Bringing Up Boys

Title: Bringing Up Boys
Author: James Dobson
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
First Published: 2001
Price: US$16
Reviewer: E Charles

Dr Dobson, a leading American child psychologist lays out the role of parents on bringing up boys in this way:

Their assignment during two brief decades will be to transform their boys from immature and flighty youngsters into honest, caring men who will be respectful of women, loyal and faithful in marriage, keepers of commitments, strong and decisive leaders, good workers, and secure in their masculinity.”



This is an objective that few parents would disagree with. But how do we achieve it?

The key lies in the need to understand and respect that boys in general are fundamentally different from girls. Dr Dobson draws attention to this gender difference and what it entails. Boys act the way they do (unlike girls) because of the different way they think about risky behavior. Girls tend to think hard about whether or not they could get hurt, and they are less likely to plunge ahead if there is any potential for injury. Boys, however, will take a chance if they think the danger is worth the risk. Impressing their friends (and eventually girls) is usually considered worth the risk.

In typical uncompromising fashion, Dr Dobson informs parents to accept this fact that “boys are like this because of the way they are wired neurologically and because of the influence of hormones that stimulate certain aggressive behaviour.”

However, Dr Dobson sees the confusion of the role of men in society today to make it ever more challenging for parents and teachers, putting them at a loss about how to bring up boys. He believes that prevailing culture has vilified masculinity…with the result boys are suffering.

This is compounded by the disengagement of parents in our fast-paced and dizzying world through divorce and career demands."

Boys "typically suffer more" from parental neglect and mistreatment than girls "because boys are more likely to get off course when they are not guided and supervised carefully."

In the book, he devotes whole chapters to the importance of healthy father-son and mother-son relationships, the special challenges facing single mothers, and the value of good relationships between children and grandparents.

A culmination of four years of painstaking research, and written in his frank and authoritative manner, it is an advice-packed, sobering but encouraging reference for the parents of boys.


Guidelines for strength training

Earlier we explained why it would help to have some form of strength or resistance training for tweens/teens. We also examined the validity of possible concerns that parents might have about starting their child with a strength training programme.

In this final instalment to this series on fitness for life, we discuss important guidelines that must be understood and adhered to when starting such a training programme.

Understand this first

By the time children reach their tween years (7 to 8), balance and posture control skills mature to adult levels. This is the best time to start on a resistance training programme – meaning it should not start before achievement of those skills. For reaping the best value from such a programme, the child should ideally have advanced to a certain level of skill proficiency in their sport.

Strength gains can be acquired through various types of strength-training methods and equipment; however, most strength-training machines and gymnasium equipment cater for adults with weight increments that are too large for children.

Thus it’s better for them to start with free weights. These require better balance control and technique but are small and portable, provide small weight increments, and can be used for strengthening sports-specific movements.

However, remember that strength training is different from the sport of weightlifting (Olympic lifting) which involves explosive and rapid lifting of weights, such as the "snatch" and the "clean and jerk". Children should avoid this because safe technique may be difficult to maintain and young body tissues may be stressed too abruptly.

Starting on a strength training programme

A child’s strength training program should not be viewed as a scaled-down version of an adult programme. So note the following key pointers:

Seek instruction. Start with a coach or personal trainer who has experience with youth strength training. The coach or trainer can create a safe, effective strength training program based on your child's age, size, skills and sports interests. Or enroll your child in a strength training class designed for kids.

Warm up. This is vital to avoid muscle strain. Five to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity, such as walking, jogging in place or jumping rope warms the muscles and helps reduce the risk of injury. Gentle stretching after each session is a good idea, too.

Keep it light. Begin with low-resistance exercises until proper technique is perfected. When 8 to 10 repetitions can be performed, it is reasonable to add weight in 10% increments.

Sources of resistance. Remember that the resistance doesn't have to come from just weights. Resistance tubing and body-weight exercises, such as push-ups, can be just as effective.

Optimal gains in strength. Stick to eight to 10 repetitions. Workouts need to be at least 20 to 30 minutes long and take place two to three times per week, and continue to add weight or repetitions as strength improves. Any increase in such frequency seems to have no additional benefit and may instead increase the risk for an overuse injury.

Endurance training. If endurance is an objective, increase the repetitions but with lighter resistance.

Stress proper technique. This is more important than focusing on the amount of weight lifted. Your child can gradually increase the resistance or number of repetitions as he or she gets older.

Supervise. Adult supervision is an important part of youth strength training. If your child lifts weights, act as a spotter — someone who stands ready to grab the weights — in case the weight becomes too heavy.

Rest between workouts. Make sure your child rests at least one full day between exercising each specific muscle group. This is a basic principle to optimise the benefit of any training. It also helps to reduce injury through strain. Thus two or three strength training sessions a week should be sufficient.

Finally, remember that your goals when exercising with children are simple: Be safe, have fun and help kids learn to love physical activity. Results won't come overnight. But eventually, your child will notice a difference in muscle strength and endurance. This would be the key motivation to establishing a fitness habit that lasts a lifetime.

Fitness for life: Why have strength training

THE RECENT Beijing Olympic Games should have fired up the imagination and motivation of many a person to become fit, strong and healthy. However, this effect may not last unless you had already cultivated a lifestyle of regular exercise.

But better late than never, and appropriate to start with your tweens. This could well be the most important life-saver you provide them for a healthy future. This urgency for exercise must be evaluated against the increasing sentiment that the kids of today are somehow not as tough as those of yesteryears.

Sedentary pursuits and diet
This physical softness is commonly attributed to our increasing digital lifestyle, to a greater engagement with computer and video games, a pursuit that is generally sedentary. In addition, there is an increasing tendency to consumption of fast food, a byproduct of our highly urbanised society. There is thus a need for parents to take an active interest in the moulding of physical strength and fitness of their tweens. Regular exercise, taken as a family, becomes ingrained in their psyche as a lifestyle habit contributing to a lasting healthy body and mind.

In this 3-part series on fitness for life, our focus is on strength or resistance training. In this introduction, we focus on the case for strength training.

A compelling argument for strength-training programs is that significant improvements have been seen in the self-esteem, mental discipline and socialization of children who participate.

Muscular strength
Think back to your days in school physical education classes. What games did you play? What types of physical attributes and skills were most often rewarded with success? Most likely, you are thinking of team games that featured speed, agility, jumping ability and overall athleticism. But a glaring omission in that list is muscular strength.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics was an obvious testimony to the value of muscular strength. Look at Usain Bolt, the world's fastest Olympian! It's strength that made him deliver that last spurt to capture and maintain a lead for longer in order to win. In the upset Olympic 400m win by American LaShawn Merrit, one sports commentator voiced the thoughts of many when he noted strength was probably the deciding factor as Merrit is more muscular than the favourite who lost, fellow American Jeremy Wariner.

In our humbler home arena, what else can strength training deliver? Well, it provides an opportunity to let tweens who typically struggle with group activities to stand out from their classmates and perform well on an individual basis - a tremendous way to boost self-esteem in those who need it most.

Strength or resistance training is a usual part of sports and physical fitness programmes for young people. Training may include the use of free weights, weight machines, elastic tubing, or an athlete's own body weight. The amount and form of resistance used and the frequency of resistance exercises are determined by specific program goals.

But parents may object to this, voicing concerns that this is too much or too early. In the next instalment, we will examine the myths and misconceptions about strength training.

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