Friday, January 28, 2000
Newberger in Concord: Raising boys can be a harmonious experience
Author Eli H. Newberger, M.D. demonstrated ingenuity by interspersing his words of wisdom with jazz cuts at his January 19 lecture. The talk, sponsored by the Concord Bookshop, highlighted pointers for nurturing boys from Newberger's recent book, The Men They Will Become. About 200 people attended, with men comprising almost 40 percent of the audience.
Newberger, a pediatrician, teaches at the Harvard Medical School. He has published several works on child abuse and testified as a prosecution expert at the Louise Woodward trial. An accomplished tuba player, Newberger studied music at Juilliard and Yale. Singer and banjo player Jimmy Mazzy from Concord joined him onstage to perform pieces from a CD they recently recorded. The compositions featured songs about men and their character, and the selections dovetailed with Newberger's comments.
"This is very experimental," said Newberger about the unusual presentation as he thanked the audience for being "so forbearing." The original plan had been for the lecture to precede the music, but as Mazzy had to leave for a gig at the Colonial Inn, the agenda changed. The unusual format proved successful as most of the books and all of the CDs sold out by the end of the evening.
Newberger's pediatric background grounds his approach to developing male character. He acknowledges the biological and hormonal differences between boys and girls. Nonetheless, unlike some of his counterparts in the field, he believes that observations and experiences are key to childhood development.
"Parents do matter," Newberger emphasized. He continued that, in today's society, children often have non-traditional family structures and that the word "parents" can also mean step-parents, single parents or even influential adults. The author believes these role models are the key in forming character.
"Character is all about choice," said Newberger. "It's what we do when facing moral challenges." Values, respecting the needs of others and rising above basic impulses are all behaviors that boys observe and that affect their own character development.
In his book, Newberger suggests an academic model with four levels regarding parental awareness in raising children. The work describes the four levels as:
·"Me First"the parent views the child's needs from their own adult perspective and requirements.
· "Follow the Rules"the parent applies firmly established practices to raising the child.
· "We Are Individuals"the parent allows for the child's own individual needs and potentiality.
· "Living and Growing Together"the parent recognizes a mutual and reciprocal relationship with the child.
Newberger has collected rich anecdotal evidence to support the vague theoretical underpinnings by interviewing a wide variety of boys of different ages and in different situations. Herein lies the strength of the book and his talk: Newberger has the rare ability to appreciate, and learn from the diverse experiences and perspectives of others.
The unfinished symphony
The body of Newberger's book addresses various phases in a boy's life. Parents will find many topics of interest, such as male connection and emotion, discipline and punishment, teasing and bullying, and enabling. The subjects are discussed well, and the studies and statistics support the text. Some of his more interesting findings include: boys are punished more severely than girls; ritalin is over-prescribed to boys and does not solve underlying problems; athletics can corrode development.
The author expressed surprise that more people had not taken issue with his stand on sports. He condemned the violations that star athletes are allowed to make by our schools and colleges. He proposed that athletes in violation of moral codes should not be allowed to participate in sports.
Some community members appear to support his view on athletics. Parents of athletes at the Concord-Carlisle High School had complained in the past about the school's athletic policy: students who were planning to be away during a school vacation were discouraged from trying out for a team. New superintendent Edward Mavragis recently overturned that policy. As a result, some members of the high school coaching staff have resigned.
Several Carlisle residents were on hand to listen to the talk and enjoy the music. Colleen Walsh, mother of Conor, age 7, and Ryan, age 4, was particularly concerned about the topic of violence. "I'm concerned with all the violent media available," said Walsh, citing video games, TV programs, and the Internet. She said that she can control these influences at home, but realizes that she cannot shield her boys for their whole lives. She appreciated Newberger's notion that "certain kids are more vulnerable to violence." She felt empowered by the understanding that boys have to make choices, and parents can affect those decisions by teaching them sound values.
In the end, though, parents have to be able to forgive their sons if they make mistakes. According to Newberger, it is always better to guide a boy rationally towards making a better decision instead of reacting with corporal punishment.
"At all ages, wemenare works in progress," said Newberger. "We can do better the next time."
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito