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Have Faith in Your Boys and Yourself

Our guest for BOY TALK (#16), Jennifer Fink of Building Boys shares this article:

Is your son struggling, in school or in life?

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-1-50-59-pmI’m willing to bet that at least 80% of you are nodding your heads right now. Either your son’s grades are not what they should be, or he’s disorganized, distracted, in trouble all the time and/or would rather play video games than go to school.

I hear these problems from parents of boys all the time. I hear it from friends, from readers and in various articles I read online and in print. What I also hear: parents blaming themselves and their sons.

The #1 thing you need to know about building boys is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. 

The problems you are dealing with in your home and classroom are present in homes and classrooms throughout the world. Boys in America are struggling today. So are boys in Australia, the UK and elsewhere. You, and your boys, are not alone. Which leads me to…

Thing #2 you need to know about building boys: YOU AND YOUR BOY ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. 

Listen, I know you’re not perfect. I’m sure you’ve made some mistakes dealing with the boys in your life; I know I have! (Just ask my boys.) But if you are reading this post, I am confident that you’re the kind of adult who cares deeply. You’re the kind of person who tries, each and everyday, to do the best you can for the boys in your life. So while you may not be perfect, you are not the problem. Whatever is happening is not your fault, no matter how strict or lenient you were with bedtime, screen time and overall discipline.

Your son isn’t at fault either. Yes, he may blow off his homework. Yes, his lack of attention in class may well contribute to his failing grades. And yes, he may be getting in trouble for how he chooses to treat his teachers and classmates. Your son, like you, is not perfect. But neither is he the root cause of the problem. Like all of us, he came into the world with an abundance of strengths and some weaknesses. Your son was not born a “bad person” or “problem child,” and I believe it’s highly unlikely that virtually all boys turn into trouble. What’s happening to your son is happening to many, many other boys, so whatever is happening cannot be entirely your son’s fault, no matter what he does or does not do.

Thing #3 you need to know about building boys: YOU AND YOUR BOY ARE ENOUGH. 

Christina Tynan-Wood’s article, “How to Catch a Falling Son” will sound all -too familiar to most parents of boys. Tynan-Wood’s son, a high school sophomore, was failing in school, despite the fact that he was, by all accounts, a bright boy, and Tynan-Wood was desperate to help him. She reached out to noted author and boy guru Leonard Sax; he told her to move so she could enroll her son in an all-boys school. She reached out to Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail, who essentially told her that her early-teenage son had no hope of obtaining his dreams. Her son’s high school counselor suggested summer school courses. Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, author of The Homework Trap, suggested limiting homework.

Tynan-Wood developed a plan to help her son catch up, and using the limited-homework time technique, her son made progress. Tynan-Wood eventually found some solace and hope in a Connections Academy counselor who reassure her that her son’s future was not yet written, that many kids find success despite rough starts, especially when those kids have caring parents.

Yet Tynan-Wood writes:

As the parent of a struggling boy, though, it’s not always easy to feel so sanguine. Faced with so many disheartening statistics about failing boys, no parent can afford to sit back and have faith that their care will be enough to pull the kid through.

Those words break my heart. We have so commercialized and institutionalized parenting and education that our parents no longer feel capable of helping and supporting their children!

Years ago, as our oldest sons were nearing preschool age, I overheard one mom — whose 4-yr-old son was still home — say to another mom (whose son was enrolled in 4-yr-old preschool), “I’m sure you son is getting more at preschool than mine is at home.” As I wrote later, “Her comment stopped me cold. This was from a Mom who read to her children. Took them to community events. Was involved in our playgroup. Facilitated her children’s interests. Loved them deeply. And she really, truly believed that preschool was somehow better than her own mothering.”

The same thing is happening to parents who are raising boys. We are so concerned about them, and yet so many of us have simultaneously bought into the not-nearly-dimensional enough ideas of success that society continually feeds us. We believe that success requires good grades in school. We believe that college is the one true way to success. And we are somehow convinced that others — educators and experts — hold the solutions in their hands.

The result? We blame our boys and ourselves, instead of looking at the many ways our schools, societies and institutions are failing our boys. We then look to schools and experts for the solutions. We distrust ourselves and we distrust our boys, instead of doing the one thing we really need to do if we want our sons to succeed.

And what is that one thing?

You need to HAVE FAITH, in yourself and in your boy. You need to once again look at your boy with wonder in your heart; you need to see his strengths and gifts, the ones that were there when he was small and are ever-present to this day. You need to look past your son’s flaws and have faith that within him, he has everything he needs to succeed.

I can hear some of you objecting now: “but he doesn’t work!” “he’s lazy” “all he wants to do is play video games!” All of those things may be true, but it may also be true that he doesn’t work because no one’s ever given him the chance to work at what he really cares about. He might seem lazy because he’s been beaten down by life, because for a decade or longer, all he’s heard from people is that whatever he cares about is not worth caring about. He might play video games because he loves history. Because he loves games. Because he’s a budding storyteller, or because he’s subconsciously prepping for a career as a video game designer.

Let go of the negative judgment, and look at your son. Consciously push away thoughts of his failures, and recall the gifts and potential you saw in him when he was young.

At the same time, remember this: You know your boy better than almost anybody on the planet. You and your son are the true experts when it comes to what he wants and needs. As important as I believe it is to understand the issues facing boys today and to listen to and learn from others, ultimately, the only boy that matters is the one in front of you, and what he needs is, by definition, different than what every other boy needs.

Look at your boy.

Listen to your boy.

Support him and his needs and endeavors.

You will likely find yourself dealing with schools and institutions that don’t understand. Your son will likely be penalized for failing to do homework or for drawing giraffe poop. None of that matters. You cannot protect your boy from a society that fails to understand and appreciate his needs, and I can’t promise you that you or your son won’t be hurt or damaged by these assaults.

I can’t promise you that everything will turn out OK either.

What I can promise you this:

If you love and support your son, and keep the focus on him and his needs, and do your best to advocate for him and his needs, in spite of the conflicting advice you’re certain to hear, you’re doing right by your son.

You’re working to build boys.

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If you’d like to chat with me one-on-one, use this link to schedule a 20-minute complementary phone call or email me at janet@boysalive.com. I’m here for you!

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4 Responses to Have Faith in Your Boys and Yourself

  1. Amy Hankins says:

    This article brought me to tears. Going home to hug my boys and really see them for who I know they are. Thank you, thank you!

    • Janet says:

      Oh Amy, this is why Jennifer and I do what we do – our boys need BIG LOVE! Thanks for commenting. Janet

      • Amy cooney says:

        Ditto Janet!
        I came to one of your classes 7 years ago when I moved here with a 4 and 6 year old! Eye opening then, but I still need reminding of their innate differences from me and the established education system (poor dudes spend 7 hours staying between the lines in school and another 1-2 at home homework!) What time is left for them to be themselves???

        • Janet says:

          Hi Amy! I remember you! We have a lot of work to do to advocate for our boys in a system (school especially) that doesn’t fit them and doesn’t often recognize the effective (and easy) changes that would help them be more comfortable and productive. I’m a huge advocate of unstructured down time as the antidote! Great to hear from you.

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