Essentially Kids 12th June 2014
We recently had a teenage boy babysit our three young sons but when we mentioned this to other people, we were met with some rather surprising responses.
‘What if he doesn’t know what to do?’; ‘what if he invites friends around?’; ‘what if they need a cuddle?’
Peter* came highly recommended by his mother, who also happened to be one of my son’s favourite teachers at school. Knowing and trusting her, influenced our decision, and the fact that my eldest had heard about Peter from his mum and thought he sounded “super cool” clinched it.
When the night rolled around, the older boys were excited, the youngest less so - for all of five minutes until Peter asked what their favourite game was. After this he had them wrapped around his little finger, each attempting to convince him of the superiority of their choice.
When we got home (to a house in one piece) he reported that they had behaved brilliantly, not fighting, brushing their teeth on command, and going to bed quietly – more than I ever manage. The next morning the boys were tumbling over each other to tell us where Peter went to school, his favourite food, what sports he plays, what he wants to study at uni. I’m surprised we weren’t told the colour of his toothbrush. They asked when he was coming back again.
Fiona Paris, a mum of two boys, had a similar positive experience when she employed a young male neighbour to babysit one night after his sister was unable to. Her boys are now so attached to him that they constantly pester her about when Marco* is next coming over.
Fiona likes “the sense of community and familiarity the bond creates. Since we don’t have family nearby it helps the boys feel attached to our street and suburb.” When asked what it is about Marco the boys like, Fiona recounts a story of him writing the boys out some “very simplified” problems from his pure maths class at uni. “The boys were delighted and felt proud to be taught something so grown up.” For her part, Fiona enjoys the positive influence Marco’s friendship subtly exerts on the boys; “I like the boys seeing him as an example of a motivated and focused young man who is great fun and close to his family.”
Dr Marcelle Moore, a child and family Clinical Psychologist describes this role model situation as, “engagement with a figure whose life seems more tangible in so many ways, than that of parents or teachers who are busy with work and adult responsibility. It is very important for young boys to have access to someone who will motivate and inspire them by example rather than by simply listing a set of instructions. The teenage boy can speak their language and engage with them naturally in a way that can sometimes be effortful with parents”, says Dr Moore. She adds, “If boys see a young man modelling politeness, confidence and responsibility it can be more effective than simply being told that’s how they should behave. Their emotional development will also benefit from seeing a young male in a nurturing role, a welcome change from the common expectation to be unemotional and detached.”
Jayden Auston, an educator at Pippies at Balmoral Childcare Centre in Mosman is aware of the benefits of encouraging an emotional response in boys. He says, “I love sharing my interest in sport and following a healthy lifestyle with the kids.” Jayden believes in educating by example, which means the beginning of every week will often find him surrounded by boys desperate for an account of his Saturday soccer match.
Chris and Brooke are two mums whose sons “have enjoyed and benefited from having Jayden as a teacher at Pippies. They are active young boys, they affiliate with him,” says Brooke. To emphasise her point she adds, “Only this morning my son asked to take his ‘man of the match trophy’ from soccer over the weekend to show Jayden, saying, ‘He plays football as well and will be proud.’” Chris adds that her son “adores Jayden and because of that he listens to him really well and gives him his full attention.”
This strong bond between Jayden and the boys he nurtures and guides through their first experience of being away from their home environment is no surprise to the centre’s owner and hands-on Director, Pip Wrench-Podvinek. She made a conscious decision when she opened Pippies 13 years ago to employ male educators “to provide a balance for the children, their families and the staff.” The feedback that she has received about employing male educators has “always been wonderful.” Pip works hard to find young men like Jayden who have “a natural rapport with the children” which she believes is paramount to providing an “effective and fun beginning of their educational journey.”
Children are now growing up amid a maelstrom of ever-changing fads and celebrity scandal, the negative effects of which can leach into the collective consciousness among children despite parent’s best efforts. A steadying influence and role model whose life is inspiring yet tangible seems hugely important to this generation of boys.
My eldest said to me last week, ‘I think you should go out more’, clearly wanting more time with his new idol. Seeing as his new idol is mature, eloquent, responsible and fun makes me inclined to agree.
Julia Cahill is a freelance writer, blogger and mum. She writes about life at www.juliacahillswords.com