Cracking the Boy Code: How to Understand and Talk with Boys

Cracking the Boy Code: How to Understand and Talk with Boys

by Adam Cox


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Learn the secret language of boys and how to reconnect

All too quickly, talkative, affectionate young boys seem to slip away. Adolescents may be transformed overnight into reclusive, seemingly impenetrable young people who open up only to their friends and spend more time on devices than with family. How do you penetrate this shell before they are lost to you?

Drawing on decades of experience garnered through thousands of hours of therapy with boys, Cracking the Boy Code explains how the key to communicating with boys is understanding their universal psychological needs and using specific, straightforward communication techniques. Coverage includes:

  • Why it's important to understand the psychological needs of boys
  • How to talk to be heard, and listen to understand
  • The crucial role of non-verbal cues
  • Learning the universal tone that helps boys listen
  • Motivating boys to become their authentic selves
  • Using purposeful work to teach boys self-respect and confidence
  • Reducing stress and creating greater closeness between boys and caregivers.

Essential reading for parents, caregivers, teachers, youth workers, coaches, and others who want to make a real connection with the boys in their lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780865718760
Publisher: New Society Publishers
Publication date: 05/08/2018
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 1,168,401
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.42(d)
Age Range: 16 Years

About the Author

Adam J. Cox, Ph.D is a clinical psychologist whose work includes thousands of hours interviewing children. His research includes a multi-year global research project, Locating Significance in the Lives of Boys, for the International Boys' Schools Coalition, during which he interviewed students and teachers in the US, Canada, UK, Singapore, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, from a wide variety of social and educational backgrounds. A sought-after therapist and frequent speaker on the psychology of boys, he is author of the acclaimed books On Purpose Before Twenty, Boys of Few Words and No Mind Left Behind. Cox lives in Rhode Island and shares his wisdom in his newsletter Family Matters at

Read an Excerpt

Part I: Strategies and Techniques for Talking

Chapter One

What is Good Communication?

We need to begin with a basic premise: good communication is effective communication. Communicating well means getting through to another person, having them hear you and appreciate the point or value of what you are saying. Communication can be instrumental, as when we ask a basic question "What do you want for dinner?" This sort of communication is heard fairly well by boys, and it's also their favorite type to use: "Pass the milk. Can I have 20 bucks? You gonna eat all them fries?" Generally, it's not hard for boys to communicate basic questions or statements. It's the other type of conversation - social communication - which poses a challenge for boys. This is a serious issue because most important communication is inherently social. We communicate because we want to connect with another person. For example, what do most of us do if we want to get to know another person better? What would you do if you wanted to build more trust into a relationship? What would you do if you wanted someone to better understand your thinking or emotions? Of course, you would talk to them! Communicating is what our instincts tell us to do when we want to be closer to someone, when we want a stronger relationship.

Just because adults want a stronger relationship, however, doesn't mean boys want the same. Mostly they are a little scared of getting too close to adults and would rather remain somewhat undercover. When they do communicate with adults, they typically do so with a specific purpose, and that approach goes right along with the "bottom line" psychology of boys. Often, teenage boys think to themselves, "I'll communicate when I want something." You've probably noticed that boys can be more relaxed when they talk with friends, but their behaviors are totally different when talking with adults.

Should we fight this tendency in boys, or get comfortable working with it? Definitely, the latter. Overcoming the distance between any two people begins with mutual acceptance. The longer we spend trying to bend people to our will, insisting that they think and act differently, the longer we will be frustrated. Even the youngest of boys is capable of a fiercely strong will, and it doesn't take much for a boy to win a communication war. He just stops talking!

I'm an optimist, and I'm going to assume you are flexible and willing to experiment with a different approach. First, let's agree that there is a degree of planning required to effectively communicate with boys. Let's also assume that the measure of whether our approach is working is how the boys respond. Sometimes that means giving us a signal that we've been heard, like raising their eyes to meet ours. Sometimes it amounts to more, like changing a behavior, or taking the initiative to do something without having to be reminded multiple times. (If you've ever met a boy under age 18, you are no doubt familiar with this challenge.) When we do get a response, it tells us we are building a bridge between our minds and theirs. Think of how a bridge can be used by people to advance or retreat. The key point of communicating with boys is to give them a bridge, a way to connect with us when they need to. Sure, at times they may choose to withdraw, but a well-built bridge will invite boys across time and again. To build this bridge, we must know something about the minds of boys, and that is largely the focus of Part I of this book. We will especially need to understand how listening style, apprehension, social awkwardness, and sometimes adolescent self-absorption, can be roadblocks to that bridge. It has become popular to refer to these problems as pathologies (diagnosable conditions), but the problem with that perspective is that it makes all of boyhood a "disease." I believe this is a serious problem - for us more than them.

Our number one priority is to get through to boys so that our support and guidance can fully register. Yet being an effective communicator has another important benefit: we become role models for boys so that in time they can replicate our good communication strategies. Good teachers use empathy and strategy to create a connection with their students all the time.

Whenever we are communicating well, we are also teaching.

