The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 7, 2000


Raising Cain shows that 'boys will be boys'

At last, here is a book confirming what every mother knows: boys are very different from girls! In the New York Times Bestseller, Raising Cain, Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (Ballantine Books, NY 1999), psychologists Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson use engaging stories of boys they have known to explain how boys differ from girls in two basic ways. First, boys come wired differently. In the early years, their verbal abilities tend to mature more slowly, and they are just much more physically active, seemingly in constant motion. Although this combination can make early childcare and schooling frustrating for children, parents and teachers alike, the authors instead view this "boyness" as a cause for celebration. Accepting boys for who they are makes life happier for everyone, especially the boys.

But, these are not the only differences between boys and girls. Boys are also different because we treat them differently and hold different expectations for their behavior. From the earliest years, boys are taught to aspire to the "Big Impossible," the widely-held belief that men must be tough, strong and always in control, both physically and emotionally. To fail is to be a "sissy" or, worse, "just like a girl." As a result, boys are "systematically steered away from their emotional lives toward silence, solitude and distrust."

This difference is cause for serious concern because it leads to so many of the problems we see in young boys and adolescents. Moreover, while expecting "too much" of boys, we also expect "not enough" of them in self-control, empathy, emotional honesty and moral responsibility, often dismissing problem behavior with the phrase, "Boys will be boys." Everyone knows about the "culture of cruelty" among boys, which reaches a painful peak in the middle school years. Boys without constructive ways to deal with their own frightening insecurities pick on other vulnerable boys to avoid being targets themselves. No one is immune. Later, alcohol and drugs become another way to show "manliness" while also escaping life's pressures and confusing emotions. For some boys, the lonely "fortress of solitude" leads to depression and thoughts of suicide. For others, an inability to express and handle emotions leads to sexual exploitation and heartless relationships with women. Of course, these are sad cases in the extreme, but the authors believe that few boys escape the scars of "emotional illiteracy."

Boys may be different from girls, but there is one very important way in which both are essentially the sameand therein lies the hope. Boys need to be loved and accepted for who they are, at every age. They need warmth and affection so that they can learn to be emotionally literate and develop emotional courage and healthy attachments. They need to be allowed to be boys, but with emotional awareness and responsibility. To the authors, these are all doable, as many of their boy stories prove. With good advice for mothers, fathers and teachers, the authors show that there is joy in allowing boys to be boys.

Thompson and his co-author Kindlon handle these issues with sensitivity and gentle humor. They write in a firm but reassuring manner that makes this book a must-read for parents. Then once you read it, go hug your boy.

Author Michael Thompson, Ph.D., will be this year's featured guest speaker at the sixth annual Carlisle Education Forum, a community event sponsored by the Carlisle Public Schools on Saturday, April 29, 2000. His topic will be "Raising Responsibile Children: Promoting Civility." Watch for registration mailings and details.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito