Education Matters: The Truth About Boys and Girls

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Seattle celebrated boys and girls this week with two events at Town Hall: an appearance by Rosalind Wiseman, author of the new book, Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends and the New Rules of Boy World, and "Modern Girlhood Redefined," an event organized by the Women's Funding Alliance to coincide with the United Nations' International Day of the Girl Child, which raises public awareness of the global challenges faced by girls.

Sugar and spice? Snails and pails and puppy dogs tails?

My colleague Natalie Singer-Velush and I, both mothers exclusively of girls, each attended a Town Hall event to learn what today's boys and girls are made of and the challenges they face.

Because I live with two teenaged girls, I have an immediate and vested interest in understanding boys, so the commentary you'll see about them comes from me. Natalie, whose girls are in early elementary school, tackles girl empowerment. Maybe one of her girls will be president some day.

Boys will be boys?

Rosalind Wiseman's Seattle appearance came on the heels of revelations that 100 or so students from Garfield High School had been involved in freshmen hazing. Eleven students were "temporarily expelled" from the school while an investigation was conducted (this action, which has also been referred to a "ban," or "emergency expulsion" is not an official disciplinary action, according to a school district spokesperson).

Though I haven't seen any reports to confirm my hunch, I'd venture a guess that most, if not all, of the expelled students are boys, as were most of the active participants in the power play, which allegedly involved upperclassmen hazing freshmen.

"Conflict and abuse of power are inevitable"{ in the lives of boys}, Rosalind Wiseman told a sold-out audience of 800+ people at her October 8 appearance at Town Hall.

"Boys need to know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. The goal is to teach them social competence."

Wiseman described the different roles within a boy's inner circle.  These include:  the mastermind, the boy who calls the shots; the associate, who gathers information and serves as the group's social point person; the bouncer, who is the group's "fall-guy"; the fly, who brags and buys friendships; the entertainer, who can be obnoxious, but is not mean. An easy target, he serves as the group's "punching  bag"; and the conscious, who not only considers the ethical course of action, but, because he is trusted by adults, also serves as a foil when boys want to engage in questionable behavior.

These prescribed roles make it difficult for boys to advocate for themselves.

In an urgent call to action, Wiseman wants adults, men in particular, to teach boys that being a man involves navigating situations that can sometimes be difficult, but don't need to be borne alone.

According to Wiseman, boys commit suicide at five times the rate of girls. They do worse in school, have more social problems and learning disabilities, and are less likely to attend college. Yet frequently their needs are ignored—often because many boys believe reaching out is a sign of weakness.

While working on Masterminds and Wingmen, which provides strategies for parents, teachers and mentors of boys, Wiseman realized that boys themselves desperately need a guide of their own.

The Guide: Managing Douchebags, Recruiting Wingmen, and Attracting Who You Want is available as a free E-Book until December 10.  Developed in collaboration with high school boys, it teaches boys effective strategies for coping with their most pressing problems.

The common truth about boys and girls is that with the right support, they don't have to be stuck in age-old roles.

Awareness is the first step. Empowerment follows.

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