Working With Boys

A boy measures everything he does or says by a single yardstick: “Does this make me look weak?” If it does, he isn’t going to do it. That’s part of the reason that video games have such a powerful hold on boys. The action is constant; boys can calibrate just how hard the challenges will be; and when they lose, the defeat is private.

With this in mind, it’s important to remember that PUBLIC competition improves performance, but not learning. Some students will practice for hours spurred on by the competitive spirit in music competition, athletics, or speech contests. These students are motivated to compete. Competition can be fun, as witnessed by the hours that young people invest in such activities. However, competition is devastating for the youngster—especially the boy—who never finds himself in the winner’s circle. Rather than compete, that student drops out by giving up.

At my presentations I receive an increasing number of kindergarten teachers who each year continue to tell me that their current crop of young boys is the worst they have ever had. For a number of reasons, these young boys are simply not socialized enough before thrusting academics at them. More and more young boys will become “at-risk” as early as kindergarten because the feeling associated with weakness in the academic skills negatively impinges on their self-talk and self-esteem.

Boys would rather drop out by losing interest and misbehaving than show that they can’t perform. Weakness does not motivate them to want to participate. It takes a masterful teacher and parent to encourage them to persevere.

The three principles to practice of (1) communicating in positive language, (2) reducing coercion by prompting choice-response thinking, and (3) sharing how to act reflectively—rather than reflexively—can be of significant assistance when dealing with young boys.