Guest Blogger Stephanie Patterson, LMFT reviews the book “The Mind of Boys”:


Gurian and Stevens spell out what is happening in their book titled The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life

Here are some bits of information I gleaned from the book:

For those who are suspicious of brain-based differences in gender, listen up. Brain imaging shows structural and functional differences between a boy brain and a girl brain. These differences can be seen as young as 1 day old.

In general, boy brains need more time to develop, are affected more negatively by stress, and need movement to learn.

Boys learn best when they are allowed to focus for long periods of time on one task. They learn through hands-on experience. Their brains are like lists, bullet points, and categorization with substrata. They take up space and make messes when they learn. Boy brains go into rest periods, were they nod off or space out. Girl brains don’t do this, which is probably why men are always wondering when they’ll catch a break from the women in their lives…. I guess never! 

If you haven’t noticed, there is not much about the male brain that fits into the typical classroom experience. As a result boys comprise 80% of behavioral problems in schools, 70% of children diagnosed with a learning disability, and 80% of children on Ritalin. Eighty per cent of high school dropouts are boys. There is obviously a mismatch between boys and our current school system.

What can we do? 

There are some tricks and tips to help a boy fit into the current school system such as: 

– Make sure the boy is listening to verbal directions by pairing eye contact, a touch on the arm, and having the boy repeat back the instructions.

Adjust the space for more room. 

-Allow the boys to wiggle while they work.

Allow 60 seconds or more for transitions between activities. 

– Teach the boy to repeat verbal instructions to himself at least 3 times. For example, “Put my paper away in the cubbie. Put my paper away in the cubbie. Put my paper away in the cubbie." 

-Take stretch or dance breaks. 

– Minimize screen time. 

-Read books together. 

– Enlist the help of a team. Call on extended family members-even via Skype or FaceTime, friends, or neighbors to help mentor boys on a specific subject. Boys need someone to help them follow through and encourage them. They need a team. 

 Schools can also be trained in understanding male development and make adjustments to the school such as gender specific classes-which have proven to be highly successful, male mentoring, and allowing for more physical movement.

If you have a male family member or student who struggles in or is bored in school, rather than ask "What’s wrong with this boy,” try asking “What need is unfulfilled here?” You will be surprised by the depth of learning that can come out of a boy who is allowed to learn the way nature made him. 

Stephanie Patterson, MS, LMFT


The Mystery of the Teenage Brain

By guest blogger: Stephanie Patterson, MS, LMFT

The teenage brain is a mystery to most of us. We don’t understand teens.
Dan Siegel, M.D. is the current authority on the brain and relationships. He authored Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. It is an amazing book and a must read.

Teens do stupid things because their brain is bored most of the time. Additionally, when they do something pleasurable their brains give them an extra ‘high’ and this makes the pleasure they are experiencing much more compelling. Dopamine is the chemical in the brain responsible for pleasure and reward. Dr. Siegel says, “the baseline level of dopamine [in a teen’s brain] is lower but its release in response to experience is higher, which can explain why teens may report a feeling of being "bored” unless they are engaging in some stimulating and novel activities.“ 

So be sure to provide your teen(s) with plenty of healthy, thrill seeking activities, such as river rafting, swimming in the ocean, traveling, learning a new skill, laser tag or paint-balling, or operating a new piece of equipment like a tractor, golf cart or car. Otherwise, if the teen does not have the needed activity, he or she may become withdrawn and shut down or may be drawn to risky behaviors, such as drugs, alcohol, and sex.   Also note that a pruning of unused neural connections happens between age 11 and 13. That means if you have a special skill (such as music or a sport) you want your teen to learn, it is best to have them practice it before adolescence. Otherwise, the neurons will be cut out. And rebuilding them in adulthood is much harder. Trust me, I’ve been trying to learn Spanish for 7 years now but I am making little head way! Seize the day; adolescence is a last ditch effort to get these neural networks in place.

Teens are emotional and aggressive because their brains often bypass the prefrontal cortex, which uses reasoning. A research experiment showed a neutral face to adults and teens. The adult brains simply showed flow of thought. For teens, the emotion center, became activated. "The result for teens can be an inner conviction that even another person’s neutral response or a bump in the hallway can be interpreted as intentional, and a teen may respond with an irritated remark even if the look or bump was completely innocent.” Sound familiar? Now you know why: their brains are sending intense messages of emotion and perceived aggression. 

