How to Talk to Boys (Hint: It's Not Just Grunting)

Photo: ThinkstockPhoto: ThinkstockBy: Amy Shearn

A lot of parenting advice stresses me out (baby flashcards! no flashcards!) so I love when someone smart declares that the thing to do to help our kids is to read more. Reading I can do. Filling the house with books I can handle. An excuse to buy picture books, novels, and magazines? Yes, please. The only thing that would be better would be discovering that kids thrive when their parents drink a lot of coffee and wear yoga pants for days at a time. Mothering win!

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Last year, Lisa Bloom's book Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World came out, and started a nationwide (and Internet-wide) conversation about how we talk to our little girls, and how simply saying different things to them (and encouraging reading and thinking) can help them grow up to be smart women. Boys, presumably, were doing okay. After all, men have it easy in today's world, right? I mean, they never have to wait in line for a public bathroom. How hard can their lives be?

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Well, guess what. Bloom's new book -- Swagger: 10 Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness, and Thug Culture (can this lady rock a subtitle or what?) -- is out, and now she is telling us that our boys are in trouble too. (I know. Bummer.) Apparently, we are not expecting enough of our boys, and in this way, undermine their early development. Bloom writes for The Huffington Post, "The new cultural trope is that girls naturally mature faster, that they have better innate verbal skills, and so pushing young boys to read is unrealistic and vaguely unfair to their boyness...Boys today do worse on national reading tests compared to their own gender a generation ago." And what's more, "Poor readers -- mostly boys -- struggle to read textbooks and tests in all subjects. They get suspended, expelled, flunk out and drop out at alarming rates - the majority of our African-American and Latino boys (who have the lowest reading proficiency of all) drop out of high school, with white boys faring only slightly better."

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I admit to a sinking feeling of guilt upon reading this. My son is only 14 months old, but I already hear myself saying things all the time like, "Oh no, he doesn't really have any words yet. His sister did by now, but you know - boys!" As if I accept -- even expect -- that this smart kid is nothing more than a hammer-, truck-, ball-obsessed little caveman. How can our low expectations begin so early? Knowing that kids rise to the expectations (or lack thereof) we set out for them?

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Thankfully, one of Bloom's solutions is, you guessed it, reading to our sons. "Make your home a reading mecca," she writes. "Kids with parents who read for pleasure are six times more likely to do so themselves -- and their grades shoot up." This I can handle. As soon as my little caveman stops hitting his sister over the head with that board book.

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