.He also has great difficulty controlling his frustration & takes it out mostly on myself and his sister; he is later remorseful. It's as if he has OCD, difficult or impossible to transition. Has poor appetite. He has been diagnosed with ADHD & strong bipolar traits. He is taking 15 mg. of generic ADDERAL XR & 2 125mg Depakote tablets w/breakfast, generic 10mg Adderal regular tablets @ 2:30pm, 2 125 mg Depakote, Singulair(asthma),Zyzal liq.,skin creme & Xopenex (asthma, allergies)at night after dinner before bed. My wonderful son prefers alone games,says he only has 1 friend, is bored at school & home & his full sister 14 mo. younger "pushes his buttons." Adoptive father has TBI (traumatic brain injury)& difficulty with mood,anger,depression,authoritative parenting style& is ltd. physically. My son responds to praise & is extremely sensitive to any suggestion (takes as criticism).He sees psych.4-6 wks. Has been on various meds. since age 6. Craves sugar, sugar substitutes.We try to keep ltd.amt. in house & must hide or lock. Have tried all kinds of incentives orreward systems.Behavior affects entire family (stress,schedules,$non-participating doctors). Attends sibling(psychologist)& non- sibling facilited group. Straight talk /play cognitive therapy did not seem to work,but may be need 1 on 1, now.Has never been on psychotrophic drugs without stimulants. Late for everything, but doesn't want to leave after he gets there & doing something he likes.Attends cub scouts & religion class. Read most of your.Drs. Hallowell,Ratey,Jensen books. Can't get him to exercise. Help!

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Sharon,

A very high percentage of adopted children have learning disabilities including trouble with attention. It sounds to me as if you have been getting the help you need in understanding your son’s struggles. I am especially glad to hear that you are reading Driven to Distraction, Delivered from Distraction and SuperParenting for ADD. You have turned to the right experts. There isn’t much I can add to the information you have given me.

It is going to be challenging to raise your son, but it is clear that you love him and you want him to thrive. Even at your most discouraged times, you need to focus on his strengths. Do things with him that you enjoy, whether it is reading or playing games, and have faith that his writing will come in time (there aren’t many great 8-year-old writers), and he will find an outlet for his brilliant mind.

Katie writes...

I have an 7 almost 8 year old who struggles dispit his best efforts. I don't think he has adhd. I really firmly believe that he has Dexelia despit me saying this to the teacher no effot has been made to see if putting him on a modifated curriculm would help him be more succesfull. I really wish I could figure out how to help him before he desides to hate school.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Katie,

Many more boys than girls are diagnosed with dyslexia. Language doesn’t work well for them. They struggle with spelling, with reading, or, if they can read, they have problems with comprehension.

It is my understanding that every public school system must respond to a formal request for an evaluation and an IEP. If you son’s teacher doesn’t understand dyslexia, you must go to the principal or psychologist at his elementary school to request an evaluation. It is your right by law. I hope you will do it before, as you say, he comes to hate school.

Margaret writes...

A friend's 19-year-old son is home on break from college and all he wants to do 24 hours a day is play video games. She set limits, he got mad and went to stay with a friend. My son is still a toddler and I wonder what we can do to avoid a similar future. How do you build a solid foundation strong enough to withstand video games?

Michelle writes...

What about so many that are like my boys, who are well ahead of their group when they start school, but have a complete lack of attention and are often disruptive?

My 14-year-old, after being referred by us, his doctor and child psych (not school's, though), and many teachers, finally was taken in by the Gifted and Talented program, which he seems to be enjoying, but it's a little late because he's lost A TON of faith in the school! Not only that, but (being new parents) we allowed the district and doctors to pressure us into thinking he need to be labeled and/or medicated for ADHD and depression. He still gets good grades, but his creative and innovative intelligence and achievement on standardized tests tell you he could be doing much better.

Now my 6 year old is the exact same. He was already reading when he got into Kindergarten and you can't even stump him once on his math tests. His previous teacher refused to acknowledge anything positive about him, as he was pretty difficult with her (particularly because of her high expectations of an all-day, everyday Kindergartner!), but his teacher now really comments and somewhat even attempts to encourage/promote his creative ability. Yet, he's still bored and disruptive to the point that he's even wearing on her already!

Being our third child (and an English as a Second Language teacher in the district) I refuse to let the school try to tell me my first grader is ADHD or whatnot. I keep hoping eventually they'll figure out it's time to make some changes to their seatwork curriculum!

Any thoughts?

Perla writes...

