Tuesday, October 13, 2009

West End Community Church Follow Up.

Thank you to the many great folks who came to West End Community Church in Nashville, TN to better understand boys. Here are some of the questions I didn’t get a chance to answer that afternoon.

1. What are your thoughts on holding back boys with school?

We talk in Wild Things about the importance of giving boys reprieve. We often place unrealistic expectations on them academically, athletically, emotionally, and in many other areas.

When it comes to deciding when a boy is ready for kindergarten, I would encourage you to pay close attention to your son, not the “standard” age when most boys start kindergarten in your city. Some boys are ready at five years of age. Many boys are not. You’ve got to study your son closely and consult with a number of adults who have observed and know him. Preschool educators are often excellent resources in navigating this decision. They know and understand what’s required to be kindergarten ready and have observed your early learner.

I’ve met plenty of parents who regretted starting early and I’ve yet to meet a parent who regretted waiting. When in doubt, wait to start. He’d be better served to have another year to mature and develop. I hear this recommendation from educators every time I teach at an in-service. Elementary school educators are grieved to see a young man who isn’t ready –academically or emotionally - to meet the challenges involved in today’s academic world.

2. Depression in boys may not look like depression in girls. How do you determine if it is more likely depression instead of “acting out” behavior?

It’s always helpful to consult with your pediatrician about any emotional concerns you have with your son. They will help you identify what is acting out behavior versus depressive symptoms. Your pediatrician may also recommend consulting with a therapist to assess your observations. Depression in boys rarely looks like depression in girls. Girls tend to get more sad and withdrawn. Boys can certainly go this direction, but often times boys get bravado and start acting out. They are often more angry than sad, which is why we tend to miss depression in adolescent males.

3. How do I (hippie, peace-loving mom) deal with my son’s love of pretend weapons, fighting, etc., in a way that doesn’t crush his spirit but also doesn’t condone violence?

It is astonishing to me how instinctively many boys gravitate toward imaginative play that involves weapons and fighting. They find the most creative and strategic ways to make weapons from any object. With that said, it’s normal that his play would often involve good defeating evil. He will enjoy playing the role of the hero and may need weapons to accomplish his task.

Find great and natural opportunities to speak with him about violence and weapons. Use literature and film to drive this point home as he matures and gets older. Pay close attention to video games you allow him to play. There is nothing redemptive about video games that involve anti-social violence. Use it as a conversation starter to teach your views on violence and to hear his evolving ideas about the same.

4. What can a mother do to help fulfill a father role when dad is not present?

Parenting without a spouse, or with a spouse who is not invested well in parenting, is one of the greatest challenges a mom of a son faces. I would encourage you to first extend grace to yourself. You cannot be both his mother and his father. You can be a great mother to him. Focus your time and energy on this. Acknowledge the loss and allow him to do the same. Tell him that a part of your goal is to help him find his way to many strong, trusted adult male voices.

It is important that you acknowledge with him and with yourself that you can’t be all things to him. I’d also recommend you explore some very practical ideas we lay out for single moms in the book Wild Things.

5. How do we raise our boys with all this knowledge that you have given to us?

Keep in mind that you are going to make mistakes. Be willing to own those mistakes with him and with yourself. Boys aren’t looking for perfection, just presence. Pray daily for the grace and strength to do what you have been called to do as a parent. Remember that you are equipped with what you need to do that. You were uniquely called to parent your son. He is a work in progress. You are a work in progress.

Continue studying the unique way God designed him. Keep reading about his changing development and what he needs in each stage. Ask God to give you the wisdom to attend to him and believe that He will.

6. How do we encourage our son is his masculine journey amidst 3 sisters?

Believe that he will be blessed by growing up in a house full of women. It will have its challenges. It will also have plenty of opportunity.

Allow him to be different, because he will be. Affirm those differences when you observe them. One isn’t right and one wrong – boys and girls are just different beings. Pay attention to his needs being different. Keep going back to the unique role and the unique challenges you face as a mother. Keep going back to the tasks of fathering a boy well that we discussed. You are likely encouraging his masculine journey in ways you don’t even realize.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Boys + Shovel + Hose

Here is what happened this week in my back yard.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

When coach/coaches are obsessed with winning

This questions was on the blog as a response to another. Likely a good one to answer....

Jennifer F. said...

What would you recommend for parents who find themselves in a situation where the coach/coaches are obsessed with winning or use yelling and shaming, but finding another league is not an option? I live in a smal town, so there's often only _one_ choice for baseball, basketball, etc.

Great question and hard dilemma.

Keep in mind that the purpose of sports is to develop skills, to stay active and, most importantly, to have fun. If you find yourself with a coach whose strategy involves shaming and yelling, he has eliminated two of the three reasons we'd engage our sons in the opportunity of sports. Most often times, there are other options of other coaches or other leagues where we can find our way to a better case scenario. If you live in a small town, like Jennifer, it may be a more complicated puzzle to solve. I once worked with a family facing a similar challenge. They ended up (after alot of work) creating their own recreational league sponsored by their local church. The church ended up purchasing the uniforms and twenty-eight families combined resources to cover the cost of using space on another playing field.

A similar group of dads developed a "Sunday afternoon league." They go to a local park for flag football in the fall and baseball in the spring. It's an open league that is structured more like a pick up game. They sometimes play boys against boys and dads against dads. Once a month they combine teams for a father/son versus father/son competition. They've successfully re-integrated the three components mentioned above. Be creative in how you go about accomplishing those goals. We've culturally bought into the idea that organized sports and current leagues are the only options for boys to have an athletic experience. There are other ways to accomplish what boys need from athletics. We are the consumers and if we don't like what we're purchasing, we can always stop buying and create different options.

