Category Archives: Saving Our Sons

GCP Event: Great Advice on Raising Boys from Kathryn Chenault

This past Saturday GCP had another live event: A conversation with GCP mom Kathryn Chenault. Kathryn, an attorney who stepped away from her professional life to devote time and effort to raising her two sons (who are now wonderful young men in their 20′s), graciously hosted us at her glorious home. Beautiful surroundings, great weather, and wonderful advice from a boy mom extraordinaire.

A great group of mothers were there to hear Kathryn and join our conversation about raising boys of color. Kathryn had so many words of wisdom to share, and the other mothers had lots of questions and stories of their own to share.

Here are five of Kathryn’s many helpful tips for raising boys:

1. Help Them Feel Good About Themselves: From the time that her sons were very young, Kathryn focused on helping them feel good about themselves and making sure they knew that she was their ally. She regularly told them “they could do anything”, that success would be theirs if they worked hard for it, and that they should talk to her about their issues and concerns. While we imagine and hope that most parents feel this way about their sons, Kathryn reminded us how important it is to tell them this on a regular basis. She also regularly talked with her sons about the golden rule, telling them that they should “treat others as you would want to be treated”. Basic but important lessons to remember to teach our sons.

2. Be a Parent Volunteer at Their Schools: Kathryn described spending a lot of time at her sons’ school, particularly in the earlier years when the school was generally more receptive to parent involvement in the classroom. (We at GCP were especially happy to hear this, as we have been encouraging our parents to spend as much time as possible at school, or if their jobs prohibit this, do what they can and befriend a mom who spends more time there.) She talked about the benefits of being able to observe her sons in school with their classmates, and as importantly, the benefits of developing a relationship with the teachers which helped ease communication throughout the school years. When she observed something in school with which she didn’t agree, however, she was careful not to challenge the teacher directly at that moment, or suggest to either her sons that she didn’t want them to follow the school’s rules. This is key, as parents should try to avoid behavior which labels them as a constantly complaining or troublemaker parent, most importantly because it rarely gets them to the desired results.

3. Read Along with Your Son: Beginning in their early years and continuing through high school, Kathryn independently read some of the novels her sons’ were assigned and chatted with them about the readings. Not only would this give her a good sense about where they were with their reading comprehension, it allowed her to fully participate in interesting conversations at home with her sons about the books they were reading at school. (We at GCP learned this from Kathryn years ago and were surprised and delighted to see an increase in our sons’ enthusiasm about talking about school work.) Short on reading time? Cliff Notes work too!

4. Keep them Grounded: Kathryn would regularly remind her sons not to get too comfortable in whatever creature comforts she and her husband have been able to provide for them. She let them know from an early age that they should take nothing for granted, especially any luxuries they might currently enjoy. She also told them from an early age that they would need to get good jobs to be able to afford the nice things they seemed to like and desire. (Since both boys are college graduates pursuing careers, this message seems to have stuck.) Parents who have been fortunate enough to be able to provide well for their children must remember to make sure their children know that they will have to work hard to continue these great lifestyles for themselves once they are through with school. This message is particularly important now, as current economic data suggests that our children’s generation may not surpass us on the economic ladder. Best that they get the message of “every tub on its own bottom” sooner rather than later.

5. Encourage Them to Seek Mates with Similar Values: One of the mothers asked Kathryn for advice concerning our young adult sons and dating. This sparked a candid conversation about how different the dating world seemed to be these days, and that advising our sons to “find someone just like us” didn’t seem to be working so well. We ultimately agreed that the best advice we could give our sons would be to look for mates who shared their values and who made them happy. Considering the passion and enthusiasm with which the mothers engaged in this discussion, we could have had a whole session on this topic!

Thanks so much to Kathryn Chenault for giving us so much food for thought about parenting our boys and for hosting this great event. Thanks so much as well to Gwendolyn Adolph for inspiring and planning it. We hope to have more GCP live events; we will keep you posted!!

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Filed under Experts, Guest Bloggers, Resources, Saving Our Sons

Boys and the Power of 8th Grade Grades

In a recent report on gender, economic mobility and college success, a team of Columbia and Ohio State University researchers have concluded that they have seen the future, and it doesn’t look good for boys.

