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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Our Boys, Ourselves: Why Adolescent Boys Are Freaking Out, and What We Can Do About It
Dead-eyed schoolyard killers, slackjawed video-game addicts, rat-pack gang members dedicated to ritual violence and self-mutilation: The '90s sure are a great time to be a boy.
Ignored and essentially stigmatized by decades of academic theory and gender revolution, boys are literally America's latest bete noire — 15 times as likely as girls to be victims of violent crime, 6 times as likely to be dosed with Ritalin, 4 times as likely to be diagnosed as mentally disturbed, 4 times as likely to commit suicide....
The list goes on, but for therapist and manhood guru Michael Gurian, it's time to redirect our energies. Like a growing number of educators, researchers, and parents, Gurian, author of the bestselling The Wonder of Boys, feels that our recent hyperfocus on the troubles of adolescent girls has demonized boys, blaming them as the cause of female self-esteem problems, when it's really boys who are the sinking ships in our postmodern society.
Gurian is certainly on to something, and his passion is contagious. He forcefully and, I think, fairly argues that any attempt to "reinvent" manhood, to groom away male traits such as aggression and love of hierarchy, is doomed to fail. But far from throwing out those early-'90s "problem girl" books, such as Reviving Ophelia and Failing at Fairness, he wants to supplement their lessons with suggestions on how to give boys the structure and guidance they need.
The new studies quoted by Gurian (and citedapprovinglyby Mary Pipher, author of Revivin Ophelia) show that it is boys whose self-esteem plummets more deeply in adolescence, boys who are increasingly failing to graduate from high school and college, boys who are victims of violence or perpetrators of it. As our society moves into the endgame of the industrial revolution, adolescent males have been cut loose from any sort of structure — whether it be familial, clan, tribal, religious, or work-related. Subject to an average of seven testosterone washes a day beginning around age nine, boys are biologically in need of hierarchical structures, and the mentoring available within them, in order to learn self-knowledge and self-control. Without these structures, they become scared, fragile, numb, and capable of doing harm to themselves and others.
So — to paraphrase the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" — what can a poor boy do (except sing in a rock 'n' roll band)? Gurian's book details the three stages of adolescence and comes up with an impressive set of frameworks for parents and educators to apply to the children with whom they come into contact. These guidelines are pragmatic, frequently combine cutting-edge science with the ancient truths of religion and anthropology, and seem neither too new age nor too repressive.
I felt equal relief that Gurian also doesn't come off as an ideologue or woman-basher. For instance, I can't imagine too many feminists arguing against his goal of Stage 3 (ages 18 to 21) emotional maturity, which is that males be "developmentally ready to understand that adult love is love practiced like a spiritual discipline." Much to my loss, I had nobody to explain that to me at 21. But as a parent of a 12-year-old boy, I can see myself reaching for this book often over the next decade.
Don Wallace is the author of a novel, HOT WATER, and of essays in Harper's, Parents, The New York Times, and other publications. Articles by Wallace appear in the current (July) issues of Redbook and Self.