"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
June 5, 2013
Why We Are Losing Our Boys, Part 1
by Emily S. Jorgensen

Ever since I was given the opportunity to write this column, I have wanted to tackle the subject of why we are losing our boys.

For example, why don’t more young men serve missions (the data I could find on lds.org puts the last measured percentage at 32%)? Why would they rather stay in their dorm room playing video games than go on dates and get married? Why do fewer men than women finish college? Why are there more active women than men in the Church?

However, the sheer width and breadth of the topic is so formidable that I have been too chicken to tackle it.

Ever since I found out, more than five years ago, that I was going to have a son, I have read everything that I have come across about how to raise boys, how to teach them, what issues they typically face, and so on. What I have learned is not comforting. We are failing them in education, in child care, in preparing them for general adulthood as well as the specific expectations we have for men in the LDS faith.

This is a hot topic in the social sciences. Psychologists, educational theorists, and social activists are searching for answers as to how we can best help our boys become successful men.

I will leave the science to the scientists; all I can offer here are my observations having spent more than 5,000 hours teaching boys in a one-on-one setting as well as trying to raise one of my own.

I have come to feel that there are three myths prevalent in our culture that contribute to our failure with our boys. This first part of this short series will focus on one of these myths.

Myth 1: Boys are Easier than Girls

I can’t count the number of times I was told this when I was pregnant with my first son, after having two girls. After expressing concern that I didn’t know what I was going to do with a boy, not having been one myself of course, I would invariably be told, “Oh, don’t worry. Boys are easier than girls.”

This is pure ridiculousness. If it really were easier to raise boys than it is to raise girls, we would not be seeing all the aforementioned problems in our culture today.

What I think people who say this really mean is, “Oh, don’t worry. It is easier to be a lazy parent with boys.”

Look around you at a store, and you are more likely to see young boys than young girls being entertained with some electronic device.

Yes, boys at the early school age are naturally more rambunctious. So, what do we do about that?

Well, if you are a modern American parent, you don’t interact with them, teach them appropriate behavior in public, or make up a game about finding groceries to engage them in what you are doing.

No. You hand them your iPad.

And, because, for reasons scientists are still trying to unravel, those pixels just suck a boy’s attention right in. You’ll have your peace and quiet for the whole trip.

This is not good parenting. This is lazy parenting.

Yes, it is commonly observed that many young boys struggle a bit more than do young girls with impulse control and staying attentive. Just watch your ward’s Primary program this year and I think you will agree with me.

But dealing with that by sitting them in front of a screen instead of finding productive ways to channel that energy is disrespectful of that child’s intelligence and potential. And I suspect science will eventually find that it is physically harmful in the long run. There must be a reason God made little boys wiggly.

Now, I often hear this tired adage, “boys are easier than girls” given a condition: “at least in the teenage years. Girls have so much drama, with all the hormones and everything. Boys require more energy in the early years, but are so much easier as teenagers.”

Hmmm. Take your typical 13-year-old daughter. Imagine she walks in the door, home from school. You say, “How was your day?” If she is speaking to you that day and doesn’t currently hate you for ruining her life, she will likely fill you in on what teacher was Soooo Boring, and what boy was a Total Idiot, and how Nasty the food was in the cafeteria that day. Oh, and can she Please, please go to Jenny’s house Friday night?

There may be drama and lots of complaining and slamming doors with a teenage girl, but at least you know approximately what she is feeling.

Take your typical 13-year-old son. Imagine he walks in the door, home from school. You say, “How was your day?” You get, “Fine. I’m hungry.”

You will likely get “Fine. I’m hungry” whether he had a fantastic day or a crappy one.

It takes a lot of patience, trust, and time to get out of a son what is really going in his life.

It’s a lot easier to take a son’s answers at face value and not to pry. Unfortunately, our culture — both American and specifically Mormon — trains our boys young that an acceptable male emotional palette consists of very few colors.

How can we as parents even think of swallowing the idea that our sons need us less than our daughters do in the teenage years?

They may not typically be as vocal about it, but they need parents that are on their toes just as much as any daughter.

No news is not necessarily good news when it comes to our children. Rather than letting the child set the pace for conversations and time spent together, parents must take the lead.

After all, we are the parent here, not they. They are not obligated to come to us. We are obligated to serve them and help, teach, guide, and love them. We invited them here, after all. This whole “come be my child” thing was our idea, after all.

Let’s cowboy up for our boys, and not take the easy road.

Let’s ask, “Why was your day fine? Anything funny happen? Any Boring Teachers? Any Silly Girls? What did they serve for lunch?

And just for good measure, even if they don’t seem to want it, and respond with an eye-roll or two, throw in a hug and a kiss every once in a while. As long as it’s not in front of their friends, they’ll secretly be happy you did.

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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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