Raising real men: If you want smart boys

By Michelle Lehnardt

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 8 2014 5:00 a.m. MST

Hans Lehanardt assists Xander Lehnardt with homework.

Michelle Lehnardt

Editor's note: This is the third in a series on raising boys. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

When I asked my teenagers for their ideas on raising smart boys, I expected them to cite all sorts of examples such as reading books, learning a musical instrument or visiting the library.

I was surprised by their nearly identical answer — "Be prepared to be very different."

My older sons and my nieces confirmed the same idea: It is much more socially acceptable for a girl to "be smart" than it is for a boy.

I realized my sons had gone to the very crux of educating boys with their first response. Google "American boys falling behind," or any sort of variation on those words, and millions (it's Google after all) of articles pop up decrying boys' lag behind girls in American schools.

An article from NPR pegs the problem: "We have lots of boys who at an early age start to think of education as being not masculine enough."

How did we get here? In the past, education was highly valued. When did "smart" equate with "uncool"? And doesn't every parent want to raise intelligent, creative children, both boys and girls?

I have ideas on some of the reasons, but I'll get to those a bit later. If you've read this far, you're the kind of parent who cares about education, so I'll offer up my best tips.

Take time to educate yourself. I'd placed this farther down on the list, but my boys insisted nothing could be more important. When parents love learning, their kids will love it too. Read the paper, listen to the radio, teach yourself an instrument or a language or any new skill, read books and talk about them.

My husband often says he doesn't think he's particularly smart; he just takes the time to learn. He's always reading out loud something from Jewish World Review, citing a story he heard on NPR or studying books on economics and history. His example fuels my boys' passion for knowledge.

Believe your child is brilliant. Shinichi Suzuki oft repeated, "Every child can learn." Einstein said, "Every child is born a genius." Not every child can become a concert violinist or a nuclear physicist, but every child can learn. We need to believe in our children's abilities. Teach your child bits of foreign language, math, science, music, etc.

Read to your kids. This advice has been given so often and expanded on so many times, I won't belabor the issue. Just don't stop reading to your kids when they learn to read. They still crave your voice and your attention.

Turn off the TV. Again, this may seem a bit obvious, but a lack of TV does more than free up time for reading and practicing the piano. By avoiding commercial television, you also avoid modern stereotypes of masculinity. Kids won't see the goofy, crude men in beer commercials and sitcoms when they don't see commercials or sitcoms at all.

Buy books. Go to the library or borrow from friends, but make sure you have plenty of books in your home. I've heard expense cited as an excuse, but with garage sales, used book stores and the library closeout shelf, you can easily amass a decent library for $10 a month. It's important to have books in which you can fold the corners and write in the margins, and to read over and over like revisiting an old friend.

Read your kids' books. At first, I did this as a precaution for my ambitious little readers. I wanted to make sure their books were age-appropriate (handing my son Stefan "Schindler's List" at age 10 was not a good idea). But as they got older, my children began to hand me books they'd read and loved.

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