Some folks reading this would argue that a boy can benefit from navigating a challenging relationship with a coach. We would absolutely agree. He is developing a life skill in doing so. Our challenge would be that exposing him to a shaming experience early on could not only have some harmful emotional impact, but it could shut him down to the long term opportunity of engaging in sports again. We've seen too many young men who had a negative experience early on that closed the door to future opportunities. Particularly when boys are young, they should be in positive, encouraging, skill development opportunities that make sports seem enjoyable and with purpose.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Balanced Media Boundaries

Ideas for Setting Appropriate and Balanced Media Boundaries:

1. Monitor input. A good rule of thumb is that kids should never spend more time in the virtual world than in reality. That simply means that they should never spend more time playing video or computer games than engaging in active play. They should never spend more time watching sports than playing them (that goes for you, too, Dad!). They should never spend more time talking to their friends on facebook or email than having real conversations.
2. Get online. Parents should have access to any social networking sites they choose to let their kids participate in or explore. You should know their password at all times and let them know that you can and will check it.
3. Model Limits. Pay attention to the amount of time you spend watching TV, checking email, surfing the net or chatting on facebook. Kids learn more from watching us than hearing from us.
4. Bombard kids (with information). Education and conversation are our best weapons against pornography and internet dangers.
5. Avoid Violence. Violent video games that reward antisocial aggression, such as Grand Theft Auto or Doom, should not be permitted in your house. Playing violent video games has a substantially more toxic effect than watching equally violent television programs. Neither is healthy, but children are even more susceptible to behavioral influences when they are active participants.
6. Teach Literacy. Just because kids can use media and technology doesn’t mean they are effective at critically analyzing and evaluating the messages they receive. This is called media literacy. An important media literacy skill, which can be developed through parental guidance, is a child’s ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Missing Dad

I am a single mother of a boy whose father is minimally involved. What do you have in the way of advice to see him develop into a man?

We would encourage you to focus strongly on your role as a mom. Often times, single moms or mothers whose spouses aren’t invested well in parenting, will try and function as both parents. You can’t play both roles, so let your focus remain on being the best mother you can to him.

In addition to that focus, we’d recommend three other ideas to consider:

1. Allow him to gravitate towards his dad and other men. A boy’s hunger for male attention is instinctive in every boy. Even when you see him chasing after a need that isn’t being met, allow him to do so. A part of every boy’s journey is reconciling himself to who his dad is and who he isn’t. This can be a very painful journey for many boys, but he has to come to these conclusions himself. You can’t shield him from this.

2. Help him find his way to strong, healthy, supportive male voices. When his dad isn’t involved, invested or available, he desperately needs male community. Find a school with strong male teachers, administrators, counselors, and coaches. Consider enrolling him in scouts, an excellent organization with strong male leaders and male community. We’d also advocate for helping him find his way to a youth group or small group experience where he has more intimate relationship with an adult male leader you trust and community as well.

3. Avoid the tendency to coddle him. As you recognize this longing, ache or hunger, you may feel a pull to compensate by coddling him or under-parenting him because you feel sorry for him. Coddling a boy in this way is never useful to his long-term masculine journey and may actually hinder it in a number of ways.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Boys and Sports

How do we deal with coaches and others kids who are too competitive? We want our son to play sports but do we do when the purpose seems wrong?

This is a great question and an important topic. Boys are highly competitive creatures. In certain stages of their development, they can become consumed with their ranking in the pecking order. All of life can become a competition for them unless we help them differentiate and identify contexts where competition takes place and where it doesn’t.

Sports are an ideal context for boys to learn about healthy competition, an opportunity to win and lose, working as a team, and an outlet to test his strength. Sports are also designed to be a place to learn skills and to have fun. Sadly, we have taken much of the good intended for athletic experiences and made it into a fiercely competitive arena. Parents and coaches crowd the sidelines yelling, cursing, and shaming boys and referees, modeling inappropriate behavior and redirecting the athletic experience toward something harmful rather than beneficial.

If you find your son is playing under a coach who is shaming or obsessed with winning, we would advocate pulling him from the league and finding a less competitive league with core values that match those of your family. Dialogue openly with your son about why you’re making this change and what you want him to get from his athletic experiences.

If you find he is playing with highly competitive kids, use it as an opportunity to dialogue about character. Invite him to brainstorm with his coach in how best to navigate this challenging territory. If that feels overwhelming to him, offer to do it with him. This will translate to life-long learning in how to navigate relationships with difficult people.

Furthermore, we worked with a dad who asked the coach to bench his son every time he made a critical, shaming or inappropriate comment to a teammate. This wise father was more invested in his son’s character and seeing him evolve into a strong team player than he was in seeing his son winning. Be willing to make this strong of a choice for your own son if you see him gravitating toward destructive patterns himself on the field or on the court.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Help with my 3 1/2 year old.

Angie writes,

Dear Stephen and David,
I recently attended the "Wild Things" seminar in Knoxville and I came home feeling gained some insight about boys. I have your book and have enjoyed reading it. My question is, my son seems to be "glued at the hip" with me. My patience is wearing thin. I give him some responsibilities (i.e. puts his dirty dishes in the dish washer, cleans up toys, etc.) which he is very good at, but he competes with his ten year old sister for my affection. The flip side of this behavior is that he can be very aggressive with me as well and has struggles of not minding me. I'm at my wits end trying to understand all of this. My husband is quick to spank him, but I am not keen on spanking. There are periods in a week where it seems that he stays in trouble. His behavior at day care shows none of this according to his daycare teacher. What would you advise? I would appreciate any advice. Thank you and God bless.


Thanks for coming out to hear us in Knoxville and for purchasing the book. I'm glad to hear Wild Things has been an enjoyable and helpful read. I hope it can be a resource as your son passes in and out of the next four stages of his development.

