Helping our Boys Become Fine Young Men
Every evening on the news, stories of violence and crime reflect a society mired in chaos. Gunplay, robberies, and gangs seem to dominate the headlines, and the perpetrators, more often than not, are young men. When I see yet another young face in handcuffs, I think, "That is someone's son. How do his parents feel right now? Do they know their child at all? Is it possible to raise a boy to be a good man in this crazy world?"
Author and family therapist Michael Gurian says, "Yes, but it takes work." He calls today's state of affairs a "moral emergency," and the only way that boys can become loving, compassionate, and wise men is for us to consciously shape their moral development. "Our boys are in trouble," he writes in the introduction to
The Good Son, a supportive and comprehensive guide for parents. "My fear for them grows."
His fear seems justified. More Americans per capita commit violent crimes on a daily basis than in any other country; 90 percent of them are male. More children than anywhere else get arrested for crimes; 90 percent of them are boys. When it comes to acting out against the pain of abuse and/or neglect, boys are ten times more likely to be violent than girls. In the United States, more boys and young men are incarcerated in juvenile detention, prison, and psychiatric hospitals than in any other nation. Though
The Good Son begins with these rather grim statistics, it goes on to provide a balance of practical advice and success stories from Gurian's own practice.
Gurian's "good parenting principles" are based on the idea that girls and boys require different kinds of nurturing. While girls may seek support when hurt, boys tend to withdraw and hide their pain, making it difficult for them to stay emotionally open. Further, he claims that boys are aggressive by nature and require specific kinds of attention to direct that aggression into positive, nonviolent activities.
In his previous books,
The Wonder of Boys and A Fine Young Man, Gurian covered many of the current theories on male biology and culture. The Good Son, however, has a more practical focus, providing parents with the tools they need to help them raise good men. Divided into three stages -- from birth to age 6, from 7 to 12, and from 13 to 18 -- The Good Son informs parents of what to expect as their son enters each successive stage of development. The discussion of each stage begins with a list of behaviors that fall under the "range of normal," which will have some parents exhaling with relief. Yes, it's normal for a boy to back talk, or to tell a few minor lies at 7 and 8. It's also normal for teenage boys to enjoy activities that parents find distressing, like dirt-biking or watching professional wrestling. Some "bad" behaviors, like lying and stealing, are simply ways of pushing the boundaries of a boy's environment. When a boy gets in trouble, rather than (or in addition to) punishing him, parents should take the opportunity to teach what is right. What matters most is that a boy is learning from his parents how to be a good person who respects others.
Beginning in infancy, it is possible for a parent to help develop a boy's "moral intelligence" by providing a safe space emotionally. Many parents believe that overpraising a child or giving him too much attention will make him narcissistic and arrogant, but Gurian disagrees. While that may be true later in life, he says, it is not possible to praise a child enough during the first two years of life. An infant needs constant contact and validation to develop a healthy neural web. These neural connections form as a child sends out signals and receives a response -- for love, for food, for whatever it needs. If a child repeatedly sends out a signal and does not get a response, he feels unloved, defective, and wrong. In fact, Gurian theorizes that narcissism actually develops because of emotional neglect during this primary stage of development; to compensate for the neglect, the child will act out selfishly and inappropriately.
As the child gets older, parents can engage him in debates over what is right and wrong. Reinforcing a "moral code" establishes a sense of order that a boy can adhere to in times of stress. Gurian does not shy away from discussing spiritual matters, and cites God as a useful parenting ally. You cannot shield your son from the difficult choices presented by his peers, but a solid moral foundation will guide him to the right decisions.
The evening news might not be so grim if boys were guided and consciously shown how to be good men, reasons Gurian.
The Good Son provides a wealth of information, from understanding male neurochemistry to how to deal with shoplifting. Gurian's wisdom will give parents and caretakers insight into the minds and hearts of their boys. But insight is not enough if we want the violence to stop -- we must also rise to the occasion.
