Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Lifeby Pam Withers, Cynthia Gill
Everyone knows that boys are falling behind in education. Largely left out of the discussion are parents of boys, who are most aware that their bright, eager sons hit an invisible wall somewhere near fourth grade, after which they become disengaged, discouraged, and disaffected. There are dozens of books on underachieving boys, but most parents brave enough to lift… See more details below
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Everyone knows that boys are falling behind in education. Largely left out of the discussion are parents of boys, who are most aware that their bright, eager sons hit an invisible wall somewhere near fourth grade, after which they become disengaged, discouraged, and disaffected. There are dozens of books on underachieving boys, but most parents brave enough to lift one off the shelf are instantly intimidated by the footnotes, graphs, case studies, and academic-speak addressed almost entirely to educators. What about the average guilt-ridden, frustrated mother or father of an underachieving boy? Jump-Starting Boys is the first book on the market that empowers parents, helping them reclaim the duties and rewards of raising their children and navigate the influences of school and media. Filled with reassurance and support, the authors turn fear and guilt into can-do confidence. Through easy tips and action list sidebars, this is the most practical, readable book on the topic.
"Highlights the benefits of helping boys read."
"Absolutely and utterly intriguing [
] it has given me some terrific skills that i want to use with my own son."
Pat Thurston, KGO-AM/San Francisco
"As a mother of boys, this is a book about a subject close to my heart. I found great words of wisdom and many accessible, practical ideas and solutions here, with a goal to empower parents."
"This book makes things like school and life seem much easier for a parent and a teen to conquer."
Savings for Sanity
"The authors turn fear and guilt into can-do confidence."
"I recommend this to all parents of boys, especially moms."
"I think all teachers can agree that more time spent reading and more parents modeling reading will help students, both boys and girls, become more enthusiastic readers!"
The Reading Zone
"A great read for anyone with boys, struggling or not. This book will help you help your son find success in school and their daily life just by encouraging them to be the best of themselves. A book that should be at the top of every parents list. A definitive two thumbs up and five stars for this book!"
"Jump Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill is a book that all moms who have boys need to have."
Giveaways 4 Mom
"The book was filled with interesting information and tips on how you can help your son become someone who is a lifelong learner and is successful in his studies."
One Crazy Kid
"Definitely a book that I would like to recommend to any and all parents of boys and teachers and educators as well."
"For parents of boys, it’s a great book to help prepare for a new school year."
"Jump-Starting Boys is a great resource for parents and teachers of reluctant learners - especially boys. It is a must-read for anyone dealing with an underachieving and contains a wealth of advice that can be instrumental is helping that learner find success in school and in life!"
Teacher Tips and Lesson Plans
"Withers and Gill provide messages that foster parents, social workers, and independent living coordinators can share with their sons/ clients to help them choose to prepare for the workplace with better education."
Foster Care to Success
"A must read for all caregivers."
"If you are a mom of boys you need this book in your life!"
Mami's Time Out
"Offers solid information for parents of boys"
"My son's drive to succeed took a nosedive as he hit puberty, and it has taken several years to begin to see a turnaround. I was encouraged to find this empowering book on the subject, written by two women with experience in teaching, family therapy, and parenting. This book includes relatable stories and take-action checklists."
"An excellent contribution to the existing body of literature, full of practical tips on how parents can help their sons achieve their best academically."
Library Journal (starred review), Julia M. Reffner
"A worthy book for parents."
Crux of the Matter
"Busy parents (I feel your pain!) will appreciate the format of this book that offers a positive spin on the issues that boys face: chapters are divided by useful subheadings and offer brief tips that can be implemented right away, along with quick-fire background ('Symptoms,' 'How Common,' 'Potential Causes') on what parents need to know on a particular topic."
"An indispensable resource for all parents of boys ages 7-17."
