5 Things Your Son Should Learn (but Probably Won’t)

Today’s family is so busy, blah, blah, blah. Listen, if you are going to make a difference in your child’s life and if he’s going to grow up to be something besides a lazy slob, you have to quit making excuses, quit leaving it to the schools, and quit spending time on things that aren’t important.
A woman in North Dakota handed out notes to kids she deemed obese and shouldn’t be receiving candy on Halloween. Did she overstep her bounds? I think so. Did she say something that needed to be said? Yes, because if your child is fat and lazy and you can’t see it, then somebody needs to shake you by the shoulders and tell you to wake up.
The following are things I believe every boy should know how to do because they teach much more than what I can list. Also, it means you’ll have to spend a good deal of time with him, which is something that he desperately needs.
  1. Basic Survival – This includes fishing, shooting a gun, handling a knife, and starting a fire. I don’t say this because I think the government is going to take my house away or that the zombie apocalypse is imminent. I suggest this because these skills will give your son a feeling of self-reliance and confidence like nothing else. Sitting by the fire with my son after a 5 mile hike has to be one of the greatest moments I’ve ever experienced.
  2. Personal Fitness – Your son may not be a sports star but he should be able to do a push-up and a sit up. He should also know what a baseball is and that too many chips aren’t good for you, but salads are.
  3. Talk to a girl – If your son hasn’t learned to hide his internet porn habit yet, he will unless you teach him that women are not objects put on this earth only for his pleasure. The pleasure part comes after you have committed to taking care of her for life. That’s called marriage.
  4. Handle Money – He probably works and works to save his allowance to buy the next video game that he desperately wants. (If you don’t have him engaged in some sort of chore/money routine, start that tonight.) However, he probably doesn’t think about saving or giving. He probably thinks only about what he wants. That’s not good. He’ll be headed for personal ruin if at some point you don’t begin a habitual savings/giving plan with him.
  5. Read – More than any other habit this will move him ahead of the competition no matter what the industry. It will expand his horizons and give him unlimited growth possibilities. Or maybe you’re OK with him living at home when he’s 30.
While you may be inclined to indulge your precious boy with every luxury you didn’t have, you are doing him a disservice. You are not raising a man if you miss the above lessons (or others not listed). Instead, you’re raising someone who will need personal care for a very long time.

Tennessee School Counselors and Administrator Institute Murfreesboro, TN 2012

I will be speaking at this upcoming year’s Tennessee School Counselors and Administrators Leadership Institute, February 5-7, 2012 at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in Murfreesboro, TN. This will be my fourth time presenting. My actual sessions will be on February 6, 10AM-11:15AM and then February 7, 9:30AM-10:45AM. Click here for more information and I look forward to seeing you there. Below is a description of my session.



The Emotional Effects of Video Games on Boys
Ever wonder why boys aren’t particularly interested in much until it comes to their video games? The average boy spends more than thirteen hours a week playing and it has been proven that video games release dopamine (the pleasure chemical of the brain) in much the same way drugs release it. There is a correlation between boys who play all night, care little about their grades, and are content to live with their parents well into adulthood. In this session, Dale will explain the deeply rooted emotional effects video games have on boys and why apathy is more than just a phase.

ADHD Meds and Your Son

In Leonard Sax’s book, Boys Adrift, he discusses five factors that cause a large portion of today’s boys to be unmotivated. They actually relish in their lack of achievement as though it were a metal of honor. This is depicted very well in the Matthew McConaughey film “Failure to Launch.” In it, McConaughey’s character doesn’t want to leave his parents’ home. He’s content to be a bachelor, mooching off his parents for the rest of his life. This behavior can be seen in boys who have no desire to excel at anything except for what pleases them. Certainly laziness is a factor for all teen boys but as they grow up, they should want to grow out of their parents’ home, be on their own, and start a family. What causes this lack of direction? Sax believes that ADHD medications play a part.

I have written about two of the factors (schools and video games) discussed in Sax’s book and will be adding the others soon. I have done my best to capture Sax’s points here on ADHD medications and the philosophy he and I prescribe to. It is not my intention to cause alarm here but to simply inform. Your son may be doing great with meds and you wouldn’t change a thing. That’s great! On the other hand, if your son is taking meds, you should be fully informed about potential side-effects; particularly if you aren’t totally pleased with his progress.

Before making any changes to your sons meds, or if you have concerns, consult with your pediatrician, see a counselor, or even buy Sax’s book and read it for yourself. His data and experience in counseling boys is quite compelling. There’s also a great at-home program with proven results. You may actually qualify to get it for free. Finally, you can listen to a podcast on ADHD I did with a Hendersonville pediatrician, Dr Steve Johnson.

