Q & A: Real moms of real boys

Q-A-imageOver on the Facebook page for the new book, I’ve been having some great conversations with moms from around the world about engaging and raising boys who love to learn. I thought I’d share some of that dialog here, so here goes:

Mom: My son is 11 years old and I am a young single parent who is trying to do a university degree, I have a part time job that involves working nights and I run the house. He has started playing up at school: being the class clown, speaking back to teachers and just generally having a poor attitude. In the past two weeks he has had 10 detentions and outbursts of physical anger. I have tried behaviour charts, talking to him as an adult, taking things away and not letting him go out with his friends. Nothing seems to get through to him. Everyone who talks to me about his behaviour says what a lovely boy he is and that he isn’t a nasty or bad child. He goes to his dad’s at the weekends but he (dad) doesn’t seem to help with discipline. Got any advice?

Dr. James: You are extremely busy and congratulations on working hard to get yourself ahead. At 11 years old, your son is caught between being a boy who needs a lot of attention and being a young man who is on his own. OK, that’s indeed a big space there, but he doesn’t see it like that. He needs a strong male to provide a role model and structure and he needs to be physically busy. Choices: 1 – after school sports program, if that is possible and he is interested make sure that the coaches know that your son needs attention and structure; 2 – Scouts or Duke of Edinburgh scheme, some structured physical activity that isn’t a sports team; 3 – if you live in a large city, there is the Boys and Girls Club; 4 – Robotics club, model aeroplane club, some club that is involved with a hobby ; 5 – link him with a homebound senior who needs someone to do small errands. Boys need a lot of emotional closeness, but they don’t want to look like they do. Give him hugs for no reason, he needs your physical closeness. Good luck!

Mom: I have a 14 year old who is so incredibly lazy , all he wants to do is play PS3, or if we take that away just sit on the sofa. He has no motivation to do ANYTHING at all, he plays rugby but only at our insistence. He is super bright and all his teachers have said he could get 10 A grades in secondary school, if he only put in a bit of effort. We have tried grounding, pleading, taking away things, bribing him, and he just shows no interest. It is breaking my heart that he might throw away all these opportunities and end up wasting his life. Any ideas or any one else been through something similar? I’m getting desperate.

Dr. James: First of all, you are not alone. The boy who does nothing is well known around the world. You say that he is bright (most of these boys are) so I’m betting that the problem is that he is caught in a bind. Things he can do are not challenging enough for him so he doesn’t bother, and now he is falling behind so he isn’t offered opportunities that would challenge him. He is bright enough not to want to do something at which he will fail. I’ve seen several approaches work. One is to find someone who can motivate him, usually a master craftsman who makes something the boy admires. The craftsman may be willing to take the boy on, and be his mentor. Another approach is to start over at a different school especially a school that has a good technical program. At this point, it is unlikely that you, as his parents, can motivate him. It will take other adults to do that. One of the outdoors programmes where kids spend several weeks being challenged physically can help. If it is possible, boarding school can help. He will come around eventually, but you don’t want him to lose too much time. However, don’t keep reminding him of that. He is in charge of this situation, not you. You need to turn that around.

If you have a question about a boy in your life, ask it on Facebook, or in the comments – fire away!