Lake Minnetonka Patch
"In an age when the culture of childhood is defined by digital screens, consumerist messaging, and cynically violent and sexualized media, Jump-Starting Boys provides sage advice on what parents can do to help kids particularly boys grow into responsible, happy, and well-rounded individuals. Encourage reading, help with homework, and limit screen time these simple measures have proven effective time and again, as Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill show. A must read for parents, teachers, and anyone else concerned about children."
Joel Bakan, author of Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Your Children
“For parents who want to be sensitive to the struggles in their boys’ lives, here are wise words from two parents who have been through the struggles and lived to tell the tale. Jump-Starting Boys is loaded with hints from the experts, but it never strays far from the experience of raising boys in a world that is less and less sensitive to their needs.”
Michael Sullivan, author of Connecting Boys With Books and Connecting Boys With Books 2: Closing the Reading Gap
"Pam’s books have wide appeal to boys and girls, to avid and reluctant readers, to teens and to younger children who are looking for a challenging high-interest book."
British Columbia Teachers’ Federation newsletter
"This book makes an impact that will unlock potential, ignite passion and motivate both parents and boys toward success and satisfaction. I enthusiastically recommend it."
--Judy Ford, LCSW, bestselling author of Wonderful Ways to Love a Child and and
Every Day Love
Read and Succeed!
The most important time any parent can make themselves truly available for their child is around school and homework. With Jump-Starting Boys, Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill have provided an essential resource that any parent or concerned caregiver can draw upon to ensure their sons don't encounter a slump during their crucial tween and teen years.
Kidsespecially boysgrow tremendously during this crucial time, and their bodies undergo so many different changes so quickly that it's easy to forget their brains are growing and changing at the same breakneck pace. Remember what it was like to be a teenager, addled with hormones and bursting with the desire to change the world, all while having to deal with algebra homework and annoying parents? It's easy to forget how stressful that is!
Many of the patients I work with are teenage boys who can't remain focused in the classroom or don't care about school at all. One of the most common reasons for their problems are addictions to distractionsTV, video games, texting, mindless time-sinks on the Internetand their parents need help with these 21st century issues. Is it any wonder, then, that many teen and tween boys lag behind their peers?
In my book The Available Parent, I implore parents to recognize the importance of checking in on their kids when they're not in school. Don't smother your kids (and spoil their fun) by being overbearingjust check in a couple times a day to let them know you're interested in what they do during their spare time. I promise you won't regret it, and it could lead you to uncover habits or activities that are holding your children back.
My pointalong with Pam and Cynthia'sis that I think all teenagers have some dormant passions that can only be uncovered through the process of acknowledgment and listening. Your teen may be afraid to speak of their interests for various reasons, but if you stay curious, the shadows of their passions will evolve and change shape as they come into focus.
The story of how Pam and Cynthia came to research and write Jump-Starting Boys never fails to amaze me. Pam, an author writing for the young adult crowd, discovered that tween boys (a demographic that has become resistant to reading) preferred her novels because her stories matched their maturation levels so well. This inspired Pam to rise to the challenge of encouraging boys to read and succeed. Pam spoke to her sister, educator Cynthia Gill, about facing down the phenomenon of underachieving boys.
Jump-Starting Boys is their solution. This book is filled with more than 200 methods parents can use to work with their sons to discover their learning styles, ignite their passion for reading, and ultimately succeed in school and in life.
I've worked with hundreds of teen and tween boys over my career as a clinical psychologist, and I can absolutely confirm that helping your child cultivate a love for reading and lifelong learning is one of the best things you can do for them as a parent. Following the advice that Pam and Cynthia provide in Jump-Starting Boys will give you the tools you need to help your child grow into a competent, confident person.
If you have a son who is having problems at home and at school, don't panic. Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill have bottled so much wonderful reassurance, advice, and practical wisdom into this informative gem of a book that really will help you turn your struggling child's life around. I will keep a copy of Jump-Starting Boys on my shelf, and I highly recommend it to every mom and dad who is raising a son.
