As many of you regular GCP readers may know, for the past 5 year Chicago’s Urban Prep Academy has been sending 100 percent of its high school graduates off to college. (See “Good News on the College Admissions Front”, April 16, 2014.) Recently Urban Prep Academy celebrated another milestone, as the first class of those high school graduates graduated from college. Watch this video of Krishaun Branch receiving his diploma from Fisk University, listen to him talk about his journey to college graduation and be very impressed, especially when you learn of his future plans. See the video here. Keep the tissues handy, you’ll need them.
As the shootings in schools, malls, and other public places seem to be happening more and more frequently these days, parents are once again wondering if violent video games, especially the “first person shooter” games which allow the player to travel armed throughout the game and “kill” everyone in sight, contribute to actual gun violence. In the aftermath of these shootings we have often heard the profile of the shooter as a young man who spent a great deal of time holed up in his room playing these games. Are these games, which our children can play for hours, encouraging them to look for violent solutions?
For every study that suggests that there is some causal connection between video games and gun violence there is another which assures us there is none. And considering the millions of games like these sold annually in the US alone, if the connection was absolute the violence would be much more staggering than it is. But as a recent New York Times article found here notes, two new studies strongly suggest that when children play these games regularly over time they become less horrified by violent scenes and have less empathy for people who are affected by violence. A study conducted by Dr. Jeanne Brockmyer of the University of Toledo has determined that teens exposure to violent images over long periods of time can mute the areas of the brain responsible for empathy. And a study recently released by Canada’s Brock University has determined that long term exposure to images in violent video games can stunt a child’s “moral maturity” and take away a child’s ability to feel empathy for people who have been in violent situations in real life.
The natural question for parents of boys who play these games is: how much exposure to these games is too much? Is once a week for two hours a day ok, but three times a week too much? Even though none of the studies have been able to determine this, parents should keep a watchful eye over how much time their children are spending with these games. Common Sense Media (commonsense media.org) has a ratings system for video games that breaks down what will be found in the videos (e.g., violence, sex, language, etc.) and suggests an appropriate age for the players. They also have kids reviews and parents reviews of the game side by side, so that you can read what each generation thinks about it.
GCP readers, what rules do you have in your house about violent video games? Does hearing that continued playing of these games might reduce your sons’ capacity to empathize affect your interest in letting him play as much? If you play these games, how does that impact your feelings about your children playing them? Let us know.
Happy Father’s Day from GCP! Although we frown slightly at these marketing holidays designed to get you into the card and department stores, we do cheer for a chance to celebrate dads. Great dads are wonderful role models for all of our children, but especially for our sons. Growing up with a father who shows you right from wrong, who teaches you how to be loving but strong, who makes you feel protected and cared for and shows you how to protect and care for others…this is golden for a young man. So to all of you GCP dads out there taking care of business for your sons and your daughters, we salute you, thank you, and ask that you keep up the good work. Today is your day, and we hope that you spend it being celebrated by your families.
And to the single moms, please take this opportunity to thank the father figures in your sons’ life. We know that you hold it down as Mom and Dad so much of the time, but if there are men in your sons’ life who take on any of the roles of a father (and we hope that there are), take some time today to thank them for being there, and as importantly, have your sons thank them as well. It takes a village to raise a child, and there are surely some fathers in your village whose work and caring is truly appreciated. So let them know that you are thinking of them and appreciating them today.
A HUGE shout out to all of the fathers, here and smiling down from above, who have supported and guided and loved their children, both those they sired and those in the village that they helped raise. We are all the better for you!!!
With Father’s Day coming up on Sunday, today’s Thoughtful Thursday pays tribute to dads. In “Only a Dad” Edward Albert Guest pays tribute to all of the fathers who work hard to support the families who love them. Martin Espada describes witnessing his father’s bravery as a child in “The Sign in My Father’s Hands”. Li-Young Lee passes on a favorite lesson learned from his father. And we end with a classic ode to fathers everywhere, Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays”.
Enjoy, and Happy Father’s Day to all of our GCP Dads!!!
Only a Dad
Only a dad, with a tired face,
Coming home from the daily race,
Bringing little of gold or fame,
To show how well he has played the game,
But glad in his heart that his own rejoice
To see him come, and to hear his voice.
Only a dad, with a brood of four,
One of ten million men or more.
Plodding along in the daily strife,
Bearing the whips and the scorns of life,
With never a whimper of pain or hate,
For the sake of those who at home await.
Only a dad, neither rich nor proud,
Merely one of the surging crowd
Toiling, striving from day to day,
Facing whatever may come his way,
Silent, whenever the harsh condemn,
And bearing it all for the love of them.
Only a dad, but he gives his all
To smooth the way for his children small,
Doing, with courage stern and grim,
The deeds that his father did for him.
This is the line that for him I pen,
Only a dad, but the best of men.
Edgar Albert Guest
The Sign in My Father’s Hands
—for Frank Espada
The beer company
did not hire Blacks or Puerto Ricans,
so my father joined the picket line
at the Schaefer Beer Pavilion, New York World’s Fair,
amid the crowds glaring with canine hostility.
But the cops brandished nightsticks
and handcuffs to protect the beer,
and my father disappeared.
In 1964, I had never tasted beer,
and no one told me about the picket signs
torn in two by the cops of brewery.
I knew what dead was: dead was a cat
overrun with parasites and dumped
in the hallway incinerator.
I knew my father was dead.
I went mute and filmy-eyed, the slow boy
who did not hear the question in school.
I sat studying his framed photograph
like a mirror, my darker face.
Days later, he appeared in the doorway
grinning with his gilded tooth.
