Thursday 23 April 2020
Dear Parents and Guardians
BRINGING UP BOYS IN A TIME OF LOCKDOWN
As we finish the fourth week of lock down and while the novelty of virtual schooling becomes our daily routine, most of us are feeling the pressure of being cooped up at home, none more so than our teenage sons.
Renowned Australian psychologist and author, Steve Biddulph, says young boys in particular are struggling with the restrictions. In a recent article published in thetimes.co.uk and published in full (below) from his Facebook page, he provides some insights and guidance to parents of boys everywhere.
Wishing you all good health.
Jan de Waal
Kids in lockdown: why it’s much harder for boys – view article source on Facebook
Here’s what parents can do to help
This strange new life we are living is tough for all parents, but it’s those with boys who report they are finding it a special challenge. I am in contact with 140,000 parents of boys in 32 countries through the Facebook group I created to link up readers of my Raising Boys books. Recently this community has provided a fascinating snapshot of the effects of the coronavirus crisis on family life.
First of all the good news. A great many parents say they are getting to know their children better, in a way that our hyper-busy lives rarely allowed before. The pandemic has slowed life down and meant we can get back to what is really important — nurturing and enjoying our kids, rather than just frantically managing their lives. Time and again people tell me they are having the kind of good talks they might never have had in normal times. But it’s also clear that many are struggling to keep boys happy and motivated. For proper brain development, most boys have a huge need for movement and space. Some girls, too, are very active and physical in nature, so we have to plan this into their day and not see it as misbehavior.
The answer, even in a small flat or house, is to find ways for them to exercise and have several times a day for active moving about. Many parents are using YouTube exercise videos, and if you can all do it together it can be a bonding experience. In fact, the whole secret of being with our sons is one word: “alongside”. Whether it is teaching them to cook, helping with schoolwork or encouraging interests, they need to know you have a friendly and supportive, not slave-driving, attitude. Sometimes they will just want to be alone, and that is fine as well.
Two age groups of boys seem to be affected most: those in early primary school and those from 13 to 14 onwards. There are good reasons why this is so, and why we should never just label it as bad or naughty.
Boys of about four years old are often particularly energetic. Around this time, their bodies release luteinising hormone, which stimulates special testosterone-making cells in their testes, in readiness for puberty. While the science of this is still poorly understood, parents tend to notice a surge in activity at this age. In my work I have dubbed this stage “the full-on fours”.
Hormonal changes may also explain the difficulties faced by boys from 13 to 14 onwards. Testosterone levels increase by 800 per cent at this age, and they are biologically impelled to be out and about, and letting off steam. Little wonder that parents of teenage boys are feeling the pressure. Some are reporting that their sons are belligerent and angry about the restrictions, chafing to get out with friends. Others are sullen and withdrawn, refusing to come out of their bedrooms, and there are the inevitable fights over schoolwork.
Parents who are doing well seem to have several things in common. First, they are providing structure, which boys have trouble creating for themselves, and in fact seem to crave and respond well to. They have found that a routine makes for a happier and more balanced day. Some parents have differed on whether they allowed their sons to lie in bed in the morning or made everyone get up at the same time. Incidentally, this crisis may be the first time for decades that teenagers get the ten hours of sleep that researchers have found are essential for their brains to grow optimally. So, find a way of starting your day that suits your family and works for everyone; a pattern to weekdays that everyone can settle into.
Most families opt for exercise next, followed by schoolwork. By early afternoon, boys are mainly pursuing their own interests: a hobby, perhaps, or spending time with pets, which can be a great source of reassurance. Some have even discovered the pleasures of reading for the first time.
Schoolwork is the real flashpoint for some families (let’s face it, it isn’t all that motivating for many boys even when they are at school). The schools handling it the best are those providing lots of resources and some daily virtual contact with teachers, but not huge amounts of pressure. Early on some schools made the mistake of uploading the whole curriculum, as if kids were still to do six hours’ schooling, but met such serious ire from parents that most have backtracked. Until the last years of secondary school, maths and numeracy is core, and that is plenty.
By late afternoon most boys are heading for their games consoles; online gaming with friends is the main social outlet for boys in isolation, so most parents are allowing more screen time now than they would have in the past. Parents should not feel bad about this, especially now that kids are not playing or watching the sport that may have provided a bonding experience in the past. Boys and girls, especially teenagers, desperately need their peers, so we should expect social media and gaming to be a huge part of their lives at the moment. In fact, without the internet this would be a terrible time. All the same, a couple of hours a day is probably plenty.
Remember that grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are a great help in times of trouble, and your child might find they can deepen these relationships online or on the phone. In a very poignant Facebook post, we heard of a teenage boy who was now talking online daily to his grandmother who was in poor health, recognising that she may not come through this crisis. Kids do a lot of growing up in tough times, and you can have amazing conversations about the realities of death, choices and consequences, and how precious life is, with older children.
And what about housework? In normal times we make the mistake of waiting on our children hand and foot, because it’s quicker. It’s beneficial for both them and you to give them an active role in caring for the family through household chores and cooking. Boys who learn the satisfaction of service to others grow in self-worth at the same time. Many families in lockdown are getting their kids to make meals in equal share with adults. One mother explained that she has allocated one part of the meal to each of her three sons. She is teaching them how to work from recipes, but has stayed near by in a friendly supervisory way, so it doesn’t feel as if they are being abandoned (and also to prevent disasters). Her boys were rather proud of themselves and wanted to try new dishes.
Another positive to come out of this crisis is that parents who worked long hours or traveled a lot for work are suddenly at home all the time. As long as they take a companionable approach, and avoid being aggressive or controlling, their presence is very beneficial to children. The research is clear that time spent with parents, especially for pre-teens and teenagers, can improve everything from their mental health and sense of security to their academic grades later on. Working and relaxing with family can build a family vibe that we are doing this together; a shared purpose, with kids part of the team and not merely the consumers of parental care for a change.
In families where relationships have not been that great even in good times, outside help could be needed now; perhaps telephone counselling for parents and online mentoring for boys with no role models, or who are stressed and lonely. Parents need to realise that older boys too can be deeply anxious, but have trouble putting that into words, and need comfort and cuddles just as much as their younger siblings.
Overall the year of the virus might be a time when a lot of what we value most comes to the fore, and our kids might remember it in years to come as a rather special time: a reset, a reclaiming of what family is supposed to look like and feel like, and that might be something that lasts.