Dr. John Duffy, author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens
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Read an Excerpt
Brains and hormones
If boys and girls are different, is that how they’re born, or the way we raise them? We can’t emphasize enough what a silly question this is, because the answer is obviously some of each. Experts will never agree on exactly how much is nature versus nurture, nor exactly which types of behaviors align with which.
And that’s okay, because parents don’t need to get into the murky debate over how differently-wired brains and hormones can affect language and learning, to get the information they need to raise their sons well. They just need to stay open-minded to the fact that there are differences, both physical and cultural, and that their parenting style will have only limited influence against these. While a degree of skepticism is healthy, it is counterproductive to ignore all the science. If women are particularly wary of the nature-versus-nurture debate, that’s understandable, given that they’ve been the ones most hurt in the past by misinformation and manipulations.
As Christina Hoff Sommers says in The War Against Boys, “It wasn’t all that long ago that intelligent men were deploying the idea of innate differences to justify keeping women down socially, legally and politically. The corrective to that shameful history is not more bad science and rancorous philosophy; it is good science and clear thinking about the rights of all individuals, however they may differ.”
In recent years, key developments in many areas of science (neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, genetics and neuroendocrinology) confirm the many differences with which boys and girls are born – in other words, differences that scientists pretty much agree can be chalked up to nature, not nurture.
Here’s the key one: Girls’ brains tend to mature earlier than boys’. That’s why girls develop faster than boys in many ways, but especially as regards reading, speaking and writing. The gap shows up at around age three, and closes about the time boys hit seventeen.
Most people accept this in the preschool years; it seems everyone knows about it and alters their expectations accordingly. But by kindergarten, parents and teachers are wary of treating kids differently, or allowing for different sets of expectations based on gender. Add to that the trend towards kindergartens focusing on academics over activities that kids initiate (which favors girls over boys), larger class sizes (leading to “crowd control” measures to which girls adapt more easily than boys) and the lack of male teachers in elementary schools (allowing for inadvertent biases, like a lack of tolerance for squirming boys).
Now add the next key factor: Boys tend to be more impulsive and need to move around more than girls. Not a problem as long as parents and teachers accept this. But as the number of male teachers (and principals) has decreased in elementary schools, class sizes have expanded and energy-absorbing activities like art, gym, drama and recess have been cut back, boys’ natural energy is often seen as unnatural. Hence, the skyrocketing number of boys referred to those who would prescribe drugs that calm them. Have parents and teachers begun to see boys as faulty girls?
As they progress through elementary grades, boys feel the ever heavier weight of disapproval. What parent isn’t distressed when phoned by the principal or given a negative report at a parent-teacher conference? Imagine being told your son is not reading well (compared with whom?), not reading the “right” things (determined largely by female teachers and female librarians) and not settling into writing exercises (which may be heavily skewed to what females like as we discuss in Chapter Eight).
Any tolerance adults have for boys’ language lag in preschool disappears by the time boys reach puberty, likely a major contributing factor to boys developing a negative view of their own language skills and beginning to tune out. The exceptions, as we’ve pointed out before, are the “elites,” typically blessed with strict time limits on screen time at home, ample literary encouragement from their families, positive reinforcement at home for what reading and writing they are doing and positive male role models in their lives.
Basically, differences in brain structure, hormone levels and speed of maturing work against boys when it comes to reading, writing and impulse control. But the existence of “elite boys” proves that those who get encouragement and support can thrive.
As Michael Sullivan puts it in Connecting Boys with Books 2, “The reading gap can be explained largely in terms of brain development lag, making it much less frightening, because boys’ brains eventually catch up, presumably along with their ability to handle language. What then becomes the issue is how we treat children while this brain lag exists, because the development lag really disappears only during the last stages of high school, and by then we have little opportunity to make up for any ground lost.”
The trick for parents is to give boys a more physical learning environment (let them be antsy, handle materials, illustrate or act out stories), give them more frequent breaks and do whatever it takes to keep them supported and motivated until the gender gap starts to close so they won’t label themselves stupid or lazy and give up.
