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.