Mr. Thompson, I really liked your article, as I was reading the descriptions of each type of student I could easily see the faces of some of my boy students who are not getting good grades in my class. I can't wait to go back to school (jan 10th) and start working with your strategies. I also feel good about myself as a teacher, I discovered I can be that kind of teacher who understands school allergic kids. I've put into practice some of the suggestions you mentioned in order to motive this type of kids.
There is a phrase that I personally liked a lot, about more boys having funny brains that girls. I have noticed that through out my practice. Boys are really a challenge in the classroom, a challenge worth taking.....What would a teacher be like without a challenge?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Perla,

I’m glad you like the phrase “funny brains.” For me it captures the way boys are without pathologizing their variable brains. What I know is that boys always appreciate a teacher who understands that they may be allergic to school and who still tries to reach them using novel techniques.

Cate writes...

I am a science teacher whose teaching is driven by standards and the districts' directives for using EDI (explicit direct instruction) strategies. My concern is for the boys whose hormones direct their behavior vs. focusing on science. Bored, struggling, LD, otherwise engaged, all of them in one class! I've found that hands-on labs works for most of them but I can't run labs every day unfortunately. So I break them into groups with evenly distributed girls (1:3 ratio girls to boys) to accomplish work after the EDI lessons. Gives them time to talk and work. Usually works. When it doesn't I'm up a creek. What to do then?

Cathy writes...

My son is a third grader at a public school that my husband & I are very pleased with. What I'm seeing is the cirriculum level given to these kids is way beyond their ability. Math is being pushed to the outer boundaries when the kids can't even add/subtract yet. I'm a college graduate and when I have to read over my son's math homework a few times just to understand it; well I can imagine how he feels.

Maybe we should just take a step back, let the kids learn the basics, then move forward. We all got it at the end of the day and they will too.

Tracy writes...

My son is 15, his father,my husband died last summer of cancer. My son has been having problems with school, homework, and caring about doing well in school since his father became I'll in the beginning of 2009. He has been to a therapist, he is still not passing his classes, he started 10th grade, its gone down hill.
I am thinking of changing schools? Or maybe an online school? When I ask him about it, he clams up, and then says go ahead take away everything ..I don't care..like when I say he can't play games, do his favorite sports etc..But I worry about him needing to release his stress playing sports. How do I help him, help him self.

Thank you

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Tracy, I am so sorry for the loss of your husband from cancer. That must be extremely painful for you and for your son.

Teenagers, especially boys, often react to the death of a parent in complex ways. Some become super-good high achievers, others become angry and withdrawn. Still others---and your son may be in this category---simply express through their actions that nothing means anything to them anymore; they just throw their lives away for a period of time. If that is what your son is doing, you must understand it for what it is: a demonstration of loyalty for the lost parent. What a boy is saying through his behavior is: “Dad, I loved you so much and your death has made me so angry at God and angry at the universe, that nothing has any meaning for me. School is stupid and futile, actually, everything in life is trivial and worthless.” That’s why when you take sports away from your son he says, “Take everything away. I don’t care.”

It is very tricky to punish a boy when he is in that kind of a mood, because trying to force him to take school seriously just produces more contempt and anger. I share your worry about his needing sports. He needs anything that makes him feel better, so I suggest that you let him play. There are other ways to express your concern about his academic performance.

I think he needs three things. He needs an adult man outside his family to take an interest in him, a grandfather or an uncle if possible, but perhaps a teacher or a coach can provide the connection. It would be particularly helpful if that person had also lost a father so that he could talk to your son about how it felt to him to lose a dad when he was a teenager. Your son might also need to talk with other boys who have suffered a parent loss. The guidance counselor at school could put together a discussion group of boys who have lost parents. I certainly have done it at schools where I have been the psychologist.

Finally, your son needs someone to check and make sure that his grief doesn’t turn into a long-term depression. I understand that your son is often sour around you. That can be normal for angry teens; they show their most sullen side to their mothers. (Fifteen-year-olds can be tough on their moms even when no one has died).

I need to know: Does he ever laugh or joke? Does he go out with friends? Does he ever have a good time with anyone? If the answers to those questions are yes, I’m less worried. If the answers to those questions are “no” then I am concerned that he has already slipped into a depression. It sounds as if he no longer sees a therapist; if he refuses to do so, you should talk to a therapist from time to time and discuss your son’s mood and behavior, just to make sure that he is still experiencing grief and anger, not clinical depression.

Depressions in adolescent boys often do not get diagnosed for years because it is rarely expressed as sadness. It is expressed most often as irritability and “I hate this…that’s stupid.” The underlying sadness of boys is often hidden away. It is important that you don’t overwhelm your son with your sadness, but keep his father alive in your words. When you are having together, say, “Your father would have loved this.” When you make a decision about his life say, “I thought about it and I think your father would have agreed.” He needs to know that his father’s spirit is both honored and still influential in his life.

