The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international economic organization of 34 countries, has recently released the results of its global study of gender equality in education, and the news is not good for boys: they are “significantly more likely” than girls to be less engaged with school and have poor academic achievement.

The OECD suggests several reasons for boys’ poor performance in school.

Boys Spend Less Time on Homework: Across the globe, on average boys spend one hour less a week on homework than girls, and generally perform more poorly on tests as a result.

Boys Spend More Time with Video Games and the Internet: Boys consistently spend more time than girls on the internet and playing video games at school, during the week outside school, and during weekends.

Boys Read for Fun Less than Girls: Boys spend less time than girls reading for enjoyment, particularly complex texts, like fiction. As the report notes, “reading proficiency is the foundation upon which all other learning is built, when boys don’t read well, their performance in other school subjects suffers too”.

So how can we help our sons fulfill their potential? The OECD has some suggestions for parents:

Allow Some Gaming, but Homework Comes First. Students who spend more time doing homework tend to have better results in reading math and science. However, a moderate amount of video gaming is not associated with poor school performance and may help students acquire useful judgement and web navigation skills. Rather than complain about the hours devoted to video gaming instead of homework, the report suggests that parents make a “learning contract” with boys where they are allowed play video games in moderation but also have to complete their homework as well. It further notes that excessive video gaming late in the evening can disrupt sleep patterns and should be avoided.

Give Boys a Greater Choice in What To Read. The study found that boys tend to be far less engaged in reading than girls. They are less likely to read for enjoyment every day, they tend to enjoy reading less, are less likely to read fiction, and are less likely to read a range of materials. The study suggests that part of the problem may be that we are forcing boys who are reluctant readers to read texts that they find too challenging and uninteresting, which may alienate them from reading altogether. If boys are given fiction they find interesting they might spend more time reading. Parents should use comic books, magazines and newspapers to help boys develop the habit of reading for enjoyment. Starting out with easy and appealing texts, and then gradually introducing more complex texts could spark boys’ interest in reading. The study also suggests organizing book clubs (using the variety of texts) to encourage boys to read more.

The news is not all bad for boys. The study found that as boys mature they acquire at work and through life experience some of the reading skills they hadn’t acquired at school. But we parents would should do as much as we can to help them step up their game while they are still in school.