On raising boys

Every now and then an article appears which speaks sense. Which leaves all the theatrics and gross generalisations at the door and says something you hope every parent of every boy reads. This was in today’s SMH. I’m reprinting it below because it’s good.

And look, if that’s not your style then go check out these pics of awesome specimens of men in peak physical condition from today’s AFL Grand Final. I was a tad devastated for St Kilda, I think after winning 20 from 22 games all season they had earned their stripes to take home the major prize. And I think Nick Riewoldt is hot. And that hotness is only exacerbated by the reality of his leadership skills, work ethic (the guy warms up for something like 2 hours before the game and still gets so nervous he spews) and passion for the game. I’ll stop now. *Cougar alert Code RED*

The fear is boys who will be boys forever

Tim Hawkes

September 26, 2009

A girl looking for a boy to love is not always turned on by a bulging biceps or a washboard stomach. She is more likely to be attracted by a gooey mass of crinkled jelly at the front of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex. This may come as a disappointment to some boys, particularly those relying on their biceps and washboard stomachs.

It might also become a disappointment to be told the PFC tends to develop more slowly in boys than in girls, and may not fully mature until a male is at least 20 years old. No amount of “how-can-they-resist-me” gel to the hair or compelling man-fragrance on the chin can make up for an underdeveloped or damaged PFC. It is the seat of many of the qualities that turn a stupid boy into a mature man.

As often as not, the sort of thing that wrecks marriages and destroys romances is selfishness, poor self-control and thoughtlessness. The part of the brain that contributes most significantly to the presence or absence of these qualities is the PFC.

For some boys it is a “pretty fantastic centre” of the brain which contributes to their reputation for good judgment and being particularly fine company. In others, it is a “positively foul centre” which contributes to their reputation for high-risk actions, poor social skills and immature behaviour.

The health of the brain is also of interest to employers, not renowned for tolerating high-risk or unco-operative behaviour. The penalty paid for a poorly developed PFC can be considerable; they may be unlucky not only in love but in wealth.

Quite literally, some boys are becoming mindless. Their lifestyles will damage their neural pathways, resulting in fewer connections in the brain and a reduced efficiency in its operation. The mindless brain is typically consumed with wanting “experiences” and is preoccupied with the here and now. The mindful brain is typically consumed with wanting meaning and is preoccupied with thinking. The one is infantile and the other is adult.

The cry emanating from exasperated parents and disappointed partners of wanting a boy “to grow up” is a medical diagnosis of brain malfunction. It can be the result of high-risk behaviours which can lead to a pruning of the brain. The result is a denuded mind.

The brain has a remarkable capacity to grow or shrink depending on whether it is used. If a boy wishes to engage in experiences which blow his mind, he will succeed in more ways than one. Thrill seeking, binge drinking, drug taking and overeating will damage the brain and render it less effective in guiding its owner towards mature behaviour. A childish state can result: a man trapped as a boy.

For a brain to be kept healthy and functionally efficient, it needs to be exercised and kept free of bumps, drugs and too many baths of dopamine. Dopamine is an addictive chemical, much like cocaine, which is released in the brain when the body engages in thrill-seeking “fight or flight” behaviours.

Getting high on adventure is a literal truth in the lives of some boys. The high can also come from drugs, drink, sex, food and dangerous activities. Reward-seeking activities are fuelled by dopamine so they are craved time and time again. The price paid can be the development of an infantile brain.

Evidence suggests a significant engagement with video games, social networking and TV can also promote an infantile brain. A gamer’s world is characteristically filled with violence without empathy, behaviours without consequences. Little wonder these qualities become learned and transferred to the real world. The gamer is bombarded with images, sound, and compelling action.

How can a teacher compete? Armed with only a whiteboard marker, the teacher is no match for the visual armoury of the computer screen. Small wonder that the number of boys being treated for attention deficit disorder is growing dramatically. The battle of the real world against the virtual world is being lost.

It is easy to sensationalise this thesis just as it is easy to dismiss it. The truth lies somewhere in between and requires a boy to counteract those activities which have little meaning with activities that have great meaning. How many boys have a worthy cause, a charity, a calling in their life as well as a computer, mobile phone and television?

The most frightening situation occurs when there is an accumulation of brain-deadening behaviours. It is difficult to believe an under-exercised, jelly-bellied video gamer, with an affection for junk food and late nights, is going to survive childhood without being mentally damaged.

We need to be concerned about the possibility of a brain-damaged generation of children. To this add a desensitising to violence (by the age of 18 a boy will have watched about 20,000 murders), a premature sexualising (12- to 22-year-old males are the biggest users of sex-chat lines), and exhaustion due to social networking (peak use of teenage networking is just after midnight).

There must be a renewed urgency to ensuring our sons are readers of books as well as watchers of screens. They must eat well, exercise, sleep and be given experiences beyond the trivial. To fail in this is to condemn boys to perpetual boyhood.

Tim Hawkes is headmaster of The King’s School, Parramatta.

This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/the-fear-is-boys-who-will-be-boys-forever-20090925-g67p.html

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
  • Fe

    This article struck a chord with me too.

    My boys read tonnes… but they also love their PSP's. Now I want to flush all electronic devices down the loo!

    xoxox

  • kim at allconsuming

    NO NO! I think that's why I liked it – he's all about ensuring boys have balance rather than the whole "Ban Computers" brigade.

  • sooz

    But still, shit, eh? So important to achieve that balance and yet keeping them balanced well past teenagerdom seems like a big ask. I know the evidence on alcohol is not so balanced – any consumption at all has a demonstrable effect on brain development and I can't see how you keep a boy alcohol free for 20 years. Thanks for posting it Kim.

  • Suse

    Thanks for this Kim.

    It is fairly terrifying, being a parent.

  • kurrabikid

    Some great points there. It's up to parents to control screen time – and really, is there any need for any kid to spend more than 1-2 hours a day in front of the TV or computer? No way…

  • Aussie-waffler

    Thanks Kim, that was a really interesting article. As the mother of a son who LOVES his Nintendo, I know how tough it is to get a good balance.

  • M

    One of the things I love about my boy's new school is that reading is HIGH on the agenda for the boys. Not only reading but an in depth study of the books they read.

    I follow the 'no tv/e-games' Monday to Friday rule but it doesn't seem to make any difference with my little boy. He is still obsessed with e-games on the weekends. What is it with their little brains?

  • •´.¸¸.•¨¯`♥.Trish.♥´¯¨•.¸¸.´•

    I love the bit about balance …my 16yr in somewhere in the middle because he doesn't read, choses not to but his risk taking is limted.
    Great article thanks for sharing.