In hearing you talk about him being "glued at the hip," I am reminded of the conversation we shared with moms on Sunday morning about one of the unique callings you have in the life of your son of being safe. With explorers, being safe often translates to being "glued at the hip." In that stage of his development, you really are the center of his universe. The majority of his basic needs are met in relationship primarily with you. That will change as he graduates out of this stage, but for now it's true.

With that said, you are wise to create some opportunities for him to grow and develop in the care of other trusted adults. It's great to hear you say he is able to go to day care and doesn't struggle in being dropped off or spending a few hours away from you. I'd look at expanding that through some Saturday morning outings with Dad or some Sunday afternoon trips with grandparents or friends. The more opportunity he has to explore the world safely in the care of other adults, the more confident he feels being away from you and quite simply, it gives you an opportunity for a break (which every mom needs!).

His aggression is likely a response to stimulation as is common with explorers. He may be overstimulated (too much going on around him) or understimulated (bored by being home with you for an extended period of time). He may at times be aggressive as an expression of intimacy. Do you remember me sharing the story of when my own sons were explorers and would run and head butt my wife? It's an Explorer's way of saying "I miss you, I want to be with you and I can't get close enough to you." He will need you and his dad to help him redirect his aggression toward something more useful. Have him hug you and use his words to tell you what he needs or is feeling and then affirm him for doing so. Tell him how great that felt compared to his aggressive response. I would encourage your husband away from spanking based on this evidence. He sounds like he is needing more redirection than discipline.

Keep in mind that explorers feel alot of strong emotions but can't put words to those or don't know what to do with them. Choose books to read that are rich with emotional content to help expand his emotional vocabulary. And then talk about the characters following the story. I love Kevin Henkes books (Wemberly Worried, Owen, Chester's Way), as well as Eric Carle's books. Both authors allow the characters to feel things strongly and put words to that. Secondly, use as much role play with him as you can. It is a great teaching tool for Explorers and matches boys as experiential learners.

I hope that's helpful in thinking it through with your Explorer.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kids and recess.

A great article about the importance of recess was just written in the New York Times.
Check it out.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My son the Unibomber???

Yesterday afternnon my wife called me at work to inform me that our six-year-old son came home pretended to put a bomb in his sisters room--which caused his older sister some frustration. We were relived to discover that his "bomb" was a piece of paper with scribbles on it. Whew!

This morning when we were having breakfast I asked him about his bomb making activity. He went on to tell me how he had "planted an explosive device" in a girl's backpack at school too. Inside I was like, "YOU DID WHAT?????!!!!!" while on the outside, I said "Really buddy, what made you want to do that?" He went on to tell me that the girls in the class where trying to "capture" him at recess and so he wanted to "develop some technology that could stop them." So he invented an "explosive," a "listening device," and a "laptop." He went on to explain in great detail how these three devices would work together so that he and his mates could play freely on the playground without the interference of the fairer sex.

Of course we had to have a long talk about the school system in no way likes the talk, idea, or mentioning of any kind of weapons (including IEDs) while at school and this would get me a certain trip to the principal's office. Willing to please and obey, he sadly said, "I guess I will have to go to school and get the bomb out of her backpack." He genuinely looked really really sad. To make matters worse, we had to pick up two neighbors on the way to school (both girls) and he had to ride in the back with them.

Boys will be boys.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Boys and Parental Involvement with School

We are often asked how involved a parent should be in his son’s academics. Our first response to this question is to commit yourself to a long, consistent journey of nurturing an independent learner. Our mission as parents is to empower our sons with a belief that he can monitor and own his academic life well. We need to always be a resource to him when he needs help, finds himself stuck, stumbles into an area of deficit or just needs some encouragement. However, we should never care more about his academics than he does.

When we start caring more than he does, we take ownership of what’s his to own. We are then nurturing a dependent learner. We see this young man every day. He doesn’t attempt homework, prepare for tests, focus on organizing his schedule or work, unless nagged, prompted, questioned, screamed at, stood over, or strong armed. Homework can be one of the more unnecessary battles parents take up with boys. So, how does a parent avoid stepping into this quick sand?

One, frame your involvement from the earliest moments in his academic experience as support. Make sure he knows you’re available, but only if he gets stuck and needs assistance. Don’t train him to need you present for his work or projects, but available to review assignments upon completion or drill him in preparation for tests or quizzes if needed.

Two, in order for him to develop organizational skills (which is half the battle for school), he’s going to have to experience some natural consequences along the way. You shouldn’t be available to run to the store at 9:30 pm when he announces he just opened his back pack for the first time and needs glue sticks for a project due the next morning. Allow him to be docked a grade for turning in a late project or even fail a project for the sake of developing skills around organization.

As we discuss allowing him to struggle and fail, it’s important to note that no college or university in our country cares about your 5th grade transcript. Not even Ivy League schools will pay attention to your 7th grade math scores. Therefore, K-8 is a pivotal time for him to begin developing these skills, passing and failing, succeeding and bombing.

Next, we’d recommend you work in tandem with his teachers in double teaming him as he develops in this area. He needs to experience you being on the same page, giving similar consequences and supporting one another in seeing him develop as an independent learner.

We’ve officially lost count with the number of young men we’ve worked with who were Valedictorians, National Merit Scholars and ranked in the top percentage of their classes, who within two semesters managed to flunk themselves out of college. You may wonder (as have we) how it is possible for a young man with those cognitive abilities could find himself in this scenario. It’s possible if he has no experience as an independent learner. If boys only know how to perform with an adult standing over them and then are cut loose to an environment with that much freedom and that little structure, it’s very possible.

It should start early. Next time you walk the halls of your son’s school observing 2nd grade projects that were clearly done by a contributing adult, smile and imagine your son armed with his messy work and imagine him as an independent learner.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Boys and Dating

By the time boys hit the end of middle school or the beginning of the high school, they will likely begin to express more interest in girls. There are a few things to keep in mind in terms of boys and dating.