In their paper, found here and reported in the NY Times here, they assert that eighth grade report cards tell the story: if an 8th grader gets A’s and B’s, that student will likely earn a college degree. If he or she gets B’s and C’s, he or she is much less likely to complete college. By the 8th grade, girls are already well outpacing the boys academically on a national basis, which the researchers believe explains why women have had much greater success than men in completing their college degrees.

The researchers’ rationale behind using 8th grades as predictors is that social and behavioral skills, which are key to academic success in college, are established by 8th grade. The gap in these skills between girls and boys starts in kindergarten and widens through 5th grade. The researchers believe this gap to be “considerably larger” than the gap between children from poor and middle class families and the gap between black and white children.

This study aligns with what we at GCP have been talking about for years now: it is very important that our sons get and stay focused academically at an early age, and we parents have to do all within our power to support and help them in this effort. For those of us with sons who bombed the 8th grade; do not despair, all is not lost. Boys can and do get it together in high school, but they need attention and focus to make sure they are making their best efforts. This is a wake up call for all of us to focus not only on our individual sons’ performance, but on what needs to be done with a national school system that produces such lopsided results.

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Filed under Academics, Ages 8-12, Saving Our Sons

Talk to Your Sons About The L.A.Clippers

It has been front page news for a few days now: L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling allegedly made some outrageously offensive racist comments about Black people to his Black and Hispanic girlfriend. Talk to your sons about this situation, and ask them what they would do if they played for or were the coach of the L.A. Clippers.

The team decided to play yesterday’s game, and staging a silent protest during warm-ups, and they are playing again on Monday night. Would your son have decided to play the game? Talk about the issues that probably came up during a team discussion: whether they should forfeit the playoff game that they’d been working all season to get to play in, or whether they should continue to play for an owner who appears to have made blatantly racist comments. Talk about all the competing pressures on the team: the instinct to walk away from the game, likely supported by outraged family and friends, versus the urge to prove to themselves that they have the ability to win, coupled with the potential economic consequences of refusing to play, and how much does that matter under these circumstances?

Certainly you have had may versions of these conversations with friends and co-workers over the past few days, conversations which will continue as the playoff games continue and the NBA Commissioner attempts to authenticate the recording of these comments and determine the league’s response. But take the time to talk with your sons about this situation, and keep talking with them about it as events unfold. More importantly, keep listening to their thoughts about these events. Ask them what they would do going forward if they were a Clippers player, if they were the NBA Commissioner. Keep talking, and keep listening.

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Filed under Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 8-12, College Bound Students, Parents, Saving Our Sons, Sports

Family Ties: How Can Parents Help Create Them?

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A good male friend recently described the relationship between his two teen sons as “non-existent”. Different social circles, different schools, unconnected lives living in the same house. If one is away for a while, the other will eventually ask about him, but only casually, and he certainly doesn’t want his brother to know that he cares. My friend assures me that his boys are going through the normal stage of wanting nothing to do with one another, and that he is sure they will reconnect down the line.

He had to assure me of this, because I’ve not experienced a phase where any of my three children didn’t get along fairly well with each other. The fact that several years separate each of them (3 years between my first two, then 4 years between the second and third) could be a big factor. They had to spend a good deal of time together when they were young, of course, but they were always at different developmental stages, so the competitive level generally stayed pretty low.

I am sure that my friend is quite right about his sons, and he is wisely adopting the “don’t sweat the small stuff” parenting approach. But I have to confess that it would bug me if my children weren’t close. I am not talking “we don’t need any other friends” close, but at least “I’m cool with hanging with you around the house” close. This leads me to wonder: what, if anything, can parents do to promote friendship among their children?

“How to Get Siblings To Get Along” in Chicago Parents, found here, had some good suggestions. I particularly liked the following:

Encourage an Expectation of Closeness: Katie Allison Granju, a mom of five kids and author of Attachment Parenting, suggests that parents have a baseline expectation within the family that siblings will be friends, and subtly make sure that everyone understands that expectation. Encourage your children to view each other as allies. As Pat Shimm of the Barnard Toddler Center says, your ultimate goal is to have your children join forces together against you, the “management”, for that is how their bonds form and grow.