Boys are designed to be playful, rambunctious, and sometimes outright raunchy. These characteristics don’t always fit into a school setting and, after many bouts with school personnel, bewildered parents go to their doctor to discuss an ADHD diagnosis. The parents may also be frustrated about his behavior at home. The boy begins a behavior modification regimen along with meds that will make it easier to control himself. The boy’s teachers are relieved and the parents are pleased. He is doing much better in school and this can be attributed directly to the doctor’s visit. But what if there’s more to this story? What if years later the boy isn’t motivated to succeed?
ADHD has always been with us. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer you see an early example of what we would later term Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but is it a disorder or is it simply boys being boys? Nobody would argue in Sawyer’s time that he was doing anything out of the ordinary, but in a 21st century school, he certainly would not make it.

Some boys can sit for hours at a time and do their work as requested by the teacher. Others however can barely sit still for five minutes. Most classes are not designed for boys who absolutely must be active. However, it is a fact that if a hyperactive boy is to graduate in this day and age, he must receive some form of help or struggle his entire academic career and within his social circles. Medication is one of these aids.

America is the most prescribed country in the world. What has led to this? First, we have made a tremendous shift from personal responsibility to third-party explanations. If something is wrong with a person, he/she is quick to blame his lousy parents, a sibling, a friend, drugs, alcohol, almost anything besides himself. So, since he is a victim of outside circumstances, he must get outside help. Little if any thought is given to a person having or developing the strength to handle his own behavior.

In 2006, children in the US were at least three times more likely to be taking psychiatric meds as compared with children in any European country. And our kids aren’t just taking one pill. One-third of American children who are taking psychotropic meds are actually taking two to four others. A boy who is on Adderall for his ADHD may also be on Clonidine to control his outbursts, and Prozac to stabilize his moods. The result? A boy who conforms but who is not developing inner strength to cope and control. These character traits should be developed in the home and at school with firm teachers and practical parents.

Three decades ago if a boy cursed his parents or spit at his teacher, people would say that he was a disobedient brat who was long due a spanking. Today, this behavior from a similar boy might prompt a trip to the pediatrician or child psychologist. It’s no longer the fault of the parents or the boy who needs to learn self-control, but instead he is an unfortunate soul with misfiring chemicals. What is wrong with him is the wrong question. Rather, you must ask what are you as the parent going to do to change his behavior? Most can learn to control themselves even without the assistance of meds.
Another factor that has to do with the rise in prescriptions for ADHD meds is the “inappropriate acceleration” of the early elementary school curriculum. Read more here about this issue.
So, will you have a 25 year old living in your basement spending all his paycheck on video games? Maybe. Professor William Carlezon and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School have reported that juvenile laboratory animals display a loss of drive when they mature after being given stimulant medications such as those used to treat boys with ADHD. These medications appear to impair lab animals by damaging the nucleus accumbens of the developing brain. Independent groups of researchers at the University of Michigan, the Medical University of South Carolina, the University of Pittsburgh, Brown University, as well as in Sweden, Italy, and the Netherlands, all have arrived at similar conclusions. What’s the point? Your boy may feel hungry. He just won’t do anything about it.
Thankfully, these adverse affects can be overcome by engaging your son in activities that interest him and by ensuring that he does have a degree of motivation to do something. Otherwise, there may be cause for concern. I have witnessed boys who are better for taking medication, but I have also seen boys who could benefit from other forms of interventions. Take note of my earlier suggestions including the ad links below. I hope my thoughts here are insightful and will help you on your journey as a parent.


Is It Oppositional Defiant Disorder or the Education System?

