Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys

Overview

In Raising Cain, Dan Kindlon, Ph.D., and Michael Thompson, Ph.D., two of the country's leading child psychologists, share what they have learned in more then thirty-five years of combined experience working with boys and their families. They reveal a nation of boys who are hurting-sad, afraid, angry, and silent. Statistics point to an alarming number of young boys at high risk for suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, violence, and loneliness. Kindlon and Thompson set out to answer this basic, crucial question: What ...
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Overview

In Raising Cain, Dan Kindlon, Ph.D., and Michael Thompson, Ph.D., two of the country's leading child psychologists, share what they have learned in more then thirty-five years of combined experience working with boys and their families. They reveal a nation of boys who are hurting-sad, afraid, angry, and silent. Statistics point to an alarming number of young boys at high risk for suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, violence, and loneliness. Kindlon and Thompson set out to answer this basic, crucial question: What do boys need that they are not getting? They illuminate the forces that threaten our boys, teaching them to believe that "cool" equals macho strength and stoicism. Cutting through outdated theories of "mother blame," "boy biology," and "testosterone," Kindlon and Thompson shed light on the destructive emotional training our boys receive-the emotional miseducation of boys.

Through moving case studies and cutting-edge research, Raising Cain paints a portrait of boys systematically steered away from their emotional lives by adults and the peer "culture of cruelty"-boys who receive little encouragement to develop qualities such as compassion, sensitivity, and warmth. The good news is that this doesn't have to happen. There is much we can do to prevent it.

Powerfully written and deeply felt, Raising Cain will forever change the way we see our sons and will transform the way we help them to become happy fulfilled young men.

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Herald
Valuable advice to parents who want to help their sons develop emotional awareness and empathy as tools to navigate the social pressures of youth.
Library Journal
The emotional well-being of our nation's boys only seems to become a topic when a television news reporter breaks in with a grisly report of a playground or high school commons area that has been littered with spent shell casings and the bodies of a certain boy's classmates. Kindlon, a leading researcher and member of the Harvard University faculty for the past 15 years, and Thompson, a preeminent child psychologist who lectures widely on the development of boys, bring more than 35 years of experience working with these youngsters. The authors attempt to answer the basic question: "What do boys need that they are not getting?" They identify social and emotional challenges that boys face growing up male; debunk outdated theories on "mother blame," "boy biology," and "testosterone"; and make a passionate and compelling case that emotional literacy is the most valuable gift that we can offer our sons. Highly recommended.--Marty D. Evensvold, Arkansas City P.L., KS Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Boston Herald
Valuable advice to parents who want to help their sons develop emotional awareness and empathy as tools to navigate the social pressures of youth.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345424570
  • Publisher: Random House, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/6/1999
  • Series: Living Planet Book Series
  • Pages: 287
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Road Not Taken
Turning Boys Away from Their Inner Life

A young man is so strong, so mad, so certain, and so lost. He has everything and he is able to use nothing."
—Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River


Luke, thirteen, pauses at the office door, undecided whether to take his baseball cap off or leave it alone; he pulls it off and steps in the room—the school psychologist's office.

"Come on in, Luke. Have a seat in the big chair."

An oversized, ancient, leathery brown Naugahyde chair dwarfs all but the largest athletes at this all-boy school. Some boys sink deep into the chair as if hoping to distance themselves from scrutiny; others sit stiffly on its edge, clearly uncomfortable with the unnerving assignment to look inward. In our work with boys at schools and in private practice, we see this body language all the time. Boys approach their emotionswith much the same awkwardness, alternately sinking into the depths or sitting stiffly on the edge of feelings threaten to overwhelm them.

Luke's a "good kid." He plays drums in the school band and makes fair grades, though they've dropped lately. At school he's not part of the popular clique, but he does have friends. He's not in the jock crowd and mostly steers clear of them. So what brings him here? In the past few months Luke has grown increadingly sarcastic and sullen, and especially argumentative with his father. A few evenings ago, concerned about his grades, his parents turned down his request to participate in an optional after-school activity. Luke flew into a rage. Stormed off to his room. Slammed doors. Kicked a hole in his bedroom wall. His motherwas stunned by the violent outburst, his father was livid, but they left him alone to cool off. The next morning Dad left early for work, Luke had a headache and took a sick day off from school, and his mother called the school to see if anyone there might know what's troubling him. Luke's advisor suggested the counseling visit.