Tracy writes...

How can I help my son, 15. His dad ,my husband died this last summer. My son doesn't care about school..he isn't doing the work..and failing. He is in the gifted and talented group..at least he was. He has been to therapy, and I have spoke with the school..
He plays hockey, and skate boards, and I want to let him, because it is a stress released. But he needs motivation or something to get his attention..I feel the need to take away these privileges.

Thank you for any guidance.

Katrina writes...

My son is in 6th grade. He has always done very well in school without much effort. His classmates and teachers even say he is very bright, but now that he is in middle school his grades are going down. It has nothing to do with apitude or ability. He has a problem maintaining his motivation (not doing homework or doing it with minimal effort/attention).

I've tried the incintive options. I've tried lecturing. I've tried guilt. Nothing is turning him around. He has so much potential and I'm afraid if we don't address this now it will quickly be too late.

I need specific ideas on how to help.

By the way, the school doesn't seem interested in giving him special attention. He has too be percieved as stupid for extra help. Gifted programs are for the kids that already proove it with high marks and community involvement. My son doesn't fit either category so his apathy continues.

Lisa G. Cohen writes...

After reading your comments, I have to tell you all that it's comforting to know that I am not alone. I certainly don't have any answers. Thank you for all sharing.

Melanie writes...

Dear Mr. Thompson,
My son has good grade in math and science. But he struggles with reading--
any advise.

Davd writes...

All of the 5 theories seemed to by applicable to girls, too. I've worked with plenty of girls who suffer from the same issues. In my college Math 99 classes, they are heavily dominated by women, but that is just my anecdote, not data.

I personally think we should remove sports from the schools- make them community based instead of school-based. Schools really should focus on education, and not entertainment.

Dawn writes...

Hello my name is Dawn and I have a 6 year old boy who has a vision problem that we never picked up on until he started kindergarten and received a eye test when conformed he needed glassed in the worst way. I was shocked to hear that so I took him to a real eye doctor just to have them confer the schools findings. So needless to say he didn't regonize his letters or numbers. We held him back in Kindergarten thinking he would help him we even got the school to give him extra help but it isn't working.. don't know what tools to use to teach my son is letters and numbers.. please help

Debret writes...

I agree with the article. But as a parent you have to be involved with the schools and teachers and you also have the know your child academically, so you can support throughout their development.

Estelle writes...

Girls were always better students than boys but were held back from math and sciences. Girls can multitask more easily and they enjoy doing repetitive things which homework is. When given the go ahead to excel in all areas the obvious became apparent. Girls are more geared to education and learning than men. Women's roles have always been to educate her children in all areas of life which make them natural teachers and better learners.

Chris writes...

Teachers need to adjust some things to the child. That would be extremely rare in this 'run them through the mill' school system in America at least. My son was actually bullied by two of his teachers! The principle and school psychologist knew it and that these teachers had...idiosyncracies.
It's very difficult.

sabrina writes...

Dear Mr Thompson,
What can be done from an early stage to prevent these negative behaviors.

Nicole writes...

Dear Mr. Thompson,

My son is only 3, so I don't have any issues with him...yet. :)

I think it is really kind of you to give so many people your help and advice.

Even though I don't have a question, I'll say thanks anyway. I'm sure I'll be referring to your answers soon enough.

Tim writes...

Our 14 year old gets along well with teachers, coaches, and peers at school. When he gets home he is disrespectful and hits his 11 year old brother and 7 year old sister if he does not have exclusive use of videogames. He talks about Star Wars and videogames with friends at lunchtime. We have used a number of drugs and psychologists and are now thinking he can't live with us and needs some correctional or military school. His grades are good. He does not want to be sent away.
At the hospital he has be diagnosed borderline asperger's.
He is the oldest. I think he wants to be left alone. He is probably stressed socially at school and can take out his frustrations on his parents and siblings. We need to improve this situation, send him away? What if he won't go?

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Tim,

I think you understand your son pretty well. A boy with Asperger’s has trouble picking up social cues from others and his internal state is probably pretty anxious---as you say, “stressed”--- throughout the day. He has probably been holding it together, trying to be as good as he can be, and he is succeeding.

You tell me that he “gets along well with teachers, coaches and peers.” That’s great. When he comes home, he lets down; he wants things his way; he gets rigid and demanding; he is not very nice to his eleven-year-old brother and seven-year-old sister. Unless, he is really hurting them physically, I’m not worried. I wish I could tell you how many thousands of parents have asked me questions about brothers who wrestle and fight all the time or brothers and sisters who argue all the time.

