Book Review: 21st Century Boys

A few weeks ago Chris took a copy of 21st Century Boys out of the library and I snuck it off his bedside table so that I could read it myself.

The author, Sue Palmer, paints a worrying picture of life for our ‘21st Century Boys’. At times it can be quite a depressing read (apparently British children are the unhappiest in the developed world), but thankfully Palmer offers considered words of advice and wisdom on how to move forward positively at the end of each chapter. The way she brings practical suggestions alongside science and theory helps to make the book relevant to all who come into contact with boys. Indeed, it is not written primarily for parents but for us all as a nation as we seek to raise the next generation of boys together.

The various chapters in the book cover everything from a boy’s development in the womb and early experiences after birth through to the effect their educational experiences throughout primary and secondary school can have on them. Some of the chapters had me gripped but I confess that there were others that seemed like rather a hard slog to get through for me.

Easily the most gripping chapter for me was the one entitled ‘Battery-reared boys’. Throughout her book, Palmer reinforces the message that young children need lots of love, talk, song and play. However, she also stresses the need to give young boys plenty of freedom. Palmer talks about the high levels of adult control over a boy’s leisure time. Even his extra-curricular activities are things he’s ferried back and forth to e.g. swimming and piano lessons. ‘Within a generation, the traditional freedom to roam, explore and learn from first-hand experience of their world has for many boys all but disappeared.’ Palmer points out that there has been no increase in ‘stanger danger’ crimes over the last 25 years but the media has made us all too wary of giving our children too much freedom.

As well as children being less free to go and play outside of the home without close adult supervision, Palmer also worries about the way in which some can be too quick to accuse boys of antisocial behaviour when they are out playing in the neighbourhood.

‘In the past, adults in the local community used to deal with small examples of boys’ unruly behaviour themselves – ticking off lads they saw misbehaving, and offering a word of advice or warning if they thought their play might be dangerous…Nowadays, however, people tend to avoid getting involved on a personal level, and often refer even the slightest problems on to a higher authority…There’s a terrible circularity about these changes. The more boys are locked away and denied the opportunity to play, the more they’re likely to lack social skills and emotional resilience, leading to more immature and irresponsible behaviour when they do break out of captivity.’

Palmer’s conclusions in 21st Century Boys are, in many ways, very similar to Biddulph’s Raising Boys. Both Palmer and Biddulph highlight the need, as a boy, gets older, for him to have positive mentor figures on his life. It was good to read and I’m glad I persevered even when at times it felt like a hard slog as there is a lot of food for thought in the book.

The Teddy Sorting Saga

Picture the scene; an avalanche of teddies pouring from the tops of chests and tumbling down from the sides of beds. So it was in my boys’ already overly cluttered bedroom. In their infinite wisdom, my parents recently added to this gargantuan collection as part of their clear out in preparation for their upcoming move. Something had to be done!

This morning, armed with a bin liner and a pack of sweets (dual purpose – they could be used either as a bribe or for personal sustenance if it all got too much) I led my not-so-willing volunteers to sort through their collection of soft toys. My initial approach was to let the boys discuss each creature one at a time and agree upon a course of action to take. It soon became apparent that this was not going to work and we ended up with just one soft toy in the bin liner. This was a special one of my own that I could not bear to part with – it transforms from a hare into a tortoise and that’s not something you see every day!

My second approach was to give a little speech for every cuddly toy with a reasoned argument as to why it should be chucked, passed on or kept. Again, a failure. Daniel apparently loves every teddy so much that he can’t bear to see any of them leave. Joshua, on the other hand, assumed his typical argumentative stance. If I said keep, he said chuck and vice versa.

Now Joshua has, for a long time, had a real passion for Winnie the Pooh. We have a lovely Winnie the Pooh teddy from when Daniel was a baby (thank you Howe family!) which has been a particular favourite. Over the last few years, every time Josh has seen a Winnie the Pooh teddy at a jumble sale, he has insisted we buy it and has therefore built up quite a collection. Well, today he wanted to get rid of ALL of them. I tried to reason that they were his favourite and he loved them but, apparently, the feeling wasn’t mutual. Joshua informed me that his Winnie the Poohs were cross with him. Why? Because he had kept them in his bed too long. Apparently, now they saw their chance and they wanted to break free. I suggested we keep the nicest one (the one from the Howes) but, and I really shouldn’t have been surprised, this one was the most cross with him. His face made it clear that, if I kept this Winnie the Pooh, he felt his very life could be in danger.