Now here we sit, and Luke is bothe nervous and angry at the prospect of talking about any of this, but most especially about his feelings. He has pushed himself back and sideways into the chair as far as he can go. His KEEP OUT sign is clearly posted.

The declining grades and the escalating hostility at home—especially the explosive outburst—are red flags of concern to everyone but Luke. "I'm fine," he says defiantly, while his eyes flash with anger at having been sent here at all.

As we talk, the questions cruise the perimeter of his life: academics, music, friendships, family. His answers are curt, cautious,a nd begrudging, puncuated with shrugs and a steely expression intended to keep the conversation from moving any closer than that outer edge. He doesn't have an explanation for his recent behavior, and although he reluctantly agrees that talking about feelings might help, he shies away from it. "I just need to work harder," he syas, shifting the focus to his grades."I don't need help. I'm not crazy," he says. "My parents are the ones with the problem."

But we're here to talk about Luke's feelings. He offers a candid, perfunctory assessment of home and school life: His eight-year-old sister is an idiot. His older brother is a jerk. His father, a businessman, isn't around much—gone early, home late most days. His mother treats hime like a five-year-old and pisses him off with all her questions. And although he has friends and likes a few of his teachers, for the most part, school sucks. That about covers it.

"About the other night. The rage and that hole in the bedroom wall. You must have been prety mad to do that?"
Luke looks wary, and even a little scared. He shrugs.
You look sad. Do you feel sad?"
Luke quickly looks down, and his eyes begin to well up with tears. Clearly his is hurting, but it is masked in the toughness that fills his voice: "I don't know. Maybe, I guess."

"Let's see if we can figure out what's making you feel so bad."

Every troubled boy has a different story, but their stories share a disturbing theme of emotional ignorance and isolation. Each day we try to connect withboys like Luke, who are unversed in the subtleties of emotional language and expression and threatened by emotional complexity. When we ask them to open up, most, like Luke, respond with the same "fight-or-flight" response we all have to threatening situations. We see boys who, frightened or saddened by family discord, experience those feelings only as mounting anger or an irritable wish that everyone would "just leave me alone." Shammed by school problems or stung by criticism, they lash out or withdraw emotionally.

A boy's world is full of contraditions, and parents are often at a loss to figure out how best to help. One mother asks how she can offer wise counsel to her eight-year-old son, when her advice to "use words" instead of physical aggression only earns him teasing and abuse from his peers. Another wants to know how she can get through to her brooding eleven-year-old when he fends off her attempts to make conversation: "Now everythin's an argument—we argue more than we talk—and even when I know something's bothering him, he won't talk about his feelings—just like my husband." A father asks how he is supposed to help his teenage son when the boy "won't listen" or is openly hostile.

A boy longs for connection at the same time he feels the need to pull away, and this opens up an emotional divide. This struggle between his need for connection and his desire for autonomy finds different expression as a boy grows. But, regardless of their age, most boys are ill-prepared for the challenges along the road to becoming an emotionally healthy adult. Whatever role biology plays (and that role is by no means clear) in the ways boys are characteristically different from girls in their emotional expression, those differences are amplified by a culture that supports emotional development of girls and discourages it for boys. Stereotypical notions of masculine toughness deny a boy his 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. A boy is left to manage conflict, adversity, and change in his life with a limited emotional repertoire. If your toolbox contains only a hammer, it's not a problem as long as all your equipment is running right or repairs call only for pounding. But as tasks grow more complex, the hammer's limitations become clear.


From the Audio Cassette edition.