So what is helpful?

Teens need their drive for innovation and creation to be honored. This does not mean setting no limits. “It means acknowledging the intention behind the actions." 

Teens have good intentions. Make sure you give those intentions their due credit. 

Time in, that is time listening to your own thoughts, feelings and body, causes your brain to grow more integrative fibers that create your ability to regulate emotions, attention, thinking, sense of well-being, and connection to others. This is the cure for the woes of teenage-hood. You can find mindfulness, meditations, and ways to be present in the moment, or ideas for time with nature online or in this book. A teen should take time to exercise his or her brain. 

Focused learning without digital distractions is also important. Put away the iPods, tablets, and cell phones while studying. Focused attention is important work for the brain. 

"Don’t do it” doesn’t work. Instead promote a positive value your teen already has. For example, an anti-smoking campaign tried something new. Instead of intimidating teens into saying “no” they focused on “being strong in the face of manipulative adults out to get rich.” Did it work? You bet. The next time you attempt to set a limit with a teen, try encouraging a value they already possess instead. Common values for teens are independence, not being manipulated by adults, creativity and adventure.

Most of all, remember to respect the drastic changes happening in the teenage mind. Calling teens “out of their minds,” “crazy,” or “hormonal” is disrespectful and unhelpful. These mental changes are useful adaptations for their future success. As Dan Siegel puts it “We are moving out of our old minds and into new ones as adolescents, and our adolescent mind is full of positive power and the potential for creativity. And this power is something we all need to honor. The key as an adolescent or as an adult is to tap into that potential and help cultivate that power.”

Why can’t your child pay attention?

In my last post I talked about how parents can change a child’s brain. Hopefully you can begin to believe that this is possible. I think it suggest a very different approach to parenting. Instead of trying to “manage” a child’s behavior, we can begin to explore how to “train” a child from the inside out. One of the areas parents might really benefit from this approach is to help them pay attention. I am not talking about dealing with diagnosable Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorders but that might be applicable as well. I am simply thinking about ways to get your child to look up from the cell phone or hear your request to come in for dinner, the first time, when they are engaged in play outside. Would you like to say something the first time and be heard without repeating (yelling) it again? How about on a more personal level: Wouldn’t you like to be able to focus on your families needs without feeling overwhelmed and stressed? How many things try to capture our attention in a day? How many times do our children have to ask a question before we turn to focus on them? This is what Amishi Jha, the brain scientist,  is talking about in the short video clip (see below).
People in today’s society have so much demand on their attention that they are constantly battling what to pay attention to. This is true for our children as well as ourselves! Unfortunately, what occurs is that we live our life in “instant replay” mode. We are constantly having to go back and review what someone said or someone did.
We hear our children fighting from the other room and have to go back and rewind our mental tapes to understand what is going on and how we are going to intervene. We don’t have the luxury to live in the moment and deal with only one thing at a time. Consequently, we engage in shortcut strategies to survive. Our children do the same. The brain has an Executive System to deploy attention and memory resources to problems as they occur around us. This is probably why so many of us parents work on crisis mode with our children. We may miss good things our children do as our emotional resources are concentrating on putting out fires. We feel we don’t have the capacity to focus on what is working due to so much focus on what is going wrong. As you can imagine this creates a vicious cycle for parent and child.
How do we keep the play button of the brain on the present moment instead of being focused on the past moment or future moment (on what we need to do next)? Mindfulness researchers would ask this question by saying “how do we pay attention to our present moment without judgement and stay calm in the midst of stressful demands of life?” There are a lot of books that look at mindfulness out that can inform parents on this. My favorite is the book “Parenting from the inside out” by Daniel Siegel. We also have the knowledge of our spiritual practices that can inform a more mindful, present-focused parenting. It may be useful to start meditating on how to pay more attention to our children, in the moment, and model better attentional skills in our children simultaneously. Click link here to watch Amishi Jha talk about how to train brains to pay better attention: Amishi Jha: Building Attention Learn more on this topic and other real life parenting tools in our ParentingToolbox Newsletter. Click here now!