What about readers who crave positive support, not political shrillness? Most existing books on “the boy problem” make parent readers feel even more helpless than the school system and their job demands have made them feel already.
Jump-starting Boys is the first book on the market that empowers parent readers, give them a sense of being able to reclaim the duty and rewards of raising their children and assuring them they really can mitigate and/or work with the influences of school, media and more." [reprinted with permission from Viva Editions press information]
The following is an excerpt from Chapter Four of Jump-Starting Boys: What Hold Smart Kids Back?
Brains and Hormones
If boys and girls are different, is that how they’re born, or the way we raise them? We can’t emphasize enough what a silly question this is, because the answer is obviously some of each. Experts will never agree on exactly how much is nature versus nurture, nor exactly which types of behaviors align with which.
And that’s okay, because parents don’t need to get into the murky debate over how differently wired brains and hormones can affect language and learning, to get the information they need to raise their sons well. They just need to stay open-minded to the fact that there are differences, both physical and cultural, and that their parenting style will have only limited influence against these. While a degree of skepticism is healthy, it is counterproductive to ignore all the science. If women are particularly wary of the nature-versus-nurture debate, that’s understandable, given that they’ve been the ones most hurt in the past by misinformation and manipulations.
As Christina Hoff Sommers says in The War Against Boys, “It wasn’t all that long ago that intelligent men were deploying the idea of innate differences to justify keeping women down socially, legally, and politically. The corrective to that shameful history is not more bad science and rancorous philosophy; it is good science and clear thinking about the rights of all individuals, however they may differ.”
In recent years, key developments in many areas of science (neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, genetics, and neuroendocrinology) confirm the many differences with which boys and girls are born; in other words, differences that scientists pretty much agree can be chalked up to nature, not nurture.
Here’s the key one: Girls’ brains tend to mature earlier than boys’. That’s why girls develop faster than boys in many ways, but especially as regards reading, speaking, and writing. The gap shows up at around age three, and closes about the time boys hit seventeen.
Most people accept this in the preschool years; it seems everyone knows about it and alters their expectations accordingly. But by kindergarten, parents and teachers are wary of treating kids differently, or allowing for different sets of expectations based on gender. Add to that the trend toward kindergartens focusing on academics over activities that kids initiate (which favors girls over boys), larger class sizes (leading to “crowd control” measures to which girls adapt more easily than boys), and the lack of male teachers in elementary schools (allowing for inadvertent biases, like a lack of tolerance for squirming boys).
Now add the next key factor: Boys tend to be more impulsive and need to move around more than girls. Not a problem as long as parents and teachers accept this. But as the number of male teachers (and principals) has decreased in elementary schools, class sizes have expanded and energy-absorbing activities like art, gym, drama, and recess have been cut back, boys’ natural energy is often seen as unnatural. Hence, the skyrocketing number of boys referred to those who would prescribe drugs to calm them. Have parents and teachers begun to see boys as faulty girls?
As they progress through elementary grades, boys feel the ever-heavier weight of disapproval. What parent isn’t distressed when phoned by the principal or given a negative report at a parent- teacher conference? Imagine being told your son is not reading well (compared with whom?), not reading the “right” things (determined largely by female teachers and female librarians), and not settling into writing exercises (which may be heavily skewed to what females like as we discuss in Chapter Nine).
Any tolerance adults have for boys’ language lag in preschool disappears by the time boys reach puberty, likely a major contributing factor to boys developing a negative view of their own language skills and beginning to tune out. The exceptions, as we’ve pointed out before, are the “elites,” typically blessed with strict time limits on screen time at home, ample literary encouragement from their families, positive reinforcement at home for what reading and writing they are doing, and positive male role models in their lives.
Basically, differences in brain structure, hormone levels, and speed of maturing work against boys when it comes to reading, writing, and impulse control. But the existence of “elite boys” proves that those who get encouragement and support can thrive.
As Michael Sullivan puts it in Connecting Boys with Books 2, “The reading gap can be explained largely in terms of brain development lag, making it much less frightening, because boys’ brains eventually catch up, presumably along with their ability to handle language. What then becomes the issue is how we treat children while this brain lag exists, because the development lag really disappears only during the last stages of high school, and by then we have little opportunity to make up for any ground lost.”
The trick for parents is to give boys a more physical learning environment (let them be antsy, handle materials, illustrate or act out stories), give them more frequent breaks, and do whatever it takes to keep them supported and motivated until the gender gap starts to close so they won’t label themselves stupid or lazy and give up. In other words, patience is required when it comes to boys’ reading and writing. And starting them on reading by themselves before they’re ready (age five or so) can backfire.
Withers, Pan and Gill, Cynthia. Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Reader Find Success in School and Life. Viva Editions. 2013. Excerpt of pages 74-77 reprinted with permission from Viva Editions.