In other words, patience is required when it comes to boys’ reading and writing. And starting them before they’re ready (age five or so) can backfire.
Set high standards
One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that some parents are reluctant to set tough academic standards for their children with learning disabilities (LD). They fear that setting the bar high will cause their kids to become overwhelmed and filled with anxiety.
In reality, that attitude does more harm than good. Their insecurity comes across as a lack of confidence in their child’s ability to do well in school. Truthfully, many students with LD want to be challenged!
Every day, students with LD are reminded that they learn differently. From the support they receive to the accommodations they’re given, the message is loud and clear: You don’t learn like everyone else, and because of that you need special treatment.
Parents have an opportunity to counter the message kids get at school. By maintaining high academic standards and holding their children accountable for their schoolwork, they telegraph their belief that their kids can achieve at levels equal to if not better than their peers.
For students with LD, school is often not a safe zone. They may spend a large part of the day feeling out of place and discouraged. Home, on the other hand, is a safe haven. It’s an environment where the pressure is off, and they’re free to explore who they are and gain self-awareness along the way.
Parents should take advantage of that comfort level and push their child academically, helping her to gain confidence and develop the determination to succeed. With consistent encouragement and accountability, students will internalize the belief that they can meet any academic challenge that comes their way.
I learned that lesson early on, and it’s one I’ve never forgotten. When I was in fifth grade, one unit of my history class was dedicated to the Colonial era. My father, a history major, helped me through this class, explaining topics I didn’t understand. But as a student with LD, tests were hard for me! On the first test my grade was thirty-two percent. I was pretty disappointed and nervous about showing my father, even though I was sure he would tell me it was okay. Instead he responded with the most motivating words I have ever heard: “I don’t ever want to see a grade like that again.”
Harsh, yes for a ten-year-old, but empowering! I knew exactly what he meant: He had confidence in me, knowing full well I could do better. On the next exam I studied with determination and got a 100 percent! I couldn’t have been prouder to show him that grade!
– Samantha Turner (Reprinted, with permission, from the Smart Kids with LD website at SmartKidswithLD.org; copyright by Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities®.)
Counter opinion: “I disagree with recommending pushing one’s child academically,” says Philippa Slater, director of the Learning Disabilities Association of British Columbia. “Each child, according to their make-up, reacts differently to their LD. Some are far more resilient than others. Some are very fragile. Any pressure has to come with a great deal of homework support and informed sensitivity to how much harder these kids have to study. As LD expert Richard Lavoie says, ‘They have to work twice as hard to get half as far.’” (ricklavoie.com)
I was a bad kid because I tapped my foot. And then I started tapping both feet; next I began drumming my fingers.
In reality, a handful of kids in every classroom in America does the same thing. Eventually the teacher says, “What is your problem?” That happens to be one of the most damaging statements you can make to a child. The child naturally concludes he has a problem or is broken in some way.
Ironically, science tells us otherwise. We now know that kids who tap their feet are not doing so because they’re bad, or trying to be irritating, or because they’re on their way to a life of crime. They’re doing it because it accesses a physical motor memory that facilitates focusing. It’s what that child needs to do in order to learn.
When the teacher yells, “Focus!” it stops the tappingbut it also stops the learning.
– Jonathan Mooney, co-author of Learning Outside the Lines: Two Ivy League Students with Learning Disabilities and ADHD Give You the Tools for Academic Success and Educational Revolution, and The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal. (Reprinted, with permission, from the Smart Kids with LD website at SmartKidswithLD.org; copyright by Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities®.)
Words and numbers to ponder
• More than six percent of school-age children are currently receiving special education services because of LD – at least seventy-three percent of them boys.