1. There are no magic ages. Girls mature faster than boys. A boy is ready when he can articulate to you a plan for handling the situations that concern you.

2. Remember when we spoke to the importance of knowing your son’s friends and his parents? The same is true for relationships with the opposite sex. Insist that he bring her home to dinner before the date, and he should introduce himself to her family as well. Don’t give in on this issue. Show interest even if you don’t approve of everything about them. Showing interest doesn’t always equate with giving permission.

3. Free up her father (through a phone conversation or in person) to get to know him, here his expectations clearly in terms of your son spending time with his daughter.

4. Keep in mind what is taking place developmentally. (You wouldn’t ask a toddler to multiply). Let this help you set limits AND provide opportunities (don’t turn them loose to their peers and also don’t eliminate opportunities for them to fail).

5. He needs education in terms of the way girls think, how they interpret things differently and also how some girls gravitate toward manipulation as a pattern of relating. Use role-play with him as tool and involve some other individuals he might here from better on this topic (a youth director at church working with girls, his aunt, a family friend with a college-aged daughter you trust, etc.)

6. He needs strong information in terms of physical boundaries, sexual experimentation, how “no” means no when spoken by a girl regardless of his interpretation, and how to respect his own body and hers.

7. Keep in mind what we said earlier within the book that although it’s normal for him to express an interest in dating and to have experience with dating, it should never exclude his having and maintaining relationships with his male peers. If he becomes obsessed with a single relationship with a female at the expense of developing and maintaining relationship with his male peers, this is of concern.

Monday, February 9, 2009

More about Boys and ADD/ADHD

To piggyback on a blog we wrote on Feb 7, here is some more info on Boys and ADD/ADHD. For more information on boys, check out our book WIld Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys.

If a boy is having a hard time at home and school, often parents will worry if he has attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And while he may, he could also be struggling with a learning disability or maybe even depression, anxiety, or another psychological issue, or some family or school tension. Despite how widely known they are, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD) are extremely uncommon disorders affecting only four percent of all kids (although estimates vary widely from three to eleven percent more. And because over-diagnosing and overmedicating are common, there are a number of families that have significant concerns when attention deficit shows up on the radar.
How do you know if a boys has ADD or ADHD? A boy may have ADD/ADHD if he has a majority of these symptoms.
• He shows trouble paying attention and becomes easily distracted
• You notice that he makes careless mistakes.
• When he is spoken to directly, he doesn’t seem to hear.
• He struggles with following instructions.
• It is clear that he has trouble planning, organizing, following through on assignments or activities.
• He avoids certain tasks or chores (or does them begrudgingly)—especially the ones requiring sustained mental focus.
• He is forgetful or he frequently misplaces the things he needs for tasks or activities, things like homework assignments, books, etc.
• When he is in a place where he has to sit still (such as in restaurants, while at church, or during class) he squirms in his chair or fidgets, gets up, runs around, or climbs,
• He acts like he is the energizer bunny and cant stop moving
• If he seems to talk incessantly and to blurt out answers before questions have been completed (or he interrupts, intrudes, on others’ conversations and can’t wait his turn).
A boy with a majority of these symptoms may have ADD/ADHD—he may—or he just may be a boy. Many, many, many boys are diagnosed with this disorder that don’t have it. But ADD and ADHD are real, and sadly there are many boys who would be gratefully helped in their ability to manage daily life if they were treated for this significant brain malady.
Making an accurate diagnosis, deciding how to treatment, and when to begin treatment kids are some of the greatest challenges in treating children. In considering if a boy has ADD or ADHD, a boy’s parents and his doctor must consider things such as,
• A boy’s normal age-related development. (For instance, it’s normal for a five-year-old boy to not sit still in church or in a restaurant).
• Keeping realistic expectation of a boy’s ability to pay attention, control his restlessness, and manage his impulses.
• Are the symptoms severe enough to impair the boys normal life (not just make a parent’s life or teachers job difficult).
• Are the symptoms frequent enough that they show up significantly in all areas, such as home, school, scouts, sports, etc. (A boy can’t be ADD at school and not at soccer practice or with his grandpa.)

So what is ADD or ADHD?
We have to answer that question on two levels. The first level is diagnostically. The diagnosis of ADD and ADHD is a cluster of specific unwanted behavioral symptoms that co-occur in enough frequency and intensity that psychiatrist can draw a ring around them and call them an “It.” In this way ADD and ADHD diagnosis are largely subjective and can only be made by a trained and licensed mental health care provider—preferably a pediatric psychiatrist or child psychologist. (And be cautious of anyone that tries to diagnosis a boy with ADD or ADHD who is not yet through kindergarten, because there is limited information supporting the validity of the diagnosis among preschool children.)
The second way to understand ADD and ADHD is as a medical brain dysfunction. As science teaches us more and more about the brain, we are learning that ADD and ADHD are actually medical brain disorders that have to do with the brain’s neurotransmitters (the things that transfers the all of the information along the pathways of the brain and tells the body to do what the body does). What researches are beginning to see is that ADD and ADHD are likely a problem with how the brain process and holds on to information. The good news is that we are very close to being able to diagnose ADD and ADHD at the source with brain imaging technology instead of symptomology. (In fact more and more physicians won’t diagnose ADD or ADHD without ordering brain scans.)
The long and the short of it is that if a boy you love has most of the symptoms listed above much of the time, he needs to have a visit to a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Boys and ADD/ADHD

When we spoke at Wheaton Grammer School we got several questions asked to us about ADD/ADHD. Every time we talk to parents and educators about boys we get asked questions about ADD or ADHD. For sure this can be a frustrating and difficult reality for both boys, parents, and teachers. Here are five tips to keep in mind. For more information on this topic or on boys in general check out our book WIld Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys. We also highly recommend the book Driven to Distraction, a great book on ADD/ADHD

1. Set the right expectations at the right level. Accept the fact that no boy is perfect. Realize that ADD or ADHD is not the end of the world. Boys with this disorder need parents who will see them as they are (limited in some ways and gifted in others). Parents need not hold on to Pollyanna ideals, but neither do they need to carry around resentment and pessimism. Every boy needs to feel accepted and supported for who he is—this is especially true for kids with ADD. He needs to feel that his parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors have confidence in who he his.