Please don’t send your son away from home. I went to boarding school and I regularly consult to boarding schools; I also sent my daughter to boarding school for her sports (she begged to go), but I think it might make your son feel terribly and completed rejected by his parents. I also suspect that your son would not do well in a military setting. I don’t think most Asperger’s children thrive in boarding situations.

What you do have to do is address the issue of sharing the video games. In general, fourteen-year-olds don’t share well with younger siblings, but your son may not be at all good at sharing. Asperger’s kids tend to be rigid, brittle thinkers; they also become very possessive about stuff. So you either have to get rid of the game system entirely and thereby eliminate the problem, or you have to get separate systems for your children---PSP’s or Wii for the younger ones?----so he can play on his own. But unless there is something more serious that I am not hearing about, I wouldn’t send him away. Millions of boys spend their lunch hours talking about video games and Star Wars; that’s pretty normal.

Lisa writes...

I am having trouble with my 13 yr old son and school, he is in the 7th grade. We live in a rural community of approx 2200 people. I have lived in this community my whole life. The beginning of the year wasn't to bad, but we I think we have 2 issues going on. One I think he fits your description of the allergic-to-school boy, and he doesn't fit in the box. He has had a friend from Kinder on and now his parent feels mine is a bad influence. So they don't speak or anything. Rumors are flying about what he is doing etc. We have a very good relationship and talk about everything. I have talked to the school principal but i am not getting much help there. His grades are in the toilet and it is a constant struggle to get him to do his homework or turn it in. I want him to succeed and am not sure how to help him. I had feed back and he isn't rude or disrespectful in class, he just really doesn't care. None of his teachers have tried to reach out to me and I am not sure how reach them without making his life worse. I have heard from other parents that middle school is really not a good place where we live and that it will be ok when he gets to high school. I don't want to wait and think it will be ok then have it be like this also. So I if you have guidance that I can help him to get motivated and get on track I would love to hear it.
Thank you for your time.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Lisa,

I suspect that your son is hurt and angry. He has lost his best friend; he’s still immature in a number of ways, but now he is the negative focus of a small community, and there isn’t anyone at school who takes a special interest in him. I’m so glad that he opens up to you. I hope that as he grows, he makes new friends and make that one special relationship with a teacher that can turn everything around. Meanwhile, get him involved with a church youth group or, even better, see if you can find him some paid work on a farm. He’ll feel more productive, useful, and proud if he’s working alongside an adult.

Ryan writes...

Cant this boy crisis have something to do with the focus the US has on only girls education, I mean the WEEA (womens educational equity act) still recieves funding (no similar act for boys) then we have a 3 inch federal catalog filled with program after program for only girls in school and of course their is what christina hoff sommers laid out in her book of how feminized our school has become thanks to feminists.

Idk but I think if we took all of the privileges girls get in school and gave them to boys then they probably would be doing better then they are now.

MichaelAuthor Profile Page writes...

Ryan,

Most of the people in the Department of Education are baby boomers like me, and we grew up in a time when everyone believed that schools were unfair to girls.

Books like the Sadkers’ book “Failing at Fairness” had a huge impact on educators. It made many teachers believe that the job of teachers was to level the playing field for girls. It takes a lot of evidence to get people to change their sense of mission, or even to convince them that girls are outperforming boys across the board.

As for schools being a lot more feminized than they used to be: I’m not so sure. I have certainly read Christina Hoff Sommers’ book "The War Against Boys," and I have presented with her in New York and at Brown University. The problem with her central thesis (which is the same as your point) is that I’ve been in schools all my life, and I don’t think they are significantly more “feminized” than they were forty years ago. All my elementary school teachers were women. Weren’t yours? Boys got into a lot of trouble in my day. Didn’t you?

Audra writes...

Hi Dr. Thompson, My son is 7, he's in first grade and hates school. His birthday is in September and our school cut off is in December. We sent him to kindergarten when he turned 5, but he did not do well and was not ready yet so we ended up keeping him back the next year and he did much better. Now in the 1st grade I'm struggling for him to do his homework, he usually has math and spelling every night and a spelling test on Friday which we have to study for and he rufuses to cooperate. Any idea on how I can make school, homework and studying more appealing to him and fun? Any help would be appreciated!

Marie writes...

I don't think that it's so much that boys do not care about school, but that the educational system does not offer enough support and programs to engage boys. There is also a shortage of male teachers. Also, boys are more frequently diagnosed as ADD/ADHD. Some teachers do not understand that boys learn differently from girls and are more active.