• When research is used to identify students with LD, half are boys, half are girls. But when general or special education teachers do the identifying, twice as many boys as girls are given that label. Could that be because most of the people referring them are teachers frustrated by (and not trained or supported to deal with) some of the characteristics of LD (acting out, disruptiveness, impulsivity, etc.)? Doctors are too quick to assume boys have ADHD and put them on drugs, says Joel Bakan in his persuasive book, Childhood Under Siege. In Boy Smarts, MacDonald agrees, saying, “We need to embrace a boy’s high spirited nature and not see him as abnormal or defective.”
• Sixty-seven percent of young students at risk for reading difficulties become average or above average readers after receiving specialized instruction in the early grades.
• Albert Einstein couldn’t read until he was nine. Walt Disney, General George Patton, U.S. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Whoopi Goldberg, Thomas Edison and Charles Schwab have learning disabilities, yet are successful.
Cynthia noticed something different about her third son, Jay, long before he reached kindergarten. During family reading time, he would restlessly color or fiddle with books while his older brothers listened attentively. She knew enough to allow him to be restless because she knew he was still listening – and how else would she get any books into him? But her instincts told her that his inability to sit still or focus was not typical boy stuff.
His first-grade teacher noticed the same issues and worked with Cynthia and her husband to get Jay diagnosed as having ADHD. They noticed Jay’s reading increase and improve immediately after he started taking Ritalin. But it wasn't enough to restore what Cynthia refers to as his lack of a social antenna and his dwindling self-confidence.
By the time Jay was old enough to ride the bus to school, he was trying out impulsive, attention-getting behavior that worked against making friends – like insulting children five years older and then feeling mystified when they were mean back. And although he was very intelligent, his schoolwork and other activities suffered from his hyperactivity.
“He would get singled out
Meet the Author
Pam Withers is a former business journalist and the bestselling, award-nominated author of more than a dozen adventure novels particularly popular with teen boys. They include Peak Survival, Skater Stuntboys and Vertical Limits;She is also co-author with John Izzo of the highly acclaimed Values Shift: The New Work Ethic and What It Means for Business (Prentice Hall Canada 2000). Her magazine writing credits include McCalls, Working Woman, Profit and numerous inflight magazines.
Withers travels North America extensively, speaking at schools, librarians’ and writers’ conferences. She’s a dual U.S./Canadian citizen. The second of six siblings, she spent her growing-up years trying to measure up to her smarter, better-looking older sister, Cynthia. (She has just about outgrown that.) Withers and her husband, a university professor, live in Vancouver, Canada, where they recently completed raising a high-energy son who spent his adolescence as the official teen editor of her teen adventure novels. Her website is PamWithers.com.
She is also co-founder with former Microsoft executive Tony Dirksen of the website KeenReaders.com. KeenReaders promotes reading, especially amongst pre-teens and teens, through interviews with authors, literacy experts and innovative leaders who have been successful in promoting reading in their communities. It also includes book reviews, writing contests for kids, a blog and forum for the exchange of ideas. It’s aimed primarily at parents, but also at children and educators.
During her thirty-year career as a high school teacher, Cynthia Gill, M.A., L.M.F.T. worked on innovative curricula development and served as an academic dean, while winning acclaim for her work in the classroom. She completed her master's degree in Adlerian psychotherapy and counseling in 2006, and has since worked with adolescents, children and families as a licensed marriage and family therapist.
Gill has taught as an adjunct faculty member at Globe University and enjoys public speaking, particularly on parent education. She has led numerous groups of students on educational and service trips to Russia, Germany and Latin America. A former homeschooling mom, she also served as a consultant to homeschooling families with an accrediting organization. She and her husband live in Minneapolis and like to travel in between visits from their three grown sons, two daughters-in-law and three grandchildren.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I've always heard that our education system disadvantages girls, but Withers and Gills bring a completely different perspective. According to them, boys often fall behind in school, and it seems to be a growing trend that boys are less engaged in education. My mother is a teacher, and I'll be heavily recommending this book to her and her colleagues as tools for parents, teachers, etc. to get involved with their boys' learning. Highly recommended!
