What is it with boys and study?

Posted by on Feb 11, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments


Are boys more troublesome than girls when it comes to study? There have been loads of books about encouraging boys to learn and lots of theories about why they don’t engage but  there is probably no one solution. Much of my experience has related to girls as I worked in a single sex school and only had dealings with boys in sixth form. Since moving out of school many of my clients have been boys. Most have been charming but lacking the desire to work!

I’ve spoken about fear of failure before and this is often a major consideration when dealing with teenage boys. After years of dealing with the emotional turmoil of girls, I though boys would be perhaps more resilient but their fledgling male confidence is just as fragile; they just show it in different ways. There’s a lot of pressure both in school and out and one of the first lines of defence is to adopt a ‘don’t care’ attitude. If you don’t care and you fail, it’s no great surprise.

Ade had successful parents and he was a bright boy but was challenged by being away from home, being educated in a second language and having bright siblings. He did care but like many young lads would rather socialise than work too hard. There was always the danger that if he did work very hard and still failed he was going to feel very stupid. Over a period of weeks I set about building his self-esteem and encouraging him to try new techniques such as working in short intensive bursts. Gradually his grades began to improve and so did his confidence so that after 6 months he was a very different boy. Not only had he hit his stride in his studies but he had also ‘grown up’ and went on to achieve good grades. The grades, though, were not as important as seeing him as a confident, happy, teenager.

Ben was another hapless, charming teenager who had neglected his studies and all too soon exams were on the horizon. The thought of sitting down to hours of revision had been a complete turn off and so he’d carried on with sport and socialising. He was a bright boy and quickly picked up on the fact that study could almost be fun and didn’t have to mean hours of being chained to his desk. Armed with the patent flashcards, the giant mind mapping tool and a work schedule which he had agreed, he set off happily. Regular email checks showed that work was happening and in the next session we refined his schedule for the final assault. As exams were imminent he had to do more work than he was accustomed to and there were panic calls for more cards but all went well. It was a nail biting summer vacation but on results day he was jubilant.

Dean was a harder nut to crack. He had a gifted sister and parents who were desperate for him to do well. While his sister triumphed in sport drama and academic studies, Dean hung out with friends, played on his X box and avoided work at all costs. His mother was desperate and the more she nagged the less work he did and was truculent and moody to boot. He didn’t hand homework in and avoided school if possible. We worked out a schedule that he agreed to and after the first week he had handed homework in for the first time in months. He didn’t like some of his teachers and avoided their classes if possible so we worked on persuading him to go to class and again he did. By half term things were beginning to improve but he still wasn’t keen to work. His mother tried to be helpful by constantly nagging him but this had the opposite effect and led to a complete clamp down. He refused to work. There was no doubt that he was a bright boy but he had no goals in life and because his parents had determined a goal for him, i.e. university, he did not want to focus on this. I had warned that it would take a lot of work to help him get back on track and to help him stay there. A bit like yo yo dieting, study is one of those things where there are good days and bad days. Dean needed gentle cajoling to reach his targets, to be helped set his own achievable goals and then be left to get on with it. Like many teens, they have to be gently persuaded in the right direction rather than metaphorically beaten into shape.

Ed was also having a few difficulties. Like all the other boys, he had fallen out of love with study. He had ambition but just not the necessary get up and go to achieve. Parents can make suggestions but boys practice selective deafness in their teens. If an outsider comes in and helps the teenager to formulate a plan, it seems, this is workable. Ed was a bit reluctant at first as his grades were by no means poor but he soon saw that there were some merits in the plan. He was willing to try new techniques and to take on board suggestions. In the holidays he wanted help in planning his revision and kept to the agreed plan and was rewarded by a set of very good grades, going up 2 to 3 in some subjects so that he now had a full range of A’s and A*. He had won back his self confidence and was powering forward.

Boys, just like girls, welcome individual attention and someone who listens to their concerns. They need to be shown how to break their work up into manageable chunks, to know what works best for them. All these boys were keen and successful sportsmen and parents wondered how they could devote themselves so readily to training but not to academic work. All were involved in team sports and all were boys with good interpersonal skills. In football, rugby etc. they are all in it together and working together; in study, for the most part you’re on your own. In sport you get instant results, win or lose, in school you are working for a seemingly nebulous long term plan. Sport is hard work but it’s fun; academic work can be hard but in the exam years the fun factor is often missing. Give your boys some useful tools and they will achieve but it has to be manageable and there has to be down time too.

So are boys more troublesome? I don’t think so. I think maybe they are not so inspired by school and unlike girls they don’t have the overwhelming desire to please. Girls can experience just the same problems when it comes to concentration, motivation and just getting down to study. I would say that there are often no quick fixes; it takes time to win confidence and to build new working routines. There will be weeks when achievement is great and others when things seem to be going backwards. However, for the boys I’ve worked with in Year 11, it has been a valuable lesson and they have set in place study techniques which will serve them well post 16. Those I’ve worked with in sixth form have found it harder to change but if determined to succeed have readily embraced new ways of working. For your teenager, getting things back on track isn’t just about grades its about building confidence, developing perseverance and working on motivation. Along the way they’ll develop note taking skills, memory techniques, time management and organisation skills. Skills for life!

For an action plan for study, call me now.