Not dead, though I would come to learn
that sometimes Puerto Ricans die
in jail, with bruises no one can explain
swelling their eyes shut.
I would learn too that “boycott”
is not a boy’s haircut,
that I could sketch a picket line
on the blank side of a leaflet.
That day my father returned
from the netherworld
easily as riding the elevator to apartment 14-F,
and the brewery cops could only watch
in drunken disappointment.
I searched my father’s hands
for a sign of the miracle.
To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.
I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.
Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.
Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
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!!
As the school year draws to a close, our sons in middle/junior high and high school may be facing final exams. Today’s Thoughtful Thursday offerings are a mix of poems about tests and school in general. It includes a cute poem to read to your young one who needs a bit of encouragement on test taking day, a poem about a young man’s experience in school that parents of boys can certainly relate to, and a well known Israeli poet’s reflections on what he did and didn’t learn in school. Enjoy.
Good Luck On That Test
Well – Today is the day
You’ll be picking your brain
Looking for knowledge
You’ve tried to retain
Soon you’ll be facing
Those questions you dread
And hoping right answers
Match what’s in your head
All you can do though
Is to give it your best
Just like you always do
Good luck on that test!
I was sent home the first day
with a note: Danny needs a ruler.
My father nodded, nothing seemed so apt.
School is for rules, countries need rulers,
graphs need graphing, the world is straight ahead.
It had metrics one side, inches the other.
You could see where it started
and why it stopped, a foot along,
how it ruled the flighty pen,
which petered out sideways when you dreamt.
I could have learned a lot,
understood latitude, or the border with Canada,
so stern compared to the South
and its unruly river with two names.
But that first day, meandering home, I dropped it.
Daniel J. Langton
The School Where I Studied
I passed by the school where I studied as a boy
and said in my heart: here I learned certain things
and didn’t learn others. All my life I have loved in vain
the things I didn’t learn. I am filled with knowledge,
I know all about the flowering of the tree of knowledge,
the shape of its leaves, the function of its root system, its pests and parasites.
I’m an expert on the botany of good and evil,
I’m still studying it, I’ll go on studying till the day I die.
I stood near the school building and looked in. This is the room
where we sat and learned. The windows of a classroom always open
to the future, but in our innocence we thought it was only landscape
we were seeing from the window.
The schoolyard was narrow, paved with large stones.
I remember the brief tumult of the two of us
near the rickety steps, the tumult
that was the beginning of a first great love.
Now it outlives us, as if in a museum,
like everything else in Jerusalem.
Translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld
With today’s Thoughtful Thursday GCP joins the world in celebrating the life of Maya Angelou, poet and author extraordinaire. Here we share a few of our favorite quotes. Enjoy.
* * * * * * * * * * *
I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.
I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.
I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.
I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
When someone shows you who they are believe them the first time.
Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.
Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.
Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.
When you learn, teach, when you get, give.
Remember “Reading Rainbow”?
That delightful children’s series which encouraged reading, hosted by LeVar Burton and aired on PBS from 1983-2009? Burton has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise one million dollars to create an online version to expand the program’s reach.
When Reading Rainbow went off the air in 2009 Burton bought the rights to the show and its name and created the company RRKidz, which produces a Reading Rainbow tablet app. The Kickstarter campaign is raising funds to expand on that app, making it available on the Web and updating it with special tools for teachers on a subscription basis.
The campaign has gotten off to a very impressive start: it has already exceeded its pledge goal, with 29,145 backers having already pledged over $1,295,000. With 34 more days to go on the campaign, the Reading Rainbow team is hoping to raise additional funds to meet more ambitious production goals.
Although Teacher Appreciation Week (May 5-9) has come and gone, it is not too late to show your appreciation for special teachers in your son’s life. In fact, the end of the school year is a great time to thank teachers for the hard work they have put in all year on your son’s behalf. Looking for cute year end gift ideas? Check out these Pinterest boards here, here and here.
Be sure to involve your son in the process of figuring out what to do for his favorite teachers. It will help him understand the importance of showing appreciation and celebrating great teachers if he participates in the purchase or making of a teacher’s gift. As you focus on year-end gift giving, please note that teacher’s gifts are much more about the thought than the price tag. In fact, many schools have dollar limits on what you can spend on a teacher’s gift. Check with your Parent’s Association/PTA reps for this information. And don’t forget about the people who work hard in your son’s school outside the classroom to make sure he has a good day, like the security guard or the school nurse. They should be appreciated as well!!
As you talk with your son about the teachers he wants to thank, talk to him about some of your favorite teachers. Not only is it fun to share your stories, but by sharing your memories of teachers you had decades ago, you will help him appreciate how important and influential a good teacher can be.
We are still in graduation season, and the inspirational quotes abound. Here are a few more:
We begin with two quotes from John Legend’s commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania:
The key to success, the key to happiness, is opening your mind and your heart to love. Spending your time doing things you love and with people you love.
The only way you’ll reach any height in life and in love is by taking the chance that you might fall. John Legend
If you can prepare yourself at every point as well as you can you will be able to grasp opportunity for broader experience when it appears. Eleanor Roosevelt
There is no greater gift that you can give or receive than to honor your calling. It’s why you were born. And how you become most truly alive. Oprah Winfrey
If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead your to your purpose. Bishop T.D. Jakes
You can find energizing moments in each aspects of your life, but to do so you must learn how to catch them…and allow yourself to follow where they lead. Marcus Buckingham
For some reason people want to see you fail, but that is not your problem, that is their problem. Sandra Bullock (2014 Commencement speech)