For all the parents out there who are struggling with their son's education or lack thereof. Let's be real, the education system has really gone down the drain. The media doesn't help either when they portray smart as no longer cool, but geeky. Pam Withers comes up with inspiring stories and helpful tips on how parents can try to help their sons succeed when you know they can.
I had no idea this was a widespread problem among boys going through school, and now my son's lost interest in school makes more sense. There's a lot of great tips in here for helping him get back on track and more engaged for future education and the real world. Much thanks to Withers & Gill for writing this.
I couldn’t put Jump-Starting Boys down. Some of the points Pam Withers made were things that, while I was somewhat aware of them, hadn’t given them any attention. Withers is so talented in that she is able to pinpoint problems and gives parents ways to tackle these problems before they manifest in a more permanent way.
Withers brings to light an issue that has been glossed over for years. She highlights issues that are easily correctable. In an era where Tv, Video-games, and social media seem to take all the attention; Withers addresses topics in an fun and informative fashion. This is a much needed reprieve from other parenting books that take on the tone of 'you should have known better'. I will defiantly be recommending this to all of my close friends and family for the holidays.
I don't have children (yet), but this book is filled with useful and interesting information I think people aught to know. My older brother gave my parents a difficult time growing up and this is the kind of book I wish was around to help her all those years ago. Withers and Gill establish why boys are having a hard time succeeding and how to change this. Covering physical and mental issues, the male stereotype, communication, and what can be done to help, Jump-Starting Boys is the ideal book for parents raising a boy.
I have a 9 year old boy who was beginning to lose all interest in his studies and it worried me deeply! He used to be so interested in math and reading but then he just lost interest and would do anything to get out of his homework and only wanted to play video games. This book gave me answers as to why he had lost interest and gave me solutions. He's been getting interested again and he picked up the Lord of the Rings series again! It's like magic! A must read for other struggling parents!
Great book for all caregivers. Give this book to your teachers, or principals. They should read it too. I love the section on mentors and how important it is to have boys with strong male role models and how the discussion of limiting the kids hooked up time. Limited TV and video games. It makes so much sense. Also, I read a lot to my daughter. Mostly because she has problems reading but the book suggests that parents of boys tend to read less to them. So true. I will start doing what I used to do with my son before he was a self reader. I would read a paragraph and he would read one. After we can discuss the book and hopefully this will help him better decipher what the book was about. Something he has a problem with. Great suggestions and I think this year will be the best ever.
When I started applying to colleges a few years ago, I remember my high school teachers saying that more girls are going to college these days than boys. Back then, I just thought that they were trying to encourage me during my application process. Since then, however, I've heard that phrase numerous times. I never really thought about whether or not it was true. That is, until a friend recommended that I take a look at Jump-Starting Boys. Withers & Gill really take a look at why our boys are falling behind, and make real suggestions to parents who are desperately trying to help their sons take their education seriously. I'd recommend this book to anybody, but I especially urge parents with adolescents to take a look at it. It really is eye-opening!
As a college student I find this book both relevant and interesting! I had never related the majority female population of my college to the fact that boys were not doing well in school - only that there weren't many at my school. But Withers and Gill are so adept at explaining in a simple and easily understandable way the factors pertaining to boys education and the reasons boys aren't excelling any more. This book makes the complex and complicated simple enough that anyone can understand - which is good, because tired parents don't always have the bandwidth to deal with dense reading after work, and not everyone has the jargon and knowledge of a statistician or an education expert. Overall, a great and fascinating read!!
I'd never thought about some of these issues before, but Withers and Gill really make you think about why boys are falling behind in our education system. It's not just that they're dumb or unmotivated - for many of them, it feels like the whole system is against them, so why should they bother? Withers and Gill not only point out some of the problems boys face in the classroom today, but how parents can help. They give clear, sound advice that will encourage parents who feel like there's no hope. Because there is hope. And that hope is Jump-Starting Boys.