In the end, I adjourned the soft toy sorting. I have resigned myself to the fact that none of the teddies will be going anywhere soon and Joshua will just have to fight his own battles against the Winnie the Poohs if, as he suspects, they really do have it in for him.

Highclere Castle

Yesterday the boys and I went to Highclere Castle with my parents, my uncle and aunt, and my grandma. We had booked it back in February as my birthday present from my parents. Highclere Castle is where Downton Abbey is filmed and, as a big Downton Abbey fan, my anticipation had really been buidling in the last few days!

We had a fantastic day at Highclere Castle, definitely helped by the lovely weather. We all enjoyed exploring the gardens and grounds and the boys loved running around them. The boys were also keen to have a look inside the castle. I waited outside with them until the queues had died down and we managed to do a twenty-minute whistle-stop tour around the house.

I had warned the boys that they might find our day at Highclere Castle quite boring as there is very little there to cater for children. Despite this, however, I don’t think they were bored at all. I had taken some old cameras for them to use and, as well as running around the grounds, they enjoyed taking lots of photographs. We took a picnic with us and there were plenty of places to sit and eat.

The day definitely lived up to my expectations and I can see us going again sometime.

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Three years on…

This morning the boys had fun trying to recreate a photo that I took three years ago.  It’s incredible to see how much Josh has changed.

Three years ago

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Today

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FootGolf

As many of you will know, my boys are a bit obsessed with crazy golf.  Ever since they were tiny, the boys have been playing crazy golf and whenever we visit somewhere new, we always look to find the nearest crazy golf course.  If I had millions of pounds to invest in a new business then I would set up a crazy golf course somewhere in our local area.  Despite the fact it is quite a touristy area, we have no crazy golf course nearby.

Yesterday we were visited by some good friends from Tonbridge – including a fifteen and an almost seventeen year old.  As I thought about an activity that we could all do together that would appeal to both three year old Josh as well as older teenagers, crazy golf would have been an obvious option.  However, in the end we settled on FootGolf which is now on offer just around the corner at Dibden Golf Centre.

FootGolf is, as you would guess, a cross between golf and football.  Played alongside the main holes on the golf course at Dibden, you have to kick footballs into a larger hole with as few kicks as possible.  With football being another of Daniel’s obsessions, it was almost guaranteed to be a hit!  FootGolf worked well as something with good appeal for a spread of ages.  Daniel and Joshua walked an impressive distance yesterday kicking their balls around the nine holes of the course that we did.  They weren’t too worried about keeping their score although there was a certain amount of competitiveness amongst the older males in our group!  It took us two hours to complete the nine holes although it didn’t really feel as if it was that long.  It was a really enjoyable afternoon and something that I can definitely see us repeating in future.  In fact, Chris is already planning to take the youth group there!

See if you can spot Josh in the first picture below…

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Great is your faithfulness

This picture popped up on Facebook this morning; it was taken four years ago today. It brought back a flood of memories from this time – a very turbulent time for us personally. It was also a turbulent time for the UK and this photograph was taken on a trip to London that we decided to take in the middle of the London Riots (I reasoned that most of the tourists would keep away). It’s lovely to be able to look back on a photograph from this period in my life and be able to smile. It has also reminded me of these famous verses from Lamentations:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

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“Oh help! Oh no! It’s a gruffalo!”

Over this last week we have spent a few days with my parents helping them to clear out their garage prior to their move this coming autumn.  Chris has been in his element doing lots of sorting and organising and we’ve also made the opportunity of doing some activities with the boys in the Brentwood area.  One priority for the week was revisiting the crazy golf course at King George’s Playing Fields which remains one of the best crazy golf courses we have ever been to.  We also enjoyed doing the Gruffalo Trail at Thorndon Country Park.

The Gruffalo Trail map can be bought for 50p at the visitor’s centre at Thorndon Country Park.  The trail leads you on a reasonably short walk through part of the woods where you can look for some of the animals from The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child.  There were no complaints from either of the boys as it was an easily manageable walk for their little legs.  They loved spotting the creatures and although there were a number of other families doing the trail, it did not feel over-crowded even though it is the school holidays.  It’s a great cheap activity if you’re in the Brentwood area and want to kill a bit of time.

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