Support Each Other’s Activities: Insist (where reasonable) that your children attend some of their sibling’s activities and games. It involves them more in each other’s lives and gives them an opportunity to cheer for (or console) one another.

Family Conversations: I groan a bit at any forced encounters (like a planned “family meeting”) but making time for family conversations, be they around the dinner table (a great place to promote togetherness) or in the car, allows your children to listen to one another’s thoughts and ideas. Enforcing rules that everyone has to be polite and not interrupt will help keep the conversation civil and productive. It also gives everyone an opportunity to laugh together, which is always good.

Don’t Compare: A surefire way to poison sibling relationships is to play favorites or suggest that one child should act more like another. Don’t do it, even if one seems to have all the common sense (smarts, talent, whatever) in the world and the other none. Nothing good comes from your saying “Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister”? Nothing.

Establish Family Traditions: Chicago psychologist Dr. Mark Sharp notes that anything that helps kids identify as a part of the family is particularly helpful. “Family traditions, family rituals, these experiences create a sense of bond. That helps create a shared identity, which helps them feel closer.” When my children were young we established Fridays as Pizza Night, which ensured that the three of them (and often all of us) would enjoy yummy casual dining at the end of the week. Even now if one of the older two is home from college on a Friday, he or she expects to see the pizza boxes on the counter and whatever sibling is home seated at the table.

These are suggestions, not prescriptions. Sometimes no matter what you do your children will refuse to get along, and will seem not to care about one another. But it certainly won’t hurt to focus on some of these tips, and it could even help.

What do you do to encourage your children to strengthen their family ties to one another? Please share your tips!

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents, Saving Our Sons

GCP Food for Thought

Just a quick posting of two thought-provoking articles:

In “Teaching My Son to Love Himself”, found here, author Faye McCray wonders about the extent to which her son struggles with issues of identity when he finds a white girl is prettier than a Black one.

A white father of an African-American son shares “What I Learned About Stop-and-Frisk From Watching My Black Son”, found here.

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Filed under Parents, Resources, Saving Our Sons

Black Boys Lose Assumption of Innocence at an Early Age

Black boys as young as 10 years old are more likely than their White peers to be mistaken as older, less innocent, and more appropriate targets for police violence if accused of a crime, according to research conducted by UCLA psychologists. In their study, abstracted here, the researchers examined “whether Black boys are given the protections of childhood equally to their peers”, and tested three theories: 1) that Black boys are seen as less childlike than their White peers; 2) that characteristics associated with childhood are less frequently applied in thinking about Black boys relative to White boys; and 3) these trends would be more obvious among people who dehumanized Black males by associating them with apes. The researchers conducted studies of 4 different groups (including police officers and college students) which supported and confirmed their theories.

“The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.” You can read a more detailed description of this study and the results here.

Most alarming were the results of the police officers study, as the researchers determined that those officers who dehumanized blacks in psychological questionnaires (associating them with apes) were more likely to have used force against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize Blacks. While the researchers noted that further study was necessary to clarify this finding, this study supports our gut instinct to instruct our sons, even our little boys, about how to behave during any encounter with the police.

As blogger Christopher “Flood The Drummer” Norris in The Good Men Project website notes here, the sad essence of these findings is that our young boys don’t get to be young and innocent for long. As Norris notes, “Black boys aren’t so different; they want what every other adolescent has: the ability to make mistakes.” If our boys are consciously or unconsciously being held to a higher standard by the adults they interact with, small wonder that they can have a hard time meeting it in school and in the world.

What can we parents do at home to counteract this? We can give our young sons time and space to be “boys”, guide them but try not to make them “little men” too soon. We can also focus on how negative media images of young Black men can distort public perception and make people more comfortable with their negative thinking. Check out “Media Portrayal of Black Youth Contributes to Racial Tension” here, and check out the Opportunity Agenda website here for lots of information about media images of Black males.

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 5-7, Parents, Saving Our Sons

Obama Launches “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative Today

This afternoon President Obama will announce the launch of an initiative to provide greater opportunities to African-American and Hispanic young men of color. His “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative has already received a $150 million commitment from a group of foundations and businesses who have pledged an additional $200 million towards this effort. The White House initiative seeks to intervene in the lives of boys at key points: by providing pre-kindergarten education, lifting third-grade reading proficiency, leading schools away from “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies that kick misbehaving students out of school, and convincing businesses to train and hire young men of color.