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Reading Group Guide

Read by the authors Three cassettes, approx. 5 hours

In Raising Cain, Dan Kindlon, Ph.D., and Michael Thompson, Ph.D., two of the country's leading child psychologists, share what they have learned in more then thirty-five years of combined experience working with boys and their families. They reveal a nation of boys who are hurting-sad, afraid, angry, and silent. Statistics point to an alarming number of young boys at high risk for suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, violence, and loneliness. Kindlon and Thompson set out to answer this basic, crucial question: What do boys need that they are not getting? They illuminate the forces that threaten our boys, teaching them to believe that "cool" equals macho strength and stoicism. Cutting through outdated theories of "mother blame," "boy biology," and "testosterone," Kindlon and Thompson shed light on the destructive emotional training our boys receive-the emotional miseducation of boys.

Through moving case studies and cutting-edge research, Raising Cain paints a portrait of boys systematically steered away from their emotional lives by adults and the peer "culture of cruelty"-boys who receive little encouragement to develop qualities such as compassion, sensitivity, and warmth. The good news is that this doesn't have to happen. There is much we can do to prevent it.

Powerfully written and deeply felt, Raising Cain will forever change the way we see our sons and will transform the way we help them to become happy fulfilled young men.

1. With what preconceptions of boys did you open Raising Cain? To what extent were your assumptions shaped by firsthand experience, media depictions, cultural stereotypes, orwhat the authors call archetypes? Which of your views were most challenged, if not changed, by the book? Why?

2. Kindlon and Thompson state that all boys are born with emotional potential. What obstacles prevent them from giving expression to the range and complexity of their emotional lives? How does our culture construct such barriers? Do the trials that boys face today differ considerably from those confronted by boys a generation or two ago?

3. The authors express real reservations about reducing the development of boys to a "nature versus nurture" conflict. Wherein lies their disregard for this approach?

4. Class and race do not emerge as primary issues in the authors' examination of the challenges facing boys. What weight would you give to these issues vis-à-vis a boy's development? Which challenges cut across lines of race and class, and which are exacerbated by them?

5. Some critics have seen Raising Cain as part of the so-called boys movement that arose in response to the girls movement engendered by the popularity of Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia. Do you credit such a view? What cultural shifts help to create such a situation? What are the pros and cons of such movements?

6. In "A Paper Trail of Trouble to Come," Dan Kindlon concludes that helping male students to maintain a healthy sense of self-esteem is of primary importance. Why does he invest so much in self-esteem? What threats to self-esteem do boys often encounter, and how do they usually deal with them? What can parents and educators do to assist them in these trials?

7. Michael Thompson writes that "ease with verbal expression improves impulse control." What relation exists between a facility with language and "emotional literacy"? What activities inhibit or develop a boy's ability to express himself? What forms of expression other than language do boys often employ in the name of expression? Discuss the shortcomings and benefits of each.

8. Which of the difficult issues facing boys today mirror those of the adult culture? What connection do you perceive between the two worlds? For example, does the pharmaceutical-as-panacea view held by many adults color the way we approach boys and their problems?

9. What lies behind the authors' unequivocal disapproval of harsh discipline? How does corporal punishment compare to its verbal counterpart? Do the repercussions of each differ? How? Does gender often determine the sort of discipline a child receives? Should it? What characterizes constructive discipline?

10. Explicate the "culture of cruelty" that Kindlon and Thompson acknowledge as present and virulent. What contributes to and perpetuates such a culture? Why are boys implicated and entangled in this culture more often than girls? Is the "culture of cruelty" a distinctly American phenomenon?

11. How does the role of "emotional literacy" differ in a father-son relationship and a mother-son relationship? What distinctions seem fixed, or open to redefinition? Is there value in preserving that which distinguishes one relationship from the other?

12. Why does isolation, particularly that of a desperate and threatening sort, appear to ensnare more boys than girls? What leaves boys lost in the labyrinth of the self, and what helps them to move through that maze toward others? What can a parent do to distinguish a meaningful retreat to solitude from a harmful, helpless fall into depression?

13. Kindlon and Thompson argue that emotional illiteracy and the desire to flee from emotional isolation begin to explain the lure of alcohol and drugs for adolescent males. Discuss their argument. What other problems arise when a young man's emotional life is fractured, darkened, or silenced? Do you accept the extent to which the authors invest meaning in the emotions of a boy's life?

14. How does a boy's relationship to his mother set the stage for his interactions with girls as an adolescent? What other factors contribute to the expectations and nascent understanding with which he begins an intimate relationship?

