RESTLESS, mischievous, wild, disobedient boys …

Boys and toysFound in a 1901 Good Housekeeping. I don’t include it all here, and some of it is clearly out of date, but most of the principles are, I think, sound.  I especially love the method the police man’s widow uses with her 3 sons- what a woman!  I’d love to know who she was and how her boys turned out and if her descendants know how she used to knit together a wonderful relationship with her boys.


By  Mrs M.E.R. Alger, Attendance Officer, New York City Schools, Former Manager of the Truant School

Refractory Boys 

RESTLESS, mischievous, wild, disobedient boys ; what shall we do with them ? How can they be best trained and brought up to be come honorable men? What a problem ! How difficult, and yet how easy ! This very day a man was summoned to the truant school who said to me, “Mrs. Alger, what shall I do with my devil of a boy?” “He is not a devil,” I replied, “he is only a boy, and a small one at that, and you are responsible for him in the law of God and man. What have you ever done to keep him from doing wrong?” And then came the same everlasting reply : “I have no time.” “It’s time you should take care of your boy, keep him from evil associates, and guard him from harm,” I added. Then came the story of the hard worked foreman r e t u r n i n g after his day’s labor, wearied in mind and body, to his tenement home. “I can’t bother with the lad,” was his excuse. “Where is the boy when you come home?” was my query. “In the street,” he re- plied. “What does he do there?”  I asked. “Skylark, peg stones, play ball, I suppose,” was the answer. “The boy should be with you,” I declared ; “his mother has gone, and a little interest on your part would save the lad, whilst if you let him go, he will surely turn out badly.

Small boys associate with older boys, and the evil influence of the grown lad usually brings the younger boy in a police cell. You can put it down as an axiom, based upon an intimate knowledge of refractory youth, that truant boys are not criminals; but all criminals were once truants.

I appeal especially to the fathers of such boys, for I know from experience how a little interest on their part aids and helps a lad to success. Ah, if you only knew how eagerly your boys would await your home-coming, if they could count on even a half hour of your time in the evening! Remember that your boys have been at school all clay laboring over their studies as you have labored over your work, and if they could only look forward to aid and sympathy in their home-coming, there would be no fascination in the street for them.

Boys cannot be driven, neither can men. Mothers should know this. The boy wants help in his work, in his play, and in his troubles; he needs someone older than himself to be interested in all that he does….

…Boys are more restless and independent and need the most careful guidance. They must be kept busy and interested. Don’t expect them to sit for any length of time; keep them busy; help them go over their school work; tell them how you remember the hard work you had to do when you were at school, and how probably your teacher was not half as nice and good as theirs. Read the newspapers to them; discuss any interesting happening of the day, and note discussion, especially the news of the world’s doings, in the daily papers. Send them to bed with the feeling that their father amounts to some thing in their young lives and is a true friend and companion. Just here I may say I know a police man’s widow who puts on the boxing gloves with her three boys, the oldest only thirteen, for a few minutes just be fore they go to bed. I said to these boys, “I think your mother must be very nice.” They replied, “She’s bully, you bet!” Of how many fathers could the same be said? Such boys are safe. They do not care to go forth, seeking company in the street in the evening. This is the fatal time of day, when the older lads, who have been working and are at leisure, influence the younger boys….


… It is far better, in my opinion, for a boy to be too familiar with his father than to be afraid of him. I would very much rather hear a boy call his father “dad,” than to be always “at attention” and say “sir” to him in reply to every question.

The father of three boys, all sturdy, restless fellows, said to me, “My boys set me crazy, they are so wild and noisy. I did not act so when I was a youth.” I found that he had a dear old grandmother who listened to his trials and told him stories in the evening, and I find in all such cases there was someone older, a big sister, grandmother, grandfather, or someone, who was the comrade.

I have yet to meet a boy, and I know a large number, who, no matter how bad his record has been, if taken in the proper way, will not do the right thing; and not one who, if rightly appealed to, will not be willing to do something for an older person….Boys must be made to feel that they are necessary and a help to someone.


Do not expect your son to keep per fectly quiet for any length of time. You could not do it when you were a boy. Do not expect your son to confide and trust in you if you do not meet him half way. Remember there is no one on earth who has a keener sense of right and wrong than your boy. Remember also that naughty, mischievous boys are usually very clever and have the making of smart, reliable men. Always keep your promises. If you threaten to punish a boy the next time he offends or disobeys, be sure you do it.

Remember your wife has had the care of the children all day. Few men realize the responsibility and unceasing labor in the care of children, the long, weary hours with the babies, the constant attention, the everlasting patience necessary. Help her in the evening with the boys. I am a firm believer in “early to bed” for children.

Do not spoil your children with luxuries. Plain food, plain clothes, are what they should have. Silk dresses, diamond rings, trips to the theater and opera in the evening, take the zest away from your daughters when they become young women. Visits to your club, and the keeping of late hours, do not tend to make your sons either healthy or wise. They will know all about life before they are grown up. Keep both your daughters and sons amused and interested in childish things as long as possible; time enough care of life later on.

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