It’s not hard to find people talking about the challenge of motivating children, especially boys. It’s also not hard to find articles and opinions that decry parenting, education, social media, gaming, women’s rights, and a host of other factors. One expert in education quipped that, given current trends, 2068 will be the last year a U.S. male will graduate from college.
In his book, Boys Adrift, Psychologist Dr. Leonard Sax writes that “A third of men ages 22-34 are still living at home with their parents—about a 100 percent increase in the past 20 years.” They’re at home playing video games, Sax writes. These “grown” boys are motivated by the imaginary challenges of online gaming, but they have grown indifferent to the real world. The problems seem to be obvious, but what about the solutions? What can dads do to get boys back on track? Here are 5 ideas for motivating boys.
1. Treat boys like boys.
“Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools,” observed Psychologist Michael Thompson. “Boys are treated like defective girls.” We’ve got to stop playing it that way. Boys have unique strengths. Why not play to those strengths rather than constantly try to make boys into something they’re not?
2. Bring back recess.
Recess is being pulled out of schools. We can’t change that. However, you can have recess with your son after school. If your son doesn’t want to play competitive sports after school, take up a physical hobby together – fish, run, throw a football/baseball, lift weights, play golf, etc. More than one researcher points out the foundational biological need that boys have to express themselves physically, to engage in play, and to periodically disengage from the structured learning environment. “Although boys are more active, only a small percentage engages in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day,” said Lorraine Robbins, assistant professor of nursing at Michigan State University.
3. Make sure they’re thirsty.
Someone who is never thirsty is never motivated to look for water. So, we need to dismantle the “entitlement” economy so many parents have established and make sure your child is required to earn access to what he wants by accomplishing real goals. “Learned helplessness” has to be taught. Set deadlines. Impose structure. A Dad’s job is that of coach, not quarterback.
Encouragement is the key to motivation. Take the training wheels off, give the bike a helpful shove, even run alongside if necessary. Let go, but hang around to encourage. This means compliment real achievement, teach problem-solving skills, and then step back. Allow kids to achieve something worthwhile so your compliments actually mean something.
5. Take the goodies out of his room.
James Lehman, MSW, contends that boys should be required to venture out of their rooms and engage in life. No computer in the bedroom, no television, no video-gaming system, and certainly no smartphone if he’s not performing. He’s a boy, so he needs to be hunting and gathering in every aspect of his life.