2. He needs more than medicine. For sure many boys diagnosed with ADD or ADHD need medication to function well—but medicine is not the only thing that can make big differences.
• Loving Authority. Childs behavior is more impacted by how we nurture their nature than by anything. Boys with ADD need a supportive, loving, and consistent structure from those who have authority in their lives.
• Good Diet. We all need to watch what we eat, and boys with ADD need to steer clear of the types of foods that drive unwanted behavior: caffeine, sugar, and excessive carbohydrates,
• Plenty of Rest. One of the major contributors to ADD-like behavior is lack of sleep. Good sleep is food for the brain and without it; boys with ADD will really struggle.
• Daily Exercise. There are so many benefits to this for boys with ADD we probably don’t need to mention them, but without the chance to move and exhort himself might be too obvious to say.

3. Discipline toward Character. For boys with ADD it is easy to focus on correcting behavior and ignoring their hearts. Let’s face it sometimes you just want a boy to “sit down and shut up.” And while wise a loving discipline alone won’t cure ADD, without it a boy has little hope of succeeding in his childhood. A lot of people interchange the terms “discipline” and “punishment.” But the truth is that they are really different. Punishment relies on mostly fear and shame to force the will of a child into an outcome. Discipline is focused on teaching and has a variety of characteristics,
• Curiosity about the boy and the behavior in question i.e. “John, I noticed that you didn’t put your dinner plate in the dishwasher after dinner.”
• Explanations of how the boy misbehaved. I.e. “It’s really helpful to the whole family when we each take responsibility for our own messes.”
• Suggestions of how the boy could do it differently the next time because their will be a next time) i.e. “How about next time, when you get up to leave the table take your plate with you.”
• Logical consequence that bring a measure of loss into the life of the boy. I. e. “Since you didn’t take your dinner plate to the kitchen, you don’t get to have dessert tonight.”
• Redirection of the energy of the boy toward acceptable behavior. I.e. “Instead of watching TV right now why don’t we go for a walk.”
• Positive feedback when the boys does something well. Especially with ADD boys, by rewarding positive behavior we help foster feelings of success for boys and steer their motivation toward doing the right thing. i.e. “I noticed how you put your shoes away when you came home from school. Great job!”
Punishment does have a place but only when a child show little effort or willingness to change within a framework of discipline. For example, if a boy continues to tease or pick on another child inspire or being repeatedly instructed toward some other behavior. When a boy is being opening defiant, punishment is warranted. Similarly, we need to never punish a child for behavior that he is unable to control. When an ADD child fails to follow the rules of follow a command because he was distracted, he needs reminded not punished. He needs logical consequences (at worst) not reprimands.

4. Keep an Eye on the Horizon. Boys with ADD need the adults in their lives to anticipate potentially difficult situations for them. For example, if you are taking a boy with ADD to church, it’s probably a good idea to bring a bag of comics or a drawing pad, and to sit near the back of the sanctuary. Formulating a plan before you head into problematic environments will save everybody involved a lot of heartache. It also helps to talk with a boy before heading into a situation like this, letting grim know what challenges he may face and some ways to navigate those. Its also good to let him know what will happen if the appropriate behavior is not seen.

5. Be Consistent.
ADD kids must have consistency. A sudden change in the routine or an interruption in the rhythm of things can throw them for a loop. It’s best for boys in this car gory for adults in their life have as much of a routine as possible, and to set rules and consequence for them to follow and stick to them. This means that parents of ADD boys must be on the same page. When mom and dad present a united front, a boy knows exactly what to expect.
Boys and Sexual Abuse

Friday, February 6, 2009

Whirlwind in the Windy City

The day started with a 4:30 wake up, a rush to the airport and quick hop to C-town.

We spent the day with Anita Lustira and Melinda Schmidt at Moody Midday Connection. It is always great to be with this women. This is by far our favorite radio show to do. We did one live show based on our new book Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys, and then we taped another show that will air in March on some really hop button topics concerning boys. We covered everything from porn, to single moms, to sexual abuse, to father issues, to ADD/ADHD, and more.

We then raced (literally) to Wheaton Christian Grammer School where we did a teacher inservice, stuffed our face with Gino's East stuffed pizza, and then did a community outreach event that attracted over 250 parents, grandparents, youth workers, and educators. It was great to see so many people interested in the art of nurturing boys. This a an incredible school that is obviously engaged on the front lines of loving and educating the next generation of leaders.

We signed a bunch of books and then went to the hotel and collapsed.

This morning we had breakfast with our aquisition editor at Tyndale House and then went over Wheaton College to meet with a great man Dr. Stanton Jones. Dr. Jones and his wife, Brenna, have written a series of books that we often recommend to parents on talking to kids about sex.

Then it was off to the airport, but not without first stopping at Giordano's for more stuffed pizza. Oh the excess!!! Then off to the airport where we are trying to get on an earlier flight back to Nashville.

Our manager, David Huffman, took some great pictures of the last couple of days that we will post later.

Stephen and David

Moves for Boys Ages 10-12

Continuing on blog we wrote last week on movies for boys ages 5-8, here is list of movies for boys 9-12.

