Parents Universal Resource Experts (Sue Scheff) The Trouble with Boys

Source: Connect with Kids

“In my class, most boys don’t do anything … they just … sit there.”

– Linh, 15 years old

According to the U.S. Department of Education, more girls than boys participate in student government, the drama club, the debate club and the honor society.  Statistics show that of those students who write for the student newspaper and yearbook, girls outnumber boys.  And on a reading level, girls are typically ahead of boys by a year and a half.

“Most boys just think school is lame, and they drop out,” 18-year-old Faith says.

“It’s kinda shocking, but in reality, the truth, I know that girls work harder than guys,” says Ryan, 16.

Fifteen-year-old Aida agrees:  “The boys goof off, and the girls pay more attention.”

But why is there such a discrepancy?  Some experts say schools aren’t sensitive enough to boys and their learning problems. 

“We know that boys are more vulnerable to developmental disorders, learning disabilities, attention problems … and it is possible that some of these subtle, early signs or needs may have been inadvertently been overlooked,” says Dr. Joanne Max, a clinical psychologist.

She says many parents and educators view boys as being more aggressive and causing more trouble than their female counterparts.

“And I think that there is a tendency to focus on boys as problems at this point, rather than recognizing that boys HAVE problems,” Dr. Max says.

“I have to stay on my child to make sure he gets his work done,” says Ryan’s mom, Donna Glasser.  “I contact his teachers to see how he is doing, … drag him to different college fairs and stuff to make sure he can hear what he is going to need to go to school.”

Dr. Max tells parents that they can help their children if they notice signs of disinterest in school and slipping grades.

“I advise parents not to be a mild pest and not to be a severe pest, but to be a moderate pest,” Dr. Max says.  “We need to advocate for them both within the school [and] within the home.”

Tips for Parents

Boys are trailing behind girls in school in a number of academic areas. According to the 2000 National Assessment of Education Progress (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000) and Dr. Michael Gurian of the Gurian Institute, the following statistics should raise concerns for everyone:

  • Two-thirds of all learning disability diagnoses are for boys.
  • Seventy percent of all Ds and Fs on report cards go home in boys’ backpacks – not girls.
  • Ninety percent of school discipline referrals are for boys.
  • Eighty percent of all Ritalin takers are boys.
  • Eighty percent of all school dropouts are boys.
  • Fewer than 40 percent of college students are currently male.

Girls in general are surpassing boys in school in all subjects except math and science, and even that gap has closed significantly in the past few years.

When education lapses and youth choose dropping out over staying in school, they are at risk for a number of negative outcomes, including an increased likelihood of violent and criminal behavior, the possibilities for good employment being dramatically lowered, self esteem drops, and causing suffering among families and loved ones. Youth who drop out are more likely to depend on government welfare and contribute less to society.

We need to rethink how we teach young people and how we approach the learning differences of girls and boys. Teachers, coaches, parents and all adults involved with both genders need to be aware and of the different learning styles and teaching strategies that work with boys and girls.

Experts say that parents can take steps to help their children become more interested in learning and more successful in school. The University of Illinois Extension (UIE) offers these tips to help parents provide the encouragement, environment and materials children need in order to be successful and studious.

  • Establish a routine for meals, bedtime and study (homework).
  • Provide books, supplies and a special place for studying.
  • Encourage your child to “ready” himself or herself for studying (refocus attention and relax).
  • Offer to study with your child periodically by calling out spelling words or using flash cards.

An established study routine is “very important,” especially for younger school age children. Experts say that children who develop a broad foundation of knowledge on a variety of subjects tend to find school and learning easier and more interesting than those who do not. The UIE suggests participating in the following activities with your child to help broaden his or her interests:

  • Watch newscasts and documentaries on television.
  • Rent or buy educational videos.
  • Visit natural history museums, science museums, art museums, children’s museums, zoos, botanical gardens and historical sites.
  • Sign up for a tour of a national or state park.
  • Read newspaper and magazine articles together.
  • Go to the public library.
  • Make every vacation a learning experience.

We all know that boys are different from girls, but recent studies of the brain are now able to demonstrate how the brain structures and functions of girls and boys are “wired differently.” Different wiring means they learn differently. To help our boys be successful, educators need to recognize how boys and girls learn differently and incorporate these changes into classrooms and schools.

Michael Gurian offers these suggestions to teachers to make their classrooms more “boy-friendly:”

  • Learn ways to include physical movement in the curriculum.
  • Don’t eliminate recess! If punishment is necessary, provide active service alternatives such as cleaning the cafeteria or some other task requiring physical activity. Try to avoid idle time.
  • Help boys become interested in language arts by adopting more male-friendly reading choices, including personal reading choices on topics that interest them.
  • Become more project-oriented in teaching rather than standard and strand-oriented. Include projects that meet the national standards, not just worksheets.
  • Provide male mentors. Boys’ brains respond strongly to one-on-one relationships.

And Michael Thompson, author of the book and the PBS documentary “Raising Cain” offers one more very important suggestion: Allow boys to express their sense of humor and help them find appropriate ways and times to do so.

Remember, as a parent, you are the most important teacher in your child’s life.


  • Education Week
  • Gurian Institute
  • National Center for Education Statistics
  • The Gender Center
  • University of Illinois Extension

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