Your son is extremely bright, loves to read, did well in school at one time, but has either suddenly or gradually decided that he doesn’t care whether he gets an A or an F. You lecture and you punish but nothing seems to motivate him. In his book, Boys Adrift, Leonard Sax looks at the epidemic of “underachieving boys and unmotivated young men.” This involves young boys who don’t want to succeed and young men who are content to live at home with their parents well into adulthood.
In my upcoming articles I will cover each of the five cultural factors Sax believes hurt our boys. I will by no means handle the topics as extensively as he does, so I encourage you to read the book. Hopefully my articles will give you an understanding of your boy who seems to care about nothing.
The first cultural factor is that of school. Your son is smart, but can’t sit still in class. Has anyone suggested medication or an ADHD diagnosis? Possibly and you may have even researched it yourself. Your son may not be the problem but rather asking your son to do something he’s not developmentally ready to do.
The thrust of Sax’s book is that boys don’t seem to care about much. One fourteen-year-old son told his mother, “Girls care about getting good grades. Geeks care about grades. Normal guys do not care about grades.” We shouldn’t confuse this with boys being boys. Sax references Tom Sawyer and Ferris Bueller who never had any interest in school. They did however pursue interests and work towards their own schemes. Some boys today lack motivation and want to reach “guyhood” by being as successful as possible at doing nothing.
In 2007, a study done by the National Institute of Mental Health supported other studies reporting that the language areas of the brain in many five-year-old boys look like the language areas of the brain of the average three-and-a-half-year-old girl. Your son has been struggling for a few years and finally says mid-elementary, “I hate school.” He’s being asked to do something his brain isn’t ready to do. Why shouldn’t he hate it?
There’s another fundamental difference between boys and girls. Girls have an innate desire to please the adults in their lives. The type of boys Sax discusses in his book does not have this desire. As we know, some boys work to please, but others want to anger the closest authority figure. Girls are more likely to see situations from the point of view of the adults in charge. Boys aren’t. So, of course girls will do better in school and enjoy it more. From 1949 to 2006, boys enrolled in a four-year college dropped from 70 percent to 42 percent. More girls are going because of obvious changes, but fewer boys are in attendance.
Not only are boys behind developmentally just because of their biology; certain school factors are unfriendly to boys. Over the past thirty years, many school districts have eliminated sports such as dodgeball, believing that such sports “reward violence.” Competition has also been eliminated as it “alienates some kids from sports.” While we worry about the unathletic kids, we are losing those who thrive on such atmospheres. A boy with this persona may look at an environment void of competition and say, “why bother?” Indeed.
Sax suggests homeschooling, transferring schools, or working to change things within your school. Getting a teacher who understands boys is certainly helpful and probably the surest thing. Many books have been written on the topic including Sax’s Why Gender Matters. Research the matter and do your best to raise a well-rounded boy. After all, it’s every parents’ duty.

Click here to purchase Sax’s book from Amazon.

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BOOK REVIEW: Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Leonard Sax, M.D, Ph.D.

I work with middle schoolers and a lack of motivation is definitely seen in many of my boys. For some, it’s a phase as they leave the sand box and discover girls. For other, large portions of our boys, they get into an apathetic rut and continue through high school and for a long time thereafter; possibly for the rest of their lives. They simply find new ways to live their lives as slugs. Why? I’ve had my theories but after reading Boys Adrift, I have research-based answers that are difficult to argue with.


Sax writes in an easy to understand way that does not seem to come from his own political or religious views. Instead, he quotes from his solid research and that of others. Sax does not come across as accusatory to parents but writes out of a sincere concern for the welfare of our boys and those adults who want the best for them. This is reflective of his desire for people to know the truth.

I believe Sax has many of the answers that parents and schools are looking for when they ask of a talented young man, “why won’t you do anything?” Sax analyzes five cultural factors that he believes keeps our boys from excelling, and in a larger sense, weaken our society.

The five factors are education, video games, ADHD meds, endocrine disruptors, and our culture’s views of manhood and of becoming a man. For education, I don’t believe his advice would bode well with any school system that is stuck in their same old ways. However, individual schools and parents could benefit from his view that how we educate our boys can actually make them hate school. From his home in Philadelphia, I am sure there are plenty of private schools that could implement his thinking tomorrow. However, based on my experience, the threat of nuclear war wouldn’t make some people change their view of how students should be taught.

For video games, he is quick to say that boys shouldn’t play them at all. However, he keeps a balanced view characteristic of the rest of the book and states that in moderation, they are OK. He gives clear reasons why they are bad for our boys and as a former game-head, I’m a believer. Games tend to take the place of other more fulfilling endeavors that can more positively shape the minds of our young men.

I have shared his view of ADHD meds for a long time. Here he lays out the ways they work, the ways they don’t work, and the risk factors involved. He leaves it up to the parent to decide whether or not they want their child on meds. Sax gives anecdotal evidence but also scientific evidence by quoting the DSM-IV’s criteria for ADHD and various studies. You can tell that he shares in the struggles of parents who want what’s best for their child in a world they may not totally fit in to.

The fourth factor Sax believes is contributing to underperforming boys is, “endocrine blockers.” Basically, these are chemicals found in plastics that have been shown to accelerate puberty in girls while at the same time feminizing boys. I was very skeptical of this chapter but convinced after he quoted a study done in Puerto Rico of very mature girls and of male alligators that produce eggs (both linked by plastics).  My pediatrician also expressed his concerns when I asked him.

I have written about the poor view of men and manhood for quite sometime, but Sax’s analysis of cultures that help boys become men really opened my eyes. He said, “We twenty-first-century Americans smile condescendingly at such traditions.  Our culture’s neglect of the transition to manhood is not producing an overabundance of young men who are . . . hardworking.” He’s exactly right.

In short, Dr. Sax believes that gender is important. He quotes his book, Why Gender Matters quite often and I look forward to reading that book and his others. He says that three decades of believing that boys and girls are the same except for their genitalia have not produced a paradise of gender equity where boys respect women. Instead, it has given us performers like Eminem . . . whose music degrades women. Well said.