Boys aren’t welcome in school

School has become a hostile environment for boys, argues Christina Hoff Sommers in TIME.

At some schools, tug of war has been replaced with “tug of peace.” Since the 1990s, elimination games like dodgeball, red rover and tag have been under a cloud — too damaging to self-esteem and too violent, say certain experts.

Tug of peace? Really?

Young boys love action narratives with heroes, bad guys, rescues and shoot-ups, she writes.

According to at least one study, such play rarely escalates into real aggression — only about 1% of the time. But when two researchers, Mary Ellin Logue and Hattie Harvey, surveyed classroom practices of 98 teachers of 4-year-olds, they found that this style of play was the least tolerated. Nearly half of teachers stopped or redirected boys’ dramatic play daily or several times a week — whereas less than a third reported stopping or redirecting girls’ dramatic play weekly.

. . . Logue and Harvey found that “bad guy” play improved children’s conversation and imaginative writing. Such play, say the authors, also builds moral imagination, social competence and imparts critical lessons about personal limits and self-restraint. Logue and Harvey worry that the growing intolerance for boys’ action-narrative-play choices may be undermining their early language development and weakening their attachment to school.

“Efforts to re-engineer the young-male imagination” send a message to boys, writes Sommers. “You are not welcome in school.”

In the last 20 years, high school girls have raised their college aspirations and their grades, while boys have not, new research shows. More girls are earning A’s, while boys’ grades have stayed about the same. “The larger relative share of boys obtaining C and C+ grades can be accounted for by a higher frequency of school misbehavior and a higher proportion of boys aiming for a two-year college degree,” researchers found.

A mom decides: Gun play is good for boys

When her sons were young, Christine Gross-Loh gave them blocks, puzzles and cooperative games, but no guns. She’s changed her mind about toy guns, she writes in The Atlantic.

When her older son was four, he got a plastic toy gun in a birthday party goodie bag.

My son was utterly riveted. I tried to coax it away from him. “Bang bang!” he shouted, running around with the other kids. Just days later my shy little two year old fixated upon a toy sword that came with a pirate toy someone had given him, and would not go anywhere without it. I could see that the ludicrously small sword made him feel brave.

When the boys were three and five, the family moved to Tokyo, where boys play “all sorts of rough-and-tumble war games.”

Our Japanese public elementary school even gave out water guns to all the kids at a summer festival every year. Every single child got one — even three-year-old siblings. The first time I saw the kids screaming with laughter as they shot at each other over and over in the schoolyard, I was surprised by how the adults could be so blasé. They didn’t just tolerate the play: the teachers and even the principal helped fill the kids’ guns with water and ran around shooting and battling alongside their students. They actually encouraged the children, both boys and girls, to play with toy guns.

Almost no Japanese adults own firearms, Gross-Loh writes. There are very few shooting deaths.

. . . ever since living abroad in a society where young kids are allowed so many outlets for their energy, I have come to believe that one of the secrets of Asian boys’ self-regulation is the way that aggressive play is seen as a normal stage of childhood, rather than demonized and hidden out of sight.

Research doesn’t show that gun play desensitizes kids to violence, Gross-Loh writes. “Play helps children learn how to signal each other: this is fantasy.”

Imaginary play hones self-regulation, which is essential for school success but has declined in recent decades. (Today’s five year olds have the self-regulation skills of a three year old 60 years ago). Research has found that incorporating preschool boys’ interest in weapon play rather than banning it entirely leads them to play longer, more elaborate games that go beyond mere weapon play.

Worried about boys falling behind girls in school, the British education ministry has urged preschool teachers to allow boisterous play, including play with toy weapons, Gross-Loh writes.

Violent sports teach manhood in Chicago

“Athletics help young men channel their aggression in acceptable ways,” develop “grit” and move toward success, writes guestblogger Collin Hitt on Jay Greene’s blog.

. . . some of  Chicago’s toughest high schools that are embracing a new sports program that often includes violent sports. It is called Becoming a Man – Sports Edition, which is teaching adolescent boys boxing, wrestling, martial arts, archery and other Olympic sports like handball.

Young athletes in the privately run program receiving coaching and counseling and meet to discuss family issues.

Students were randomly assigned to the sports program or a control group. Arrests for violent crimes were 44 percent lower for participants and grades were significantly higher, a University of Chicago study found. Researcher Sara Heller predicted higher grades would lead to higher graduation rates.

Study: TV can teach empathy to preschoolers

When 3- to 5-year-olds watch less violence on TV and more shows featuring cooperation and friendship, they’re less aggressive toward other children, concludes a study published in Pediatrics.

One group of parents received guides highlighting positive TV shows for children and newsletters encouraging them to watch with their kids and discuss  the best ways to deal with conflict. Researchers called monthly to help parents set television-watching goals for their preschoolers.

The control group got dietary advice, but no guidance on TV watching.

After six months, parents in the group receiving advice about television-watching said their children were somewhat less aggressive with others, compared with those in the control group. The children who watched less violent shows also scored higher on measures of social competence, a difference that persisted after one year.

Low-income boys showed the most improvement.

“It’s not just about turning off the TV; it’s about changing the channel,” said Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, the lead author of the study and a University of Washington pediatrics professor.

Preschoolers average 4.1 hours of television and other screen time daily, according to a 2011 study.

“Law enforcement sources” believe Adam Lanza was motivated to kill Newtown’s children by “violent video games“and his desire to outkill Andres Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer, reports CBS.  “Call of Duty” was his favorite.

People change — even bullies

In the battle against bullying, it helps to teach victims that people can change, concludes research by David Yeager, a Stanford graduate student.  

“When adolescents think that victimization is something that is permanent—resulting from the belief that bullies are ‘bad’ people who won’t stop, and that victims will always be ‘losers’—then they seek more drastic, vengeful solutions to their conflicts,” said Yeager, a student in the Development and Psychological Sciences doctoral program.  “But when they believe that people have the potential for change—both they themselves and the people who treat them badly—then victimization seems less like a diagnosis of their future, and more like something that will pass.  Hence, it becomes less stressful and less threatening.”

In one study, high school students taught about people’s potential for change were less aggressive a month later than students taught coping skills.  By the end of the semester, “the message about personal change also reduced absences, suspensions for fighting, and depression among victimized students. ” At a different high school, victims in the “change” group reported less stress and higher grades.