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Kehler Counseling Blog

One of Most Important Things Your Boy Needs to Know

I just finished a book that should be a 'must read' for parents of boys.  Swagger -by Lisa Bloom that left me both shocked and educated about specific things that a parent can do to improve the odds of success for their boys.
As a consummate reader from a very young age I never thought twice about not being able to read.  Although I don't remember my parents - also voracious readers - reading to me out loud, sharing story books or even reading before bed - I do remember and still see them - now in their 80's reading almost constantly.   We were a family that just always was busy reading something.   Our days started with reading the cereal box, the milk carton, the morning newspaper, afternoons included reading magazines -for both work and pleasure, my grandparents always reading Reader's Digest, my mother reading lengthy bestselling novels, my father buried in the Sunday New York Times.    I witnessed adults reading.  Little did I realize the importance of just that.  Of seeing adults enjoying the pleasure, valuing the experience, always learning something new. 
Swagger reveals what has gone wrong in our culture with our boys.  Lisa Bloom starts the first half of the book with chapters of detailed research, statistics and policies that are hurting our boys.   The numbers are staggering and eye opening. 
  • Did you know that before 1988 the jail sentence for drug possession of ANY kind, any quantity was ONE YEAR?   Now you can expect a mandatory minimum of 5 years for any amount of cocaine, meth, crack or heroin.  If you're caught sharing it in a school zone add another 5.  So we now take young men out of their families for more time than we send them off to college! 
  • 70% of those incarcerated are functionally illiterate.
  • 85% of those facing trials in the legal system are illiterate.
  • 53% of students in 4th grade 'read every day'  but by 8th grade only 20% claim the same.
  • Did you know that if a boy can't read well by 4th grade  it increases his odds of being incarcerated  or on welfare as adult as much as 75%?  
  •   How can we actually think that a boy who can't read a job application, contract, sales agreement, instructions to repair something, a website/blog with educational materials, a term paper, warnings, legal documents, bank statements, or an insurance policy be very successful? 
  •  Really - think about it.
Our 'get tough on crime' has now removed so many men/boys from their families that their sense of belonging is stronger in prison than outside of it.   We put them away for 5-10 years (the average sentence) and they still come out unable to read above a 4th grade level!
Back to reading -
what outraged me is that the real issue starts so early and no one seems to acknowledge it!   We're quick to blame 'single mothers', divorce, drugs, teachers and parents but if the adults in a child's life aren't picking up that a boy can't read - who is responsible?
So I thought about it. . . How does a boy get away with not learning to read despite going through 8-12 years of school??    Also know that our country's BEST colleges offer 'remedial reading and math' classes to their students - so this is a real issue passed onto colleges too!  
  • How often do we ask outright a young boy about his reading?  Do you ask him if  he reads?  What he reads?  What he loves to read?  Or do you focus on his sports, video gaming, or other recreational pursuits?  Do you assume that he's picking up reading when he's in school?  
  • Her research found that boys equate reading with being passive and 'girly' -they prefer to be active and leave laying around and reading to the girls.
  • Are fathers so 'pro-sports' that its at the expense of being equipped to read a scholarship application?  Sports page?   Contract to sign up for a favorite pro sport?
  • Do you assume your boy knows how to read well just because he's in school?    Is he distracting or compensating by being an active class participant - answering questions easily or hiding and finding excuses to not be in a class when reading is demanded? 
  • Has he been caught and disciplined for cheating?  Did everyone focus on the punishment rather than the cause?
  • Is he depending on peers or girl friends for homework, test answers, typing up papers, assisting him in filling out reports, forms, and applications?
  • Does he come up with excuses to avoid or play 'dumb' when an activity requires reading?   Does he claim 'you can't read my writing' so you fill out the form or application for him?  Do you?  Other excuses include ' forgot my glasses',  'I was sick' - 'can I go to the bathroom?' when reading out loud is requested in a class.
  • Do you see him spending time reading simple things that capture his attention?   Does he flip through magazines, websites, books to find photos rarely lingering on a page and truly reading?   Does he spend time with graphic novels and comic books instead of 'chapter books'?
  • Does he complain about the teacher, the material, the difficulty, or losing his way, book, instructions?  Do you read TO him the instructions for his homework?    Does he distract you or change the activity so he doesn't have to read to you? 
  • Has he been evaluated for a learning/reading disability but avoiding actual classes and tutoring?   Are you following up to make sure he's participating and improving? 
  • Do you engage him in reading?  Do you take him to the library?  Bookstores?  Give or gift him with books?  Is he getting 'missed' because you stick to TV and movies and you never noticed he doesn't read for pleasure? 
  • When he's interested in a specific topic do you suggest researching, looking it up, finding a book or magazine on the topic - rather than just telling him the answer?  
This book laid out very specific ways to improve the odds for your boy(s) - she also suggests  mentoring, (I'm a long term advocate and Board member of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, monitoring music and TV diets,  teaching humility rather than 'I'm a genius or the best' -surrounding them with the activity and love of reading and becoming aware of how 'swagger' and 'thug culture' is the 'new cool' that we need to understand and find antidotes to.
I'm still wondering how we can graduate kids from our schools who don't know how to read.   I saw the reality of this in my agency work - the national statistic is that 23% cannot read above a 4th grade level.  I would say that those I saw in treatment - at least 10% were - they had the answers and even actively participated but when you gave them worksheets to fill out they would find reasons, methods and excuses to not fill them out themselves.  40% of our workforce has limited skills.   Yet we want jobs - jobs - jobs  . . . but if a person can't read and fill out an application what good is job availability?   
So please parents, educators, grandparents, siblings - if you see your young child struggling or excusing their reading limitations - speak up - get support and get help.
  • If they are in school - meet with their reading teachers, reading specialists, and if they don't help - get tutoring.  
  • If they are done with school -look up the local chapter for Literacy Training  and set up sessions with a volunteer - often take place in local library.
Ask at your local library - they want you reading - they will have the contacts you need.
Don't hesitate - don't be embarrassed - it's YOUR FUTURE - that will be a whole lot more interesting when you can read bank statements, medical prescription directions, contracts, legal documents, and  write those resumes that will get them that great job!  
Happy reading!

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