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Raising Boys


A friend recommended Raising Cain: Protecting The Emotional Life of Boys. I am about one third through.

I can't stop wondering at how our society is simultaneously patriarchal and yet unfriendly to men. The authors are therapists who have worked with troubled boys in public schools. They paint a picture of small but consistent subtleties that isolate boys from learning, punishing them for their natural instincts to play faster and learn slower than girls. These boys learn to think of themselves as unsuccessful in organized institutions and behave as the "problem kid" that they have been labeled for the remainder of their educational career. 

Is this not also an important step towards preventing school violence? Understanding the "emotional miseducation" of young male students? 

The authors point out that toddler girls are more likely to understand their own feelings and acknowledge them, using words like "love," "sad," and "scared." Young boys feel the same things but are seldom given an explanation for these feelings. They are taught to mistrust and ignore those feelings, to the detriment of themselves and anyone who will ever love them. 

This is an important read and I'm glad it was recommended to me. I intend to bring it up on this week's MommyBeta podcast but in the meantime, here are a few more poignant excerpts that stuck with me:  

  • "Stereotypical notions of masculine toughness deny a boy his emotions and rob him of the chance to develop the full range of emotional resources. We call this process, in which a boy is steered away from his inner world, the emotional miseducation of boys. It is a training away from healthful attachment and emotional understanding and expression, and it affects even the youngest boy, who learns quickly, for instance, that he must hide his feelings and silence his fears." 
  • "If a boy this age were unable to decipher the alphabet or read any better than this, every adult in his life would recognize that he needed help. But emotional illiteracy is so pervasive among boys that no one notices until something drastic happens. It takes a schoolyard shooting, a hole kicked in a wall, a drunk driving arrest, or a suicide for a boy’s emotional needs to get anyone’s attention." 
  • "Many men readily acknowledge that the generalization is true: they do prefer to avoid emotional people and situations. That doesn’t mean, however, that men lack the “wiring” for expressing or understanding emotion. Newborn boys, on average, are actually more emotionally reactive than girls. For example, studies show that baby boys cry more than baby girls when they are frustrated or upset." 
  • "As much as she would like the school environment to be just a place where instruction and expectations present both boys and girls with the same opportunity for success, the fact that it’s clearly easier for girls to adapt to it means that, in some unseen way, the expectations reflect girls’ abilities and sensibilities. This is the reason that David Trower, the headmaster of the all-boys Allen Stevenson School in New York City, says, 'If boys need the protection of the single-sex environment at all, they need it most in elementary school because of the developmental disparity.'"
  • "Studies that track children’s development through the school years suggest that, by the third grade, a child has established a pattern of learning that shapes the course of his or her entire school career.1 We see this clearly with boys: the first two years in school are a critical moment of entry into that world of learning, but boys’ relative immaturity and the lack of fit they so often experience in school set them up to fail. Many boys who are turned off to school at a young age never refind the motivation to become successful learners." 

More to come as I finish this book. 

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Reader Comments (1)

Wow, I randomly came across this post today and it about broke my heart. Two days ago my 19 year-old brother was admitted to rehab for heroin. And I absolutely do not want to send you into a panic about your beautiful, sweet, innocent children one day becoming drug addicts, but I couldn’t not say something. Because not only did my brother and I both grow up in a positive, nurturing environment where we were encouraged from day one to identify and express our feelings, we grew up with this book on our parent’s bookshelf.

My brother fit the author’s description to a T - he was extremely sensitive as a child, he learned how to read a full two years after the rest of his class (despite having no obvious developmental delays) and began experimenting with drugs in one form or another when he was 12.

And if you’re thinking ‘this’ll never happen to us because x, y, and z,” please stop. My parents are intelligent, wonderful, caring people. My dad is a doctor and my mom is a nurse. Our house rules weren’t too lax and they weren’t too lenient. And as much as any family can be, I’d say that we were pretty normal, pretty happy.

I don’t have any answers for you and I don’t really know why I’m telling you all of this except to say that if, somewhere down the road, you find yourselves in the very same boat my family is in, don’t be too hard on yourselves. Ultimately your children will turn into their own people, with their own demons to fight. And regardless of what happens, it will not be a reflection on you or how you've raised them.

Best of luck to you all.

January 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBecca

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