Research from Nancy Bayley’s at UCLA showed that for boys more than girls there is indeed a direct link to learning difficulties when early childhood touch and attachment doesn’t occur or occurs inconsistently. In her study, boys who experienced insecure attachment as infants tested out lower in adolescent intellectual skills than girls who did not receive secure attachment. Although girls can end up with severe problems or diseases, the effect of lack of early attachment is harsher on the learning brains” of boys. This does not negate the vulnerability of girl but only highlights the vulnerability of boys.
In all this, the bottom line is, often we receive damaged goods into our care. Michael Gurian, of the Gurian Institute has developed in conjunction with Pat Crum, the director of the Family Nurturing Center of Michigan ten key strategies to promote attachment in boys, which in turn enables an adolescent male to master necessary life skills.
- Bursts of Attention – Offer at least five long bursts – many minutes at a time – and many shorter, intermittent periods of undivided attention throughout every day.
- Lots of Affirmation – Notice and support the young boy’s efforts and accomplishments verbally and, when appropriate, with other rewards, including physical hugs.
- Verbal Mirroring – Describe in words back to the boy what he is doing, “I like how you just put that book back on the shelf.”
- Physical Play – Because play is organic learning time for the body and brain, engage in play with boys a number of times per day.
- Leadership – In work and play relationships, let boys take the lead as much as you lead them.
- Enthusiasm – Infuse your interaction with joy, enthusiasm, and the pleasure of being together. Find things to do that inspire him and provide an outlet for his often untamed passion.
- Predictability – Provide consistent, predictable structure and clear limits.
- Self-Management – Implement behavior management strategies that are based on the boy’s developmental stage. Many adolescent males have not yet developed their cognitive processes that guide decision making. Understanding this prevents unrealistic expectations.
- Choice-Making – Teach boys to make acceptable decisions. Making the right choice builds that crucial learning center in the brain – the frontal lobe. Do as little “for” the boy as you can, making him do as much for himself as he can.
- Appropriate Discipline – Avoid behavior management strategies designed to frighten boys into right behavior. If punitive threat worked there would be no repeat offenders in our jails today. And, often, all that a boy learns from punishment is that he’s a failure. Identifying his reward system (what motivates him) is a better approach to making lasting change in behavior.
While this is pretty straight forward behavioral stuff there’s a lot of value in the above ten suggestions. While they are based in science they do not take into account the activity of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside our boys. This doe not mean they are contradictory, it does mean that there is a variable that we can’t predict or control. We must add one more important strategy to this list for us to maintain fidelity to our calling; teaching boys to discern the leadings of the Spirit.
If we do all of the above our boys will pray, play and obey in a way that makes a lasting difference in their lives, in our lives, and in the world that they live in.
Chris Schaffner is a veteran youth worker and certified counselor. He is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.