How Schools & Society Have Been Short-Changing Boys –

By Naazish YarKhan

Taskeen and I are part of a mom-daughter reading group with two other moms/ daughters. The girls pick a book by turns and we all read it, then discuss the lessons in it, what made us laugh, cry, think, or giggle. This group is yet one more indication of how Taskeen’s development, by default, has dominated much of my mothering.

What I heard recently, in a brief exchange with a 30 something, professional, single girl, however, set me thinking. Let’s call her Asma. Like many girls these days, she was raised to be strong, independent, educated… discerning too. She was given credit for her views and had been taught to express them with confidence. And now, there just weren’t enough single guys who she found intellectually compatible/ as financially stable/well-rounded enough… take your pick. As young people say these days, “We weren’t clicking”.

According to her, this was partly because over the past so many years we haven’t been giving boys what they need to be all they can be, while girls are getting plenty of special attention and are being groomed to be super girls.

Whenever you’re giving your girls what they need emotionally, intellectually or physically, make sure your sons are getting what they need too, or they grow up to be half the men they can be and really aren’t interesting or the kind of person we girls want to spend the rest of our lives with, Asma continued.

Asma’s words touched a chord in me, because that was the scenario playing out in my home. Taskeen has always been the star. Yousuf’s activities have taken a back seat - it’s sometimes been because I think that I still have time with him since he is just five, while Taskeen is mine to mould only for eight more years till she leaves home for college. But other times, it’s because I want Taskeen to be this incredible young woman, who will one day be President of the United States, or this fantastic world-famous artist, or a bright star on the horizon in whatever capacity. It’s not that I don’t want the same for Yousuf, but I just haven’t funneled all that energy into him as I have into Taskeen.

Asma, by her comment, showed me that if more mother’s weren’t fostering that same intellectual curiosity and a determination to live life loud and bold in boys AND girls, we were raising girls who could very well end up single because the men around them just wouldn’t measure up.

Around this same time, I happened to have another interesting conversation with a match-maker aunty. There were 250 boys on her list and 1000 girls. A majority of these girls were professionals and many were 30 and over. I listened, a little surprised that there were as many as 1000 single girls and just 250 men enlisted for her services.

All these conversations, of course, prompted me to go online and do some reading. My behavior patterns were reflected in trends in education in the US and world wide. So much attention had been paid to honing girls’ confidence and girls’ abilities that some of it had come, unintentionally, at the expense of boys and their development. “An 11th-grade boy now reads and writes at the level of an eighth-grade girl,” I read from a report. “According to the National Center for Educational Statistics: Boys are 30 percent more likely than girls to flunk or drop out of school; When it comes to grades and homework, girls outperform boys in elementary, secondary, high school, college, and even graduate school.”

More single women were just the tip of the iceberg. Less educated men meant a host of other issues – men earning smaller paychecks do mean more dual income homes, more family stress, more crime by men due to higher rates of unemployment and so on.

From my reading I learned, it wasn’t that men weren’t smart. Nor did the research call for girls’ education to be put on the back burner. But a common theme was to first acknowledge that ‘yes there was a crisis’. Men were in trouble.

The Australian government, taking this problem seriously, had a committee work on addressing the issue in 2002. The result was Boys Getting It Right[1]. “Research has found that, in effect, boys’ capacity for hearing and processing verbal instructions is, in general, less than girls’, from the early years of schooling on. This is a remarkable finding, and one that was not well known prior to the inquiry. It has important implications for classroom instruction and pedagogy.”

According to many of these articles, boys became disengaged from school and homework, because of the manner in which school is conducted.[2] Boys need recess. They need play time to get rid of their energy. A huge trend has been cutting down recess or throwing it out altogether. Without that outlet, it’s but obvious that boys will fidget more and be distracted rather than sit and learn.

Another recommendation was teaching reading via phonics (rather than learning whole words by sight) was a better suited to boys since they have shorter attention spans. Still another recommendation was that boys learn by doing, rather than how most schools teach – taking notes. Also, girls are good at processing things so are apt to excel at essay type questions, for instance, whereas boys can come up with the right answer but can’t always explain how they got to it. So, in a way, the way schools work, can put your son at a disadvantage.

The less involved any child feels with school and studies or the more trouble they get into at school, the less likely they are to do well…When their inability or difficulty becomes their identity, over time boys are unlikely to find themselves motivated, possibly activating a downward spiral.

What I see as a related trend in the US is the ever increasing numbers of kids, especially boys, who are diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In fact, “four of every five children taking medications like Ritalin for behavioral disorders are boys.” For a while now, I’ve wondered how on earth there could be such an upswing of this. So yes, they perhaps didn’t know to label this behavior all those years ago when we were kids. But my more dominant feeling was, ‘people are expecting kids to act like little adults rather than expecting them to be kids.’ And boys, especially, aren’t girls, so they aren’t going to sit as long as girls do. Somewhere along the line, the expectation that boys would sit or learn just the way girls do, became commonplace. No wonder boys who are genetically programmed to be active, are getting stuck with the label ADHD.

I’m no expert but my guess is another reason for this upswing in ADHD diagnoses, is us parents who don’t have the time to be parents. When both parents are working, we don’t really have the time to put up with kids who don’t toe the line. We have little energy and get exasperated faster. End result? Boys are apt to express their genetic coding and we adults think the kid has an issue. (And if you live like us where winter keeps us indoors, you definitely think your son is hyperactive, what with having no outlet.) If we step back for a moment, it’s really pretty obvious. It’s us, the adults, who don’t have any bandwidth to spare, and need all our ducks in a row and the world to function just so, so that we can accomplish all we have to do, in whatever little time we have left over from our careers. Others call it a juggling act or a balancing act. I call it a tight rope walk. That is how life is when both parents have to work.

The long and short of it is this. I have a son who is still young, so I’m still on the right side of the clock. I also have a host of 20 something male relatives who haven’t quite kept up with their female cousins as ample proof that this, indeed, is a legitimate issue. While there will always be those who will look at this research as controversial, my job as a parent is to become aware of all the research out there on this topic and to use it. I need to do whatever it takes to meet the distinct needs of my son and my daughter, in order that Tomorrow, God Willing, brings out the best in both.