15. How do violence, aggression, and anger function as a means of expression for some adolescent males? What leads them from a language of words to a language of action? How does our society's reluctance to acknowledge the complexity of causes behind violence perpetuate the problem? What significance should one assign to the sort of violence found in the entertainments--movies, video games, music, sport--popular among boys today?

16. In their closing chapter, Kindlon and Thompson write, "What boys need, first and foremost, is to be seen through a different lens than tradition prescribes." Describe the conventional lens. In what ways does Raising Cain redefine such a lens? What myths about boys were undone or unsettled by your reading? Which were preserved?

17. Acknowledging the shortcomings of the bulleted point, Kindlon and Thompson conclude nonetheless with seven suggestions for raising boys. Acknowledging the arbitrariness of lists of ten, add three more points and explain your amendments. The interview and questions were prepared by Ron Fletcher. Ron Fletcher teaches English at Boston College High School. He is at work on his first novel.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2000

    A Modern Understanding of Boys

    As a mother of three boys and a student of education, I found Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, by Dan Kindlon, Ph.D and Michael Thompson, Ph.D, to be a tremendous resource for understanding the nature of boys. With strong compassion and sensitivity, the authors make a very valiant attempt to solve a growing problem with boys¿their anger and sadness. Although this book gives some amazing insights into so many facets of a boy¿s makeup, at times the authors¿ portray an exaggerated view of girls. As psychologists, Kindlon and Thompson have seen a growing number of angry, troubled boys. A major contributor to the boys¿ anger, according to Kindlon and Thompson is the fact that boys grow up in the American culture, learning not to voice their emotions. When those emotions appear through some other mode of expression, they are usually misunderstood. A boy, seeing himself through these misunderstood eyes does not view himself well. Even a boy¿s early experiences in school may contribute to his feelings of failure and turn him away from school. He is usually educated by women who may not understand the differences boys exhibit¿their ¿high activity, impulsiveness, and physicality.¿ What I found most disturbing, and yet, most eye opening, in Raising Cain, was the depiction of cruelty that adolescent boys inflict upon one another. ¿In the school gym locker room, some boys urinated on other boys¿ belongings or into their shampoo bottles. There were incidents of `nipple twisting,¿ painful and humiliating to the victim.¿ As difficult as this was to read about and acknowledge, it is also important to be aware of. We cannot solve problems we don¿t know exist. Kindlon and Thompson offer the awareness as a path to understanding and empathy for boys; they also give ideas to help boys draw their own map to a better adolescence. Though I am grateful for so many of the authors¿ insights and ideas for increasing boys¿ ¿emotional literacy,¿ I feel that, in emphasizing their views regarding boys, the authors discuss girls in a biased manner. For instance, they claim, ¿If a girl were the most annoying person in the ninth grade, everyone would want to know what was going on in her head. If a boy is the most annoying person in the ninth grade, many people simply say: `Jesus, what an irritating kid. He needs some discipline.¿ Many adults lack curiosity about the motivation of boys. Rarely are they reluctant to throw the book at them.¿ These statements are stereotyping and certainly seem intended to lead us to believe that girls have it so much easier than boys. I know plenty of parents of girls who would disagree with this. Also, considering this view, whom would the authors expect to buy their book-- primarily, only to those who needed to throw it at some annoying boy? Still, the focus of this book is on boys, and an excellent focus it is. In fact, perhaps the authors¿ occasional bias toward girls is a reaction resulting from the deep empathy for boys and their specific challenges that is evident in their dedication to helping boys find a voice for their emotion. Maybe it is an occupational hazard when faced with so many of the negative aspects of boys¿ lives. Regardless of the cause, I highly recommend this book to anyone who has the responsibility of raising boys or educating them. It gives a detailed view of a boy¿s world and his many relationships, his difficulty at voicing and recognizing his emotion, the ways those emotions may ultimately express themselves, and what boys need in order to become strong and capable, yet, caring individuals.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 1999

    Great Book

    In today's world it seems it's taboo to talk about boys and boy related issues. This book gives good insight about boys and their emotional life. (Boys have emotions also) If you are a parent, or one who works with boys, this is a great book to read.

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