Naperville, IL, March 19, 2011 --(PR.com
)-- Boys, they say, will be boys. And that can be a big problem by the time they get to middle school, say the experts.
But it isn’t rambunctious or mischievous behavior that's the issue. Instead, a bigger problem for many sixth- to eighth-grade boys is something that society in general has long overlooked but which parents, educators and therapists alike agree needs to be addressed: a deficiency in social interaction capabilities and communication skills.
Research in recent years has shown that the average boy is less verbal and mature than the average girl when he begins school. Once they reach sixth grade, boy students often lack language and reading fluency, a literacy and vocabulary shortcoming that can make them hesitant to contribute to discussions in class and conversations outside of class. They can often lack the confidence, desire or know-how to express themselves socially, ask important questions, spark new or maintain old friendships, resolve conflicts, be active listeners, and comprehend others’ points of view.
“There’s a lot of information out there and focus in the media about the problems faced by middle school-aged girls. But it seems as if sixth- through eighth-grade boys often get lost in the cracks and forgotten about, despite the fact that they commonly have more social interaction difficulties than girls. And developing good social, communication and problem-solving skills will be crucial for these boys when it comes time to perform in high school, college and in their careers as adults,” said Debra Catanese, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker with Naperville Clinical Services—a group practice in Naperville dedicated to providing high quality therapy to individuals, couples and families throughout the western suburbs.
To understand the root of the problem, you have to put yourself in the shoes of a typical 11- to 14-year-old male. These boys experience a wide range of changes and pressures by the time they reach age 11, including the onset of puberty, social insecurities, self-doubt and peer pressure. Seeking reassurance, it’s normal for them to crave attention from friends and family members. This is the age range when cliques form and children rely more on their peers for direction. Consider for a moment that adolescents spend nearly 33 percent of their conscious hours in the company of friends.
What’s more, sixth through eighth graders—particularly boys—are increasingly distracted by media and technology from all directions. Seventy-two percent of American middle schoolers devote more than three hours daily outside of school in front of a television, computer screen or mobile phone, according to a recent study by the Raytheon Company. Results of a study published in 2010 by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation revealed that, over the last several years, young people have increased the amount of time they spend consuming media by 77 minutes daily, from 6 hours, 21 minutes estimated in 1999 to 7 hours, 38 minutes.
“That’s a lot of time that could otherwise be spent playing, talking and interacting socially with friends, loved ones and others,” said Catanese. “In previous generations, middle schoolers would call people on the phone or meet up in the park to play or have a conversation. Today, however, texting, e-mailing and Facebooking are the preferred modes of communication, with much less face-to-face or verbal interaction. That can lead to deficiencies over time and hinder social progress.”
There are several things parents can do to improve their middle school son’s ability to acclimate socially with others, said Mary Plonis, M.Ed, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist and director of Naperville Clinical Services.
“Parents need to foster an atmosphere of open communication with their children and listen carefully to what they say. Mom and dad should also encourage their children to engage in group conversations, role play different social opportunities with them, talk about the ingredients involved in making worthwhile friends, and maintain eye contact when communicating,” Dr. Plonis said.
If you sense a problem like anxiety, depression or isolation, arrange a meeting with your child’s guidance counselor and seek help from a professional experienced in treating childhood issues, she said.
Additionally, parents should strongly consider enrolling their child in a social skill-building group run by a child behavioral expert. Naperville Clinical Services recently initiated such a group for sixth- through eighth-grade boys that meets at the practice every Thursday from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., starting January 27 through March 24. Headed by Catanese, the group will focus on improving social thinking/interaction skills and teaching boys how they can make friends easier, use and interpret body language, understand the perspectives of others, fit into a group, recognize and set social expectations, and monitor their own behavior in group settings.
The cost for each weekly group session is $40, which is usually covered in full by most insurance plans (special payment plans are also available).
PhPhone (630) 409-9700 to register your child for the social skill-building group for middle school boys or to learn more about any of the programs or treatments offered by Naperville Clinical Services, located conveniently next to Neuqua Valley High School, at 2272 W. 95th St., Suite 115, Naperville, Ill. 60564. For more information about the practice, visit www.NapervilleClinicalServices.com.