Last year, Huffington Post writer Lisa Bloom wrote an excellent article titled How To Talk To Little Girls. In the article she advocated raising the level at which adults communicate to girls. She had noticed that many people, including herself, have a habit of complimenting girls on they way they look or on their dolls. The implicit implication is that we expect girls to be cute and have nice things. She shifted her focus to the intellectual capabilities of girls and encouraged her readers to do the same. The easiest way to do this? Ask girls about the books they're reading. It's a great article and I would highly recommend reading it.
My sister, Hilary, sent me Bloom's latest article (How To Talk To Little Boys) and this time she's focused on boys. Citing the alarming trend that boys are reading less and less, and even think of reading as "girly" Bloom writes about the importance of encouraging our boys to put down the video games and pick up books. Learning to read for one's own pleasure is a skill that we have discussed quite a bit on this blog but the latest research shows that boys are reading less and less. And it's difficult to get boys to choose books over the instant gratification of video games. Books require an investment of time and interest, while video games are instantly stimulating and ones' effort is rewarded quickly. There can also be a social aspect to video games as boys can compete with their friends and play the games together. That can be harmless but if the games become their only point of communication, their ability to converse on topics of real-life importance may be hampered.
In terms of the research pointing to the growth of video game use among boys, I find two things especially concerning.
First, the social development of boys is threatened when they spend hours each day interacting with a television screen. In an era when social critics are decrying the increasing social isolation of individuals, this is not something to be taken lightly. Video games are playing a role in shaping our boys perceptions of reality and as they get older this becomes more and more damaging. Couple this with often violent, sexual, and anti-social behaviors modeled on the most popular video games and parents have every reason to unplug those gaming devices. Of course, there are plenty of video games of an educational and/or harmless nature, but even the time spent playing those should be limited.
Secondly, video games are huge time wasters. They are a simple solution to boredom, but boredom is an essential aspect of childhood and ought to be embraced. Boys need to run, play, rough house, explore, build, get hurt and even get in trouble. In exploring and playing and imagining, boys are able to exert their inherent boyish-ness. And they are able to discover who they are, what they are interested in, and develop a self-esteem and confidence in their abilities. This doesn't happen when a boy is playing a video game, no matter how many levels he may beat.
Transitioning from the topic of video games, there are more reasons for parents to be concerned when it comes to the reading lives of their boys. Bloom provides some alarming statistics regarding the academic performance of boys. Girls are now outpacing them in nearly every subject. While I believe there are many factors at play in this trend (classroom settings are often unsuitable for active, antsy, curious boys, the curricula fails to engage boys on a meaningful level, teachers expect less of boys, etc.), it reinforces the need to get boys reading. Bloom makes a good point in that most of the role models who emphasize the importance of reading are usually female. As she states, "Time to turn that ship around." Boys need to see their dads, grandfathers, uncles, and other male role models reading. And these men need to encourage the boys in their lives to read.
As parents who have affirmed the importance of reading in your homes, you are already ahead of the curve on this one, and you deserve recognition for your efforts! You are fighting an essential battle for your children. I find it interesting that within homeschooling families one does not see the gap in performance between girls and boys. Hooray for that! As we have written a lot about encouraging "Reluctant Readers" and allowing children the freedom to become bored, I am interested in your ideas on how to especially encourage boys to read. What sorts of books do you find the boys in your life enjoy? Do your boys benefit from male role-models who encourage reading?
I also want to share some excellent books that may help boys put down those video games!
The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
The Adventures of Robin Hood by Roger Lancelyn Green
The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
That's just a tiny start. There are so many amazing books that star curious, adventurous, active boys. I think it could be really fun to have a book club for boys. Participants could all read the same book and meet once a month for related activities, discussion, snacks, and games. It would provide a fun-based atmosphere in which boys could talk about the stories and creatively act-out things they found interesting. They could build kites after reading The Kite Rider. They could get together and stage a mock-tournament after reading Adam of the Road. A rotating family could play host so it doesn't become too tiring for parents and snacks could be themed around the book. What do you think?
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