Form and Content

I've already described two types of communication, instrumental and social, and emphasized that, in this book, we want to work on the social type. Communication also has two dimensions that are critical to remember: form and content. If we focus exclusively on the content of communication (what it is that we want to say), we lose awareness of the form of our communication. By form, I mean the way we say things (the tone, volume, and speed of our speech). I also mean how we use nonverbal signals like facial expressions and body language. Although most people focus intently on what they want to say, they pay much less attention to the way they speak. When we feel as though our words have been misunderstood, it's often the case that the tone of our speech, facial expressions, and body language told a different story than our words.

Major hint: It is the form of communication that resonates deeply for boys, and which they remember for hours and days after a conversation. This is Rule #1, and I’ll remind you of it often. Your tone is “louder” than your words. How you say things lingers longer than what you say.

Boys remember the way that you looked at them after reviewing a report card, and they remember the sound of your voice when you congratulated them after a sporting event, and how that way of speaking differed from the way you sounded after the school play. Most boys are sensitive to the tone of your voice, and the emotions conveyed by your face. By the way, it's not only an angry tone or look we need to think about. Boys are especially sensitive to signals that suggest they are not smart, or need to be treated like a "child." Even when you want to respond to their apparent immaturity, remember that you are building a relationship fueled by respect. More on this massively important topic later.

If I had a choice between giving you the skills to change the form of your communication or telling you exactly what to say, I would choose the former. (Fortunately, I'm going to have a chance to advise on both!) I think it would surprise many, but the truth is that boys listen better to people who take charge of the nonverbal signals in their communication. You have probably heard many times, in self-help books or on television, that nonverbal communication is as important as verbal communication. This is true, and in this book, I want to be very specific about what that means for communicating with boys. When we talk about vocal tone and nonverbal signaling, such as eye contact, I'll be emphasizing exactly how your voice and face "set the table" for great conversations.

Taking them seriously is the single most important and significant privilege you grant a young person.

Good communication also relies on emotional intelligence. Essentially, we must detect what other people are thinking or feeling and know how to respond to those thoughts and feelings. Everybody knows people who do this well, and there is usually at least one person in most families who has this type of intuition. An entire science of emotional intelligence (EQ) has emerged in research, and many books have been written on this topic. EQ begins with excellent self-awareness, and an understanding of how you come across to other people. As you work with the ideas in this book, I want you to become a student of your own communication. It's not enough to know that you effectively get through to people; I want you to become aware of what you're doing right, and when you're communicating well. It's that sort of awareness that takes you to the next level and inspires confidence and creativity. And, by the way, as you learn strategies for getting through to the important boys in your life, you'll notice that these skills are extremely helpful when it comes to communicating with others as well. Remember that your voice and speech are extensions of what is in your mind. Each of us knows this intuitively, which is why we pay such close attention to the way other people talk when we want to understand what they are thinking or feeling. This is also why people can sometimes become offended by another person's words: tone gives words an "edge." Most of us take communication very personally. Words are more than abstractions; they come from the deepest places of belief and emotion. That's why we go over another person's phrasing again and again in our mind - especially when there has been a conflict of some sort. As most of us have learned, it's hard to retract your words once they've been spoken. Boys may act indifferent to what we say, but they are absorbing the feeling of words and tone, and they're using those signals to draw conclusions about us.

Table of Contents


Part I: Strategies and Techniques for Talking
Chapter 1: What Is Good Communication?
Chapter 2: Is He Hearing You?
Chapter 3: What's He Thinking?
Chapter 4: Great Beginnings
Chapter 5: Vocal Tone and Eye Contact

Part II: Deepening the Conversation
Chapter 6: Authenticity - Helping Boys Become Themselves
Chapter 7: Boys and Work
Chapter 8: Keys to Motivation
Chapter 9: Therapy with Boys

Appendix: Fifty Purposeful Work Ideas
About the Author
A Note about the Publisher

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Adam Cox unpacks in simple language the intricacies of communicating with boys. As a teacher of boys I learnt from every page – the book is an educational revelation resulting from remarkable face to face research, and provides an exceptional tool to help parents and teachers understand what makes boys tick."
— David Anderson B.A, Dip TG, B.Ed, Cert. of Care, Sydney Australia IBSC Jarvis/Hawley Award Baltimore USA 2017

"Cracking the Boy Code offers a thoughtful, accessible guide to developing meaningful communication with the boys in our lives. Adam Cox’s insights, grounded in practical wisdom cultivated over decades of clinical work with boys, provide readers with compelling possibilities for using non-verbal cues, tone of voice, hands-on activity, and empathetic listening to connect with boys in a manner both deep and enduring. Above all, Cracking the Boy Code recognizes that boys have a lot on their minds, and urges all of us to take them seriously as potential partners in dialogue. Dr. Cox’s latest work is both inspiring and instructive."
— Dr. John M. Botti, Head of School, The Browning School

"Adam Cox’s Cracking the Boy Code will become a go to resource for parents, caregivers, teachers and professionals. His deep understanding of boys and how to provide what they need from the adults in their lives, is reflected in each chapter with positive, sage advice and strategies. The real benefactors of this book will be boys, who have adults in their lives who read this book!."
— Mary Gauthier: Executive Director, Greenwood Centre for Teaching and Learning, Greenwood College School, Toronto

"Adam Cox is surely the most important and original writer today on raising boys to be good men. Cracking the Boy Code is full of wisdom about the way boys communicate, think and relate. This is a powerful guide for parents, educators and counselors who strive to help boys be their best selves."
— Bradley Adams is the past Executive Director of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition and is now an educational consultant

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