The President will also announce the creation of a new inter-agency “My Brother’s Keeper Task Force” headed up by Broderick Johnson, the cabinet secretary and assistant to the president. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Attorney General Eric Holder, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and other senior officials will also work with this task force. You can read more about this initiative here and here.

Kudos to the President and his staff for using the power of his office to bring attention, funding and opportunity to our young men in need. GCP looks forward to receiving and sharing more information about “My Brother’s Keeper” and its progress.

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents, Resources, Saving Our Sons

The Importance of Parent Groups

This past weekend GCP Mom Gwendolyn Adolph hosted the very first GCP live event. She gathered a wonderful group of moms and invited me to talk with them about some of the issues we focus on in the blog. One of the key things that came out of our discussion is how much parent groups can help moms (and dads) stay focused, confident and sane in their parenting choices. We at GCP have been in parent groups for over 10 years and found them invaluable as we faced a variety of issues with our children.

In a post back in 2011, GCP spoke with Patricia H. Shimm, author of “Parenting Your Toddler: The Expert’s Guide to the Tough and Tender Years”, who has organized and run parent groups for decades. Shimm explained why parents should form or join a parent group:

“Parents need a place to talk with each other without their children around in order to become better and more effective parents. Parenting is tough to do in isolation. We all have issues with our children, such as ‘my son won’t sleep through the night’, ‘I don’t like the way my child talks to me’, or ‘This teacher is being unfair to my son’. The parent group weighs in on the issues and offers perspectives and advice. We often can’t solve our own problems, but we can look at other people’s problems and help them with theirs.”

Groups can be small (6-10 members) or larger (15-20). They work well when the people are compatible and comfortable with one another. But don’t try to gather all of your closet friends into a parent group. It is better to have a group of people come together expressly to talk about specific issues who won’t be so tempted by their familiarity to go off topic.

An essential component of the group (however large or small) is confidentiality. In order for everyone to be comfortable enough to speak honestly and candidly everyone has to trust that what she is saying will stay in the room. This is critical. Other important rules: never ridicule someone’s actions or feelings, never embarrass or insult anyone. And laughter is key. We all have to be able to laugh at our mistakes while we get advice about how not to avoid making them in the future.

There was plenty of laughter in the room last week as that great group of thoughtful and focused moms traded tales of raising boys. Hope that they will continue to gather and share. You can read more about parent groups in the original GCP post, found here.

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Filed under Parents, Resources, Saving Our Sons

Resolve to Stay Involved With Your Son’s School

As the new year begins, it is a great time to focus on being involved at your children’s school. Here at GCP we can’t say enough about the importance of parental involvement in schools. See, for example, our earlier posts “Back to School for Parents”, September 13, 2011 and “Parents Resolve to Get More Involved in 2012”, January 2, 2012. Being a visible presence at your son’s school benefits you and your son throughout the school year. But how to do this, given your crazily busy life? A recent Buzzfeed.com list suggests “18 Ways To Get Involved at your Kids’ School”, many of which can be helpful even for the busiest parent. Find this thoughtful list here.

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Filed under Academics, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents, Saving Our Sons

GCP Parenting Resolutions for 2014

On this last day of 2013, our thoughts here at GCP turn to what New Year’s resolutions we can make about parenting. We’ve come up with one resolution, which we hope everyone will make: To be focused, conscientious parents in 2014.

Sounds good, but the important part of this resolution is figuring out how you will take it to heart. Perhaps you will choose one thing to work on, like paying less attention to your devices and more to casual conversations with your son, or devising and sticking to a plan to regularly touch base with his teachers, or stopping yourself from saying those words in anger and frustration that you know won’t help a situation, or fighting that instinct to protect your son from failure. Maybe you will use it more as a mantra, so that fewer of your parenting mistakes this year will be made because you were multitasking or spreading yourself too thin.

Take some time on New Year’s Day to think about what you can do to be a (more) focused and conscientious parent. Then pop open some leftover champagne, and toast yourself for making it through another year of parenting. Here’s to you, to your children (especially those amazing boys), and to a great year together. Happy New Year from GCP!

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Filed under Parents, Saving Our Sons