In elementary school, the libraries in the the classroom have limited reading selections for boys.

Mark writes...

I appreciate this article very much, and as someone with three grown sons and three young grandsons (ages 14 months to 5 ½ years), it is of more than great interest to me. I thank you for your classification of boys and suggestions for helping them do better in school.
However, I can’t help but feel that until the country as a whole, by which I mean our political leaders as well as the general population, wakes up to the problems boys and young men are having, progress will be very, very slow. When government talks about education, race and class are often mentioned; gender rarely is (unless it is in the context of race). And often, it seems, people who start out very concerned about boys switch over to girls – especially if they happen to have daughters. I’m thinking of the coauther of your 1999 book, Raising Cain. Seven years later, Dan Kindlon, who has two daughters, went on to write a book called Alpha Girls: Understanding the New American Girl and How She Is Changing the World. Here’s the product description of this book:

”The bestselling coauthor of Raising Cain, hailed for its insights into the psyche of boys, breaks new ground with this startling picture of today's American girl--independent, self-confident, highly motivated . . . and fundamentally different from previous generations

There's a new type of teenage girl growing up in America today, and she is having a profound and beneficial influence on society. That's the conclusion of Dr. Dan Kindlon, the widely respected child and adolescent psychologist and the coauthor of the bestseller Raising Cain. Dr. Kindlon supports his startling discoveries about the new "alpha girl" with groundbreaking research, including profiles, case studies, questionnaires and more. In Alpha Girls, Dr. Kindlon:

• presents innovative, newsworthy material about teenage girls that directly contradicts the thesis of Reviving Ophelia

• looks at the many ways in which the accomplishments of the alpha girl's mother have helped to liberate her daughter

• examines the dramatically different relationship between father and daughter today--and how it can transform a girl's psychological makeup, identity, and sense of self

Part of the first generation that is reaping the full benefits of the women's movement, today's American girl is maturing with a new sense of possibility and psychological emancipation. Dr. Kindlon provides us with an in-depth portrait of the alpha girl--a born leader who is ready to explode into adulthood and make her mark on the world and, by her example, serve as an inspiration for women everywhere.”

If you are lucky enough to have a young daughter or daughters, reading something like this must be exhilarating. But if, like me, the people you love the most in this world all happen to be males, three of whom are under six years old, it is a frustrating reminder that even with boys and young men so clearly lagging behind girls and young women, the excitement over the latter’s phenomenal rise trumps concern about the former’s clear-cut struggles.
Part of the problem is that mothers of sons, many of whom still rail at a society which deprived their gender for so long, don’t feel pulled toward supporting the aspirations of boys the way women did for girls with such programs as Take Our Daughters to Work Day, which started in the early 1990s, when girls were already outperforming boys in school and going to college in greater numbers.
To me, one problem is that liberals, who have long championed the underdog, resist when it comes to helping boys, who share in gender but nothing else, the power of their fathers and grandfathers. I wrote about this here:
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/real-men-dont-write-blogs/201003/boys-and-young-men-new-cause-liberals

I honestly believe that until the parents of sons, and grandparents of grandsons, regardless of political persuasion, unite to address these issues, any progress we see will be painfully slow.

Maddie writes...

How ironic! Girls & young women are finally taking leadership roles and demonstrating success, and the dialog is ALL ABOUT BOYS! Hello: Boys and men are not the center of the evolving universe. Women are the future of the planet. Girls had to learn to sit still, behave well and do home-work for millenia. Meanwhile, boys fidgeted, played, and still grew up to have paychecks and power. Not any more!!!! Boys will have to learn to be humble and obedient, and perhaps experience (gasp) failure and disappointment, until they too learn to behave and cooperate.
That being said, I wish you all the best in helping the boys in your life to succeed. But could not stop to praise the girls for awhile first? Girls have overcome tremendous social obstacles in the last century. Men in this country gave their male slaves the right to vote more than 50 years before they gave that right to their wives and mothers and daughters. Am I now supposed to worry that we women are getting too far ahead of our brothers and fathers?
I hope this female-success trend signals a time when girls WILL rule.

Tracy writes...

Michael,
Thank you , Yes my 15 yr old son hangs out with friends, and jokes, and has fun, so I believe he is not clinically depressed. I love the idea of saying things like your father would have loved that..My son plays hockey, and he had a good game the hoer night, I told him his dad would have been very proud of him, and probably had a huge smile on his face right then,
So thank you for your advise, and helpful words.
They are much appreciated!

Tracy

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