Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Wild Things -- that's what boys are
As a mom with both a daughter and a son, I can tell you first-hand boys can be reeeeaaaally wild. Add to that my work with fatherless & abused children (as founder of Orphans First -- orphansfirst.org), and I can tell you doubly that boys have very special needs. I'm happy to say that Wild Things by Stephen James and David Thomas provides answers to many of our questions about those "wild things" we call boys.
Looking for answers on how to raise boys?
• Why can’t he sit still?
• Is he hearing a word I say?
• Why is he angry all the time?
Boys are born to be wild. Their strong spirit, endless imagination, and hunger for adventure are only matched by their deep desire to be affirmed, esteemed, and loved. In their new book Wild Things, therapists Stephen James and David Thomas help parents and educators understand what exactly makes boys tick.
Read questions (Q) to the authors and their enlightening answers (A) below:
Q. You address five key stages that a boy goes through on his journey to becoming a man. What stage is the most difficult for most boys to navigate?
A. Each of the stages holds unique challenges. We worked hard to break down each stage in a way that is easy to digest. We think that that parents and educators will walk away with a clearer understanding of a boy’s unique design in each stage and some practical ideas in how to care for him within that stage of his development.
In many ways Wild Things is the kind of thing that you don’t just read once. It is more like an entertaining reference guide that parents and teachers can go back to time and time again for encouragement, insight, and direction.
But if we had to identify one stage as the most challenging, though, we’d have to say the Wanderer stage (13-17). This window of a young man’s development is plagued by physical and emotional change. A colleague of mine, who is pediatrician, said boys in this stage are 98% hormone, which translates to their being so emotional. A part of their developmental agenda is moving toward independence and pulling away. He’s often times the most distant and hard to read in this stage, which greatly complicates the process of letting him go and trusting him with more independence. And it is during this stage that is has the ability to make decisions that will effect the rest of his life. The risks are real and boys in this stage lack the ability to choose wisely with their future in sight.
Q. Both of you are fathers of girls and boys. How is parenting a boy different from parenting a girl?
A. Parenting boys in the first three stages is just so physical. Parenting boys in these years requires a great deal of physical energy—and a good back. Whereas parenting our daughters is so much more relational and emotional. Both are exhilarating and exhausting, but in different ways.
When I (David) engage my daughter, it’s in sitting in a neighborhood coffee shop talking about her day at school. My boys can sit at the coffee shop long enough to finish a chocolate chip cookie, spill their milk and then we’re kicking a soccer ball across the street at the park.
We talk a lot in the book about boys in motion and how to engage these active, physical beings. Girls need that too, no doubt, but not in the same way boys need it.
We had our families together the other day over at my (Stephen’s) house. At one point all the kids went out in the front yard to play: five boys and two girls in all. There were a number of balls lying around the yard. The boys started playing soccer with one ball and the girls started playing soccer with another. After a few minutes the boys were trying to kick the ball at each other and the girls were off to the side talking to each other. To me that is a great picture of the differences.
Q. What mistakes have parents and educators made in their approach to rearing and training boys?
A. For me (Stephen) the consistent mistake my wife and I make is that we over explain and over verbalize with our sons. This is a problem that is very common. In parenting boys, adults tend to talk to them and at them a great deal. We talk and talk and talk and end up sounding a lot like Charlie Brown’s teacher. “Whah, whah, whah.” In Wild Things we offer a number of different strategies for engaging and educating boys that better match their unique design. Boys learn through experience and physical repetition. They need consistent firm boundaries and loads of encouragement.
As far as school goes we speak a lot in the book that the compulsory model we use for schooling in the United States is generally well-suited to a girl’s learning style. It’s heavy on verbal and written expression, two particular areas of strength for most girls. It involves a good deal of sitting still for extended periods of time with mostly auditory instruction. These methods don’t match a boy’s way of learning or draw on his learning strengths.
Q. How did you come to the conclusions you discuss in Wild Things?
A. The book is a combination of science and research, clinical experience (our own as therapists and that of others), and our own journey of parenting five boys between the two of us.
As therapists, we have sat with thousands of men and boys over the years. Our hope was to bring their voices into the content of Wild Things. We have learned so much from the males we’ve had the great honor of working with and hoped to bring their stories into this text. In addition to those, we are still learning so much from living with five of our wild things.
Q. At what age should parents discuss sex, homosexuality, and pornography with their boys?
A. You may be surprised to hear this answer, but we’d recommend beginning a dialogue around sexuality at the age of two. We aren’t recommending education around homosexuality and pornography at two. That begins typically around age 8-10, possibly earlier or later depending on the boy. But we are strong advocates of a healthy ongoing dialogue with every boy around the design of his body, sexuality, and boundaries in relationships in stage one. We lay out a good portion of this in the book to take some of the guess work out of it for parents, and we recommend some useful resources in further guiding you through this life long discussion. As boys grow older the conversation becomes more specific and more technical. Think of it like painting: it starts with broad brush strokes and then moves to finer detail. But as a rule, it starts way before most parents think it does.
Q. What are the three most important factors in keeping a boy from experimenting with drugs?
A. We continue to see three common factors among young men that we’ve worked with who either abstain from using substances or experiment and then make a decision not to continue. The first would be a strong faith and core values. The second would be a strong family open to dialogue. The third would be strong relationships.
More on this blog soon.
Janey L. DeMeo M.A.