Boy trouble

School shooters usually are sons of divorced — or absent — parents, writes W. Bradford Wilcox. Boys raised by a single mother are almost twice as likely to end up delinquent compared to boys who enjoy good relationships with their father,” he writes.

“Fathers . . . are important for maintaining authority and discipline,” writes sociologist David Popenoe. “And they are important in helping their sons to develop both self-control and feelings of empathy toward others, character traits that are found to be lacking in violent youth.”

Family breakdown is tougher on boys than girls, writes Kay Hymowitz in City Journal. When parents divorce, girls tend to “internalize” their unhappiness, become depressed, while boys act out, becoming more impulsive, aggressive, and “antisocial.” Girls get better after a few years. Boys don’t.

Boys are slower to mature, writes Hymowitz. They need more “civilizing.”

Lone parents tend to have a tougher time providing the predictability and order that help boys become capable students and workers. Poverty undoubtedly worsens the problem: in general, low-income children have poorer “executive function,” such as self-control and cognitive flexibility, than do middle-income children, according to a 2011 study by a group of Berkeley neuropsychologists. But poor children in single-parent families still came out worse in the study than kids with poor married parents. This is probably because unmarried parents tend to break up more frequently, go on to new relationships, sometimes serially, and bring stepparents and half- and step-siblings into their children’s lives.

Low-income single mothers often live in neighborhoods where “gangs have replaced fathers, the threat of violence looms, and schools are filled with apathetic or hostile males.” Economic mobility tracks marriage, concludes a study by the Equality of Opportunity Project:  “Areas with high proportions of single-parent families have less mobility—including for kids whose parents are married. . . .  areas with a high proportion of married-couple families improve the lot of all children, including those from single-parent homes.”

Schools can provide structure, time for boys to play rough-and-tumble games and better literacy programs, writes Hymowitz. But it’s not clear what will work for boys growing up without fathers — in places where “fathers — and men more generally — appear superfluous.”

If Mama ain’t reading, ain’t nobody reading

Preschool can’t compensate for poor parenting, editorializes USA Today.

A few small, high-quality programs have shown enduring benefits for at-risk kids. But intensive study of Head Start, the nation’s largest and oldest preschool program, finds that the beneficial effects, which are real, wear off by third grade.

. . . Children are most likely to succeed in school when pushed by parents who provide stability, help with schooling, and instill an education and work ethic. But for decades now, the American family has been breaking down.

Two-fifths of children born in the USA are born to unmarried mothers, an eightfold increase since 1960.

Children born to unmarried mothers usually lose contact with their father by the age of 5, researchers have found. Without a strong role model, boys “are more likely to turn to gangs and crime.”  Single mothers ”

read less to their children, are more likely to use harsh discipline and are less likely to maintain stable routines, such as a regular bedtime.” It adds up.

What if there is nothing the government can do for low-income children to improve their educational performance?” asks David Hogberg. Parents reading to toddlers shows a lasting educational benefit, he writes. “A study in Child Development found that only about half of low-income mothers were reading regularly to their children.”  Is it hopeless?

In Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut, Fordham’s Checker Finn argues against tax-funded preschool for all children and expores which children need it, who should provide it and “what’s the right balance between socialization and systematic instruction.”

Where are the college men?

Where are the college men? Female high-school students are more likely to aspire to a college degree, enroll and graduate than their male classmates. That’s true on leafy liberal arts campuses — and even more true at community colleges, which provide affordable job training.

Men are “conspicuously absent” on the campus of Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, writes Hanna Rosin in The End of Men: And the Rise of Women. Although the college president tries to “recruit more boys,” 70 percent of MCC students are female. Many are single mothers.

Single moms, poor babies

More than half of births to women under 30 are out of wedlock, reports the New York Times, trumpeting the “new normal” in middle America. Including older mothers, 59 percent of babies are born to a married couple.

One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved for people with the most education.

Marriage is becoming a “luxury good,” says a sociologist.

More Single Moms. So What, responds Katie Rophie in Slate, accusing the Times of condescending to “independent-minded, apparently hard-working women (who) are making decisions and forging families, after thinking clearly about their situation.”

Actually, the story portrays hard-working women who didn’t think clearly about how to avoid their situation.

Family breakdown has high costs for children, writes Heather Mac Donald. It is not merely “refresh[ing] our ideas of family.”

Roiphe concludes that there are no (annoyingly retrograde) studies on “what it will be like for . . . children to live in” the coming world without marriage. Actually, we know already. It’s called the ghetto.

Indeed.

Some 73 percent of black children, 53 percent of Latinos and 29 percent of whites are born out of wedlock. While    92 percent of college-educated women are married when they give birth, that drops to 62 percent of women with “some college” and 43 percent of women with a high school diploma or less, according to Child Trends.

Many unwed parents live together, but two-thirds will split up by the time their child turns 10, researchers estimate. And never-married fathers are much less likely to support their children — financially or emotionally — than divorced dads.

Closing the parenting gap

We’ll never narrow the achievement gap significantly unless we narrow the “good parenting gap” separating affluent and low-income families, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

(I think the gap is about parental education, not income.) But back to Petrilli.

Let’s admit it: The Broader/Bolder types are right when they say that a LOT of what influences student achievement happens outside of schools, and before kids ever set foot in Kindergarten. Where they are wrong, I believe, is in thinking that turbo-charged government programs can compensate for the real challenge: what’s happening (or not) inside the home..

Parents can increase their children’s chances of doing well in school by not having children till the papers have graduated from high school and married. (I once saw a study saying that 90 percent of children born to an unmarried, teen-age high school drop-out live in poverty compared to 9 percent of children born to married, high school graduates who waited till 20 to have their first child.) Petrilli adds: talking and singing to the baby, firm but loving discipline, limits on TV, trips to parks, museums and nature centers and “ready, baby, read.”

. . . out-of-wedlock pregnancy rates and divorce rates have reached catastrophic levels for the poor and the working class–but not for the most affluent and well-educated among us.

. . . You don’t have to be Richy Rich to nurse your baby, or sing to her, or learn how to be loving but firm. Sure, a few of these items are easier with money. (I imagine that low income families use TV as a babysitter more because they can’t afford alternative childcare.) But mostly these take commitment, discipline, and practice.

Petrilli doesn’t know how to promote marriage before babies, but he’d like to try.

Single parenting can be a rational choice in some neighborhoods, responds Dana Goldstein. She lives in New York City, where only one of every four young black men has a job.

. . .  as sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas demonstrate in one of my favorite booksPromises I Can Keep, low-income women often prefer to remain unmarried because the men in their lives–men facing chronic unemployment in the legitimate economy, or who may be addicted or engaged in criminal behaivior–simply do not make stable husbands or fathers.

If I worked for a foundation, I’d hire smart people to design a TV show to model good parenting — and marriage — to viewers who haven’t grown up with that. It would have to be entertaining, so people would watch it voluntarily.