• The Rookie (10+ years old)
• The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) (10+ years old)
• North by Northwest (1959) (10+ years old)
• It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) (10+ years old)
• Apollo 13 (10+ years old)
• The Princess Bride (10+ years old)
• Hoosiers (10+ years old)
• Remember the Titans (10+ years old)
• The Goonies (10+ years old)
• October Sky (10+ years old)
• The Karate Kid (10+ years old)
• TO Kill a Mockingbird (10+ years old)
• Stand By Me (12+ years old)
• Lord of the Rings (12+ years old)
• Chronicles of Narnia (12+ years old)
• Rudy (12+ years old)
• Glory (12+ years old)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Virtual Book Tour

We just finished an hour long interview, virtual book tour, on the new book Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys. Visit our website for a link to the interview. There is a free parenting plan too!! www.stephenanddavid.com.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Wild Things at Central Baptist Church Bearden, Knoxville, TN

Just got back to Nashville from a fantastic weekend in Knoxville at Central Baptist Church Bearden. Saturday, we spoke twice on the development of boys to over one hundred and fifty parents, grandparents, and teachers. This morning on Sunday we spoke to about two hundred parents and grandparents about “A Boy and His Mother “and “A Boy and His Father.” We also fielded questions from parents about the development of their sons.

It was refreshing and encouraging to see so many parents, grandparents, and teachers get so deeply involved in the life of the boys we loved. We met some fantastic people. We also got some great sushi for lunch at Sobu on our way out of town. Go figure, great sushi in Knoxville.

We gathered some great questions that attendees submitted from the events and we will be posting answers to them over the next several days.

Stephen and David

Friday, January 30, 2009

Movies to Watch with boys 5-8

One great way to instruct and engage boys abound values that you want them to have is through stories—and for boys, movies tell stories in boy friendly ways.

Here is a brief list of some movies to watch with your son (5-8) and to talk with him about. Many of these movies are made from books. IF he likes the movie, get the book and read it with him.

The Lion King (1994) (5+ years old)
Babe (1995) (5+ years old)
Toy Story (5+ years old)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) (6+ years old)
The Wizard of Oz (6+ years old)
Old Yeller (1957) (6+ years old)
The Iron Giant (1999) (6+ years old)
Star Wars: A New Hope, Episode IV (6+ years old)
E.T. (1982) (8+ years old)
Miracle of 34th Street (1947) (8+ years old)
Where the Red Fern Grows (1974) (8+ years old)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Library Journal Review

We got a great review in Library Journal for Wild Things this week. We are really glad that people are taking notice of this book.

Here is the review.

James, Stephen & David Thomas. Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys. Tyndale House. Feb. 2009. c.351p. ISBN 978-1-4143-2227-8. pap. $14.99. CHILD REARING
This worthy, engaging owner’s manual on boys aged two to 22 is written from a reserved, supportive Christian perspective. With five sons between them, the authors (both therapists) view testosterone-fueled shenanigans with droll humor and encourage parents to remain calm when upsetting things inevitably occur. The authors aptly demonstrate their view that “[t]he older a boy gets, the more he needs from his caregivers.” With real-life examples both mundane and dramatic, they discuss characteristics frequently shared among boys of similar ages and provide guidance on what boys need most during those stages. Practical direction (e.g., give young “Explorers” “space to roam”), along with encouragement to be open and honest when parenting, is constant. While some suggestions (e.g., monitoring MySpace accounts or backpack inspections) may alarm some at first, they are tempered by the authors’ admonition to “keep a watchful eye” and inform sons you’ll be doing so. The work effectively straddles William Sears’s attachment parenting and the more openly authoritative style of John Rosemond. In a crowded field, this work is highly recommended for all public libraries and for collections supporting teachers and the helping professions.—Douglas C. Lord, Connecticut State Lib., Hartford

Monday, January 26, 2009

My 11-year-old saw porn! What do I do?

D. H. asks:

Suppose a friend of my son's introduces him to pornography on the internet and I know little about the parent's of the boy lives, church involvement, etc. How should I handle it with the two of them? How do I balance communicating it being wrong and yet understanding?

What "punishment" would you provide to an 11 year old?

Stephen and David answer:

Clinical research shows that there are significant ramifications to the repeated exposure to pornography—and the earlier the exposure, the more likely a problem it will be for the boy as an adult. And sadly, more and more boys than ever before are at risk to early exposure to pornography. Here are some disturbing statistics on children and internet pornography.
• Average age of first Internet exposure to pornography: 11 years old
• 15-17 year olds having multiple hard-core exposures: 80%
• 8-16 year olds having viewed porn online: 90% (most while doing homework)

As we address in our book Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys, realistically, it's the question is not, "If our son will be exposed to porn?", but rather "When will he see porn?" And, "How much?" "What kind?" "How often?" "What will he do with it?" "What will it do to him?"

You see in order to raise our sons well, as parents, we need to be prepared to talk with our sons about pornography: it's allure, it's impact, and its potential consequences.

Ideally you will have set the stage with him before he actually is exposed to porn. In doing so, he will at the very least know that you know, and more than likely you will be able to help prepare him for how to handle the situation. But, as a parent, we can't always be ahead of the curve, and we will need to play catch up. It's almost never to late to begin this conversation.

With the situation you've presented here, there are a couple of cenario we can imagine that really determine how you approach this topic with your son.

Example 1: Assuming that is was your son who told you about seeing the porn.

Have a party! We are only half kidding when we say this. Anytime a boys shares this kind of experience with his parent(s) it is cause for celebration. In this case your son needs to be celebrated and thanked for his integrity in his values, his trust in your relationship, and his courage to come to you.

Example 2: You busted him.

If this is the case, it's important to respond but not over react. For sure your son needs to understand that this is a serious issue to you and that are angry, afraid, sad, etc. But if you are not responsible with your feelings, you will likely end up shaming your son and making him feel defective, broken, and/or stupid.

