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Standing Up For Boys - Parents and Teachers as Advocates

by Stephanie Meegan

Coalition member Stephanie Meegan collaborates with parents, educators, law enforcement and mental health professionals through programs and consultations supporting resiliency in children. Areas of special interest include social-emotional learning, character development, abuse and abduction prevention, stress management, systemic prevention of bullying, developmental needs of boys, and strengthening executive function. As the founder of Impact On Youth Educational Services she has provided services across the country and in Canada for over thirty years.

Why do we need to stand up for boys? Two compelling reasons are provided by Barry McDonald, the author of Boy Smarts and Boys on Target: “Boys are half our future.” “It is better to build boys than mend men.” Although every child is unique, young boys often require extra time and mentoring to learn how to focus their vitality and channel their exuberance constructively. By deepening our understanding of boys’ developmental and educational needs, we can help them thrive. Here are some practical ways to build on boys’ strengths and tap into their potential.

Let Them Stand

In a Boy Smarts Newsletter (Feb. 2014) Barry MacDonald encourages parents and teachers to “Beware the Chair”. He points out that many daily activities can be done standing and this habit engages the muscles in the lower part of the body. Standing is a non-sedentary activity that also increases both metabolism and brain activity. Schools are beginning to provide standing desks or higher tables that serve as “standing stations.” At home, try having them stand at a higher surface such as a kitchen counter or island when doing homework. Letting them stand helps some boys and girls to focus better and stay engaged longer.

Let Them Move

Boys are more likely to fidget and be distracted when they are anxious, experience boredom or perceive a threat. A body in motion stimulates blood flow, gets more oxygen to the brain and helps relieve stress. Physical movement also helps boys to process and store information. In addition to recess, many elementary teachers routinely incorporate short “deep breathing and movement breaks” to help students reset their bodies and brains for optimal learning.

Let Them Wrestle

Outside of school, horseplay allows rambunctious contact without harm. A good way for young boys to learn the “rules” of harmless roughhousing is for a parent to tussle with them and model how to stop when asked. When siblings horse around, parents can coach them, clarify limits and promote fair play. For young boys these exuberant “puppy piles” are often a wonderful way to show genuine affection and build positive connections.

Let Them Read

Boys are often drawn to exciting stories, full of dangerous exploits, heroes and villains, mysterious plots and tests of courage. Books and storytelling can also include challenges to loyalty, moral dilemmas, and vicarious risk taking. Encouraging boys to explore both real and fictional worlds through reading can stimulate curiosity, broaden horizons, test problem solving and build their confidence.

Let Them Expand the Boy Code

Boys can become confused, discouraged, isolated and angry when they feel forced to hide behind tough guy masks. Ironically, girls no longer have a truncated notion of what it means to be a woman. But boys do not always have the same freedom. Dr. William Pollack, author of Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, encourages parents to challenge masculine stereotypes and enable boys to discover their true selves. Pollack explains that “real boys” hunger for support in developing their natural capacity for compassion and justice. It is up to parents, coaches, teachers and other allies to model respect for, and support of, a full range of healthy masculinity.

Let Them Have Adventures

Take boys (and girls) on a nature scavenger hunt, make a snow fort, create a terrarium, play flashlight tag, dig for fossils, explore a pond or creek, sleep outdoors, plant a vegetable garden, create a backyard obstacle course, or cook over a campfire. Let Them Play Growing up with two older brothers in a neighborhood with few girls, my natural habitat was boyland. Afternoons after school and school vacations provided ample opportunities to gather for free-play. All of us enjoyed coming up with activities, moving our bodies, and having adventures. This is when we learned to take turns, divide into teams, work through conflicts, stickup for underdogs, experiment, play fair and use our imaginations.

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