It’s OK to be a Boy


by Jennifer L.W. Fink

I am not a boy. I have never been a boy. I am, however, acutely aware of the issues faced by boys because I am the mom of four sons.

Every day, I send my sons, ages 6, 9, 11 and 14, out into a world that is often less-than-friendly to their needs. Don’t believe me? Consider this: the first bit of communication I received from my nine-year-old son’s teacher this year informed me that he’d been drawing “disturbing” pictures of animals eating humans. Her note had a dire tone to it; the implication was that my child might be well on his way to a career as a serial killer. Further investigation, though, revealed that the picture in question was a crude pencil drawing of a shark attacking a surfer. (No blood was spilled).

So what, you say? That tiny, insignificant-seeming issue is emblematic of an entrenched ignorance of boys’ developmental needs. My boys need to move, to test their theories and ideas against reality and to find their place in the world. They need to know that their thoughts and ideas are important, and that it’s OK to share them with others. But every day, I send them into a world that doesn’t really want to want to know what they think, a world that asks them to check their warrior instincts at the door and become passive recipients of adult-infused, standards-aligned knowledge.

Nearly every day, society tells my boys that what they’re thinking and feeling is not OK. It’s not OK, apparently, for a nine-year-old to draw pictures of sharks attacking surfers because, well, because violence, even cartoon or kid-drawn violence, is no longer accepted in our schools.  It’s not OK for my boys or their friends to play flag football or other vigorous ball-related sports at recess because “too many kids get hurt.” (Yes, that’s a direct quote from the principal, and yes, soccer is banned as well.) Instead, my boys, who feel a strong urge for physical movement, are invited to play four square or walk around the playground.

And we wonder why our boys are struggling in society?

What if we responded to our boys’ instincts and desires, instead of squelching them? What if the boys who want to play football were helped to create a system of rules that respects their desire to play, as well as the adults’ desire to keep them relatively safe? (And what if adults would learn to accept “relatively safe” as good enough?) What if adult teachers or volunteers were recruited to provide some supervision, intervening only when the kids were straying from their self-crafted rules or unable to solve a conflict by themselves?

What if boys (and girls) were allowed to draw whatever they want? Instead of sending scary notes home, teachers could ask the kids to write about or discuss their pictures instead. (And if something truly ominous reveals itself, by all means, contact the parents and appropriate authorities.)

What if boys who love video games were allowed to nurture their passion without nearly every adult on the planet telling them that video games are a waste of time? What if, instead of criticizing, the adults helped them check out books based on their favorite video games, or encouraged them to design a computer or board game based on the favorite game or genre? What if the adults bought the kids video game magazines? Or helped the child create a timeline of video game history? Or connected the kid with a video game designer?

What if we assumed that boys’ instincts and inclinations were good and right, instead of inherently destructive or deviant?

I’ve never yet met a boy who has absolute no interest or zero passion. I have, however, met scores of boys who have been told, overtly or otherwise, that their interests, passions and desires are not OK. Our communal desire to make our boys fit a neatly and quietly into our society is letting down our boys, and shortchanging our nation.

So let’s support our boys instead.  Let’s meet them where they are, and let them know that it’s OK to be a boy.

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3 Responses to It’s OK to be a Boy

  1. Very much agree. My 9 year old will spend two hours of his own time painstakingly hunting-and-pecking out a short story about Minecraft or Halo, complete with pictures done in Microsoft Paint. Then his teacher tells him to “design a clothing line, draw and color pictures of the clothes and accessories, and then describe each item in French”, and wonders why it’s like torture for him, and why his work on the project was half-*ssed at best.

    And while I’m not pleased that the only one of my three children who looked like he wouldn’t need braces just chipped his front teeth half to powder a few weeks ago doing a face-plant off his friend’s bike, and has needed his head stitched up twice in his nine years, it seems far meaner to demand he stick to soft toys and sitting still rather than just letting him be a boy and skin his knees now and then.

    It’s extremely frustrating for a parent, when fun physical activities are prohibited at school due to liability. My daughter crashed her sled into a tree one day and bashed up her face when she was in elementary school, and that was the day sledding was banned at that school. Even though I had NO problems with what happened. She’s sturdy. Not as sturdy as a tree trunk, but sturdy enough.

    I honestly think this is an issue many parents contribute to, not just schools, but it does indeed need to change if there’s to be any joy for boys (or active girls) in attending school.

    • aac3 says:

      Absolutely true, I think the enemy is us, because we expect the place to be totally safe, sanitized, lifeless really, and we want all our kids to be above average, so we pressure the schools (as an entire society) into compressing the curriculum.

  2. aac3 says:

    Love it, and definitely agree. Imagine a world in which video games are actually played in and out of school for homework, mapped onto the existing state and national learning standards! At the moment this is unimaginable, and part of this is the increased number of women (or decreased number of men if you prefer) teaching our youngest boys (pk-4). My sons (twins at 10 yrs of age) and daughter (9) brought home their online report cards, I’ve never seen more obvious gender bias in my life. My daughter, who is great at school mostly because of behaviors she adopts easily and early, gets all A’s including Art, Music PE. My sons get some A’s but some B’s and one C. We turn to Art, Music and PE, and unbelievably at the 3rd and 4th grade level, the boys are uniformly getting B’s and C’s, huh? What is this possibly based on? Actually my daughter and sons all brought home their artwork, and they all got poor grades on their graded art work. Nevermind the question, why are we grading/evaluating art at the 3/4 grade level…every art professor I know cringes when they hear how the kids are graded in elementary school today in art. Beyond that though, it’s entirely clear that this is ALL about behaviors and not about intellect. Assure your boys of this clearly. There was a school district that went entirely to grades based on performance, with NO behavioral component, and they had SO many angry parents (mostly of girls) because their kids weren’t being recognized for their good citizenship. An interesting, and very limited experiment that I think exemplifies the issue. Thanks for your post. Well done!

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