With either situation there needs to be a conversation with your son includes;

1. Fact finding. What happened? What was the situation that created an opportunity for your son to be exposed to porn? Is this the first time? Where were the parents? What kind of pornography did he see/has he seen?
2. Connection. What was this experience like for him? Be curious This may include, normalizing his curiosity. Affirming the power of pornography.
3. Preparation. Talk with your son about the real dangers of pornography: we cover all of these in our book Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys
4. Talk with the friend's parents. What you learn from your son will dictate the tone and substance of this conversation. You probably want to run your thoughts by another person before you actually talk with the other boys parents.
5. Set boundaries. There need to be some barriers put in place that can help your son. If this was the first time, their needs to be more process than punishment—more conversation than criticism—but for sure their needs to be some consequences.
6. Keep talking. Make sure their is room for the conversation to continue with your son. You don't want to nag him or grill him about it, but you do want to circle back around every few days at first, then every few weeks to see how he is processing the initial event.

For more insight and tips, get the book Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Jason G. asks:
Okay, Stephen & David, my boys are 12.  They've got newfound emotions, a growing
sense of autonomy, and hair growing in new places, too.

With their budding sexuality and growing awareness of girls, I've been
wondering about how to bring up the topic of masturbation with them.  We've
had the birds and the bees talk and we enjoy a pretty open conversation
about most everything.  In a way I think I blew it by not talking about
masturbation with them when we had the birds and the bees talk.  But now
that they're older, there seems like ample opportunity for it to be awkward.

I never had anyone to talk with me about any of these things when I was
growing up, so I was left to navigate these waters on my own and felt
embarassment and shame over my own burgeoning sexuality.  I vowed that I
wouldn't leave my kids similarly in the dark.  But now that the moment is
here, I'm a little unsure of the dark and don't know how to proceed...  Got
a flashlight?

Stephen & David Answer:


Here's  a light.  Don't fret over having not had the talk yet.  Yes they may have been better served to have talked earlier, but what matters is that you want to talk now.  Go ahead and expect there to be some awkwardness around this topic.  There is good reason for this: It's an awkward topic.  With that said, the more at ease you can be and comfortable in discussing it, the less awkward your sons will likely feel in the midst of this conversation.  

You are so on target, out of your own experience, about how much shame we make boys vulnerable to when we don't help them navigate this area.  Boys desperately need to hear from their dads )or other trustworthy men) on this topic.  Our approach in this kind of conversation is to do it around a task—shoot some hoops, walk the greens, change a tire, fish, canoe, hike . . . anything where he doesn't have to look you in the eyes from start to finish.  Boys talk well around a task.  Eye to eye can feel really threatening to them, and particularly with this kind of topic.  So first of all decide when and where you want to open up a dialogue with him.  That's foundational.

Secondly, we recommend talking more about the biology of masturbation than anything.   We put together some helpful guidelines in Wild Things for guiding a dad through this conversation.  Check out the Hot Topics section of our book and see if it's helpful in navigating the conversation. We go deeper into this in our book, but, briefly we suggest:
Normalizing the behavior.
Talk with him the pros and cons.
Don’t make this a one time conversation. (We suggest making it a part of broader conversation about sexuality, masculinity, and his heart.)

We're grateful you are wanting and willing to step in the game with your boys in this way. And for sending in such a great question, your book is on the way.

Stephen & David

Wild Things hits Memphis

Last night, David Thomas taught Wild Things to a packed out room of over 100 parents and educators at Independent Presbyterian in Memphis. Thank you Independent Pres. for such a great turnout. From the picture above, you’d think that he put quite a few people asleep (all the heads down), but to the contrary, the talk went great and they were actually taking notes. More later.


There are few other topics relating to boys that are as emotionally charged, polarizing, and likely controversial as that of spanking. With that in mind, we’re simply going to throw out some ideas to consider in terms of choosing a form of discipline and you pick sides on this one.

1. Boys are naturally aggressive, as we discussed with Explorers. They don’t need any help in being more that way.
2. Always discipline toward character not behavior.
3. Never discipline in anger, whether physically or verbally. Doing so creates opportunity for harm, either physical or emotional harm. It also models something for a kid that isn’t useful. At the core, it’s a lack of self-control. Boys benefit from being sent to their rooms and waiting while you formulate a consequence for them.
4. Try and make the punishment fit the crime. We realize this isn’t always possible, but can take place a large majority of time. Greater learning takes place when kids experience natural consequences.
5. Discipline should be consistent to have the most impact and with as little emotion as possible. Screaming or yelling doesn’t create greater impact for learning with kids; it only makes you look more out of control.
6. A fantastic guide for disciple is the Love and Logic series. They have books and resources starting with kids as young as six months all the way through adolescence. Their philosophy is extremely honoring to kids and their techniques are highly effective when utilized consistently. Go to loveandlogic.com to explore their resources.

This was taken from our new book, Wild Things. Buy it on Amazon.

Boys . . . How they grow up

There is a lot that goes into the makeup of boys: genetics, culture, physiology, emotions, spirituality, snakes, snails, puppy dog tails, etc. Boys are really complicated; much more complicated than we often give them credit for being.
Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, wrote, “Of all animals the boy is the most unmanageable, inasmuch as he has the fountain of reason in him not yet regulated.” That Plato was a smart guy. As a general rule, boys are more difficult to raise than girls. They are tougher to parent. They are tougher to teach. They are tougher to relate with. They are tougher to mentor and coach. The famous English journalist G. K. Chesterton said it this way,
“Boyhood is a most complex and incomprehensible thing. Even when one has been through it, one does not understand what it was. A man can never quite understand a boy, even when he has been the boy.”
While we may not be able to fully understand boys, and it is for sure is never our goal to tame them, we can do a better job at trying to meet them where they are and helping them on the dangerous journey of becoming a man.
Boys are quite their own creatures, and there’s so much about the way a boy responds to his environment, himself, and others that can be explained as developmental. Having an understanding of development is foundational in terms of caring well for a boy as well as diminishing a parent’s worry and concerns as the boy passes through the different stages. (Heck, it also can help you sound really smart at PTA meetings.)
The progression of boy from a baby to a twenty-something is far more gray than black and white, much more fluid than solid. To even say the categories overlap would be too concrete. It’s much more accurate to look at boy development as a spectrum (like a rainbow)—all of the colors bleeding into and through the rest.
It’s important to understand boy development in these terms because what’s present and needed at age two doesn’t disappear by age five or twelve; it rather becomes a part of a bigger whole. It’s not uncommon to find toddler-typical behavior present in adolescents (or forty-year-old men for that matter). Equally so, there are several identity forming stages within the span of boyhood that are similar.
What a boy needs at age three (“boundaries” for example) doesn’t go away as he gets older, it’s very much still there. It’s just that he might need more of something else at age five (“redirection” for instance) or around nine or ten (like “involvement”).
The older a boy gets the more he needs from his caregivers. This is really different than some other more “traditional” views of child development that say as the boy becomes a teenager and then a man he needs less from his parents. In actuality the older a boy gets the more complex and dynamic his needs are. His needs move from primarily physical (birth to age three) to increasingly becoming more relational, emotional, and spiritual.
That is not to say that there isn’t a progression from one stage to the next because there is. And it is our job as their caregivers to help the boys we love move from one stage to the next. It’s really important to understand that what a boy gets or doesn’t get at one stage will directly affect how well he will transition into the next. The reason so many men struggle relationally, emotionally, and spiritually is not a lack of intelligence or morality. It’s an effect of not reaching key developmental milestones; or being rushed through one to the other; or simply skipping entire stages all together. Popular writer and speaker John Eldredge brilliantly puts is this way,
“Each stage has its lessons to be learned, and each stage can be wounded, cut short, leaving the growing man an undeveloped soul. Then we wonder why he folds suddenly when he is forty-five, like a tree we find toppled in the yard after a night of strong winds. We go over to have a look and find that its roots hadn’t sunk down into the earth, or perhaps that it was torn on the inside, weakened by disease or drought. Such are the insides of an unfinished man.” From Way of the Wild Heart
Sadly this is not uncommon. Every man is unfinished in some form or fashion. To some degree or another we are all boys in men’s bodies—dressed up and disguised with costumes of masculinity like Harleys or pickup trucks or bank accounts or families or careers. For some men these deficits are more severe than others. At worst we become “self-made” which is really the worst kind of man you can be because it inhibits us from trusting others and God.
For as long as we have been working with parents of boys, we have been asked the question “is this normal?” hundreds if not thousands of times. Usually what is behind this question is a deeper, scarier question that a parent is asking, “Is my son normal?” Most often the answer is, “Yes,” and with some education much of a parent’s fears can be allayed. But, if you are a woman, it is likely that you will have to broaden your definition of normal. Things you never dreamed of become normal once you put a boy in your life.
With boys, you will find yourself saying things and hearing things that you never thought needed to be said or heard. Like the night my (Stephen) wife had to insist to our two-year-old twins “sixteen times of washing really is sufficient to get your penis clean.” Or the day one of my sons screamed from the bathroom, “Guys! Come see how big my poop is!” As a caregiver to boys you will be blown away by how thousands of times you will have to say things such as, “Please keep you feet to yourself.” or “Don’t lick the floor.” or “Please remember that farting is for private.”
In the our latest book, Wild Things, we will provide some categories for understanding the way of a boy on his developmental journey.
• The Explorer (ages 2–4)
• The Lover (ages 5–8)
• The Individual (ages 9–12)
• The Wanderer (ages 13–17)
• The Warrior (ages 18–22)
What we have outlined here is an amalgamation of many other developmental theories, views, and opinions. We’ve tried to lay things out and explain things in a way that will give you some clarity as well as offer you some ways to provide signposts for boys along their journey—and maybe help keep you a little saner to boot.
As you can see, with each category we have put some age parameters. Please read this next sentence out loud: These are loose parameters. Each boy will take the journey of boyhood at his own pace. Some will seem to race through. Others will take it in sputters and starts. And a few of us meander through like . . . well . . . a boy in a toy store—with no intention of ever leaving. It’s our job as parents, educators, coaches, mentors, youth workers, counselors, etc. to help him along the way by knowing where he is and giving him what he needs.

Order the book on Amazon.

Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys

Well our new book, Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys comes out next week. We are really proud of this one. Word from a few people tell us it might be our break out book. Who knew that you would have to write five books before you “broke out.” Regardless we are really excited about getting this book in the hands of moms and dad, grandparents, teachers, counselors, and coaches—anyone really who cares about our next generation of men.

Anyway, a little bit about the book. It plays off the themes in the Caldecott Medal-winning children's book Where the Wild Things Are, this book is informative, practical, and encouraging. It is written to guide parents as they guide boys down the path to healthy and authentic manhood. Wild Things addresses the physical, emotional, and spiritual parts of a boy, containing chapters such as “Sit Still! Pay Attention!” “Deficits and Disappointments,” and “Rituals, Ceremonies, and Rites of Passage.”

Here is the complete Table of contents:

Part 1: The Way of a Boy
1. The Explorer (ages 2–4)
2. The Lover (ages 5–8)
3. The Individual (ages 9–12)
4. The Wanderer (ages 13–17)
5. The Warrior (ages 18–22)

Part 2: The Mind of a Boy
6. A Boy’s Brain
7. Different Learning Styles
8. “Sit Still! Pay Attention”
9. Deficits and Disappointments

Part 3: The Heart of a Boy
10. Nobel Creatures: Nurturing a Boy’s Heart
11. A Boy and His Mother
12. A Boy and His Father
13. Rituals, Ceremonies, and Rites of Passage
14. Sailing for Home

As you can see, it’s pretty comprehensive. You can order it at Amazon or through various other bookseller’s websites.

If you have any questions, about boys, let us know and we will try and answer them in a future blog.