Jessica Leigh Lebos
Gurian (A Fine Young Man), one of today's premier writers on the subject of male development, moves beyond the realm of sociological and psychological analysis (offered in Eli Newberger's fine The Men They Will Become, see p. 71) to provide a timely and practical parenting guide. Focusing specifically on the subject of moral development--a matter of hot debate in the wake of such tragedies as the Columbine High School shooting--Gurian writes from his own experience as a family therapist. Citing an "increase in ethical numbness, moral distraction, and spiritual emptiness among boys and young men," he examines the roots of potential problems--such as the abandonment of our children's moral development to "potentially toxic" visual media--and then lays out a well-organized blueprint for ushering boys into adulthood. Gurian discusses such topics as biological and neurological development as well as building spiritual life and dealing with media influence (for example, he notes that a boy of nine or 10 should not "see images he cannot or should not experience with his own body and soul at this time in his life"). Gurian concludes with a list of age-appropriate books and movies that "stimulate moral growth in boys." Parents and caregivers will welcome the direction and reassurance of this outstanding book in their efforts to guide boys "toward loving, wise, and responsible manhood--the compassionate life." (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This important book for parents drafts a blueprint, spanning birth through young adulthood, for raising boys who are ethical, responsible, decent, and capable of making good choices and decisions. Gurian begins by tackling the challenges parents and other adults face. After discussing the physiology of malesbrain development, hormonal changesGurian looks at the question, "Are we protecting our sons from moral harm?" The author concludes with his "good son parenting principles." Subsequent chapters are organized by ages and stages in a boy's life. Gurian covers developmental issues, and the range of what is normal during a particular stage, and "rules to live by." When discussing preadolescence through preadulthood (defined as seventeen years old and beyond), Gurian stresses the significance of adult men in addition to fathers to serve as mentors. The importance of programs for youthBoy Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothersalso is touched upon. The author emphasizes the spiritual life of boys, whether within an institutional church or not, and rites of passage. Gurian also devotes attention to those boys living either with a single or divorced parent. Helpful appendixes cite books and movies by ages or stages to stimulate moral growth in boys and list additional resources for parents. Although chapters might seem overly prescriptive, there is still latitude for parents to formulate rules that better fit their own values. The author's strong belief in the "nature" side of the "nature versus nurture" argument attributes behavioral differences between girls and boys to differences in brain growth and hormonesgender comparisons that would have been useful throughout the book. Thereismuch food for thought here. Youthserving professionals undoubtedly will profit from the chapters on teens. Public libraries and parent resource centers will want to shelve this title along with others offering differing points of view. Index. Biblio. Source Notes. Further Reading. Appendix. 1999, Tarcher/Putnam, Ages Adult, 392p, $24.95. Reviewer: Sue Rosenzweig
Here are two solid books with practical advice on how to raise well-adjusted, ethical young boys. The Good Son is the culminating third volume of Gurian's best-selling series (The Wonder of Boys, A Fine Young Man) about raising young males to become responsible men. Like many recent scholars, such as Gad Cudner (Small Criminal Among Us), Gurian offers ethical explanations of youth violence: his "good son parenting plan" revolves around morality and discipline. Astutely synthesizing Jean Piaget's cognitive and Lawrence Kohlberg's moral stages of development, he gives detailed guidelines for instilling "good virtues" during each of three stages of moral development: obedience (birth to six), convention (seven to 12), and moral intuition (13 to 18). On the other hand--and in contrast to Donald Black (Bad Boys, Mad Men: Confronting Antisocial Personality Disorder, LJ 3/1/99), who emphasizes genetic attribution--Newberger (pediatrics, Harvard Medical Sch.) thinks that the best explanation for boys' misbehavior is the interplay of biological drives and "character" development. He claims that boys are born with malleable "innate temperaments" that can be transformed into positive "male characteristics" such as self-control, courage, honesty, and sportsmanship. In short, boys can become leaders without resorting to violence. Both Gurian and Newberger use anecdotes to show that raising good sons need not be difficult, and their books are timely, insightful additions to the current debate on youth violence and school shootings. Recommended for public and academic libraries.--Chogollah Maroufi, California State Univ., Los Angeles Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
A practical guide for parents in raising sons to become compassionate and responsible men. In calling for a "moral and ethical revival in the raising of boys," therapist Gurian, the author of two prior books about raising boys, speaks to the concern of many that our culture is failing to develop character in its young males. After examining the gender differences in male brains, hormones, and social acculturation that place them at greater risk than females, he argues that boys need more structure, discipline, guidance, and training than is commonly provided. He then spells out the details in a "Good Son Parenting Plan." The plan addresses the values of decency, fairness, empathy, self-sacrifice, respect, loyalty, service, responsibility, honesty, and honor. Each chapter tackles a stage of life: the age of obedience, comprising infancy, the toddler years, ages five and six; the age of convention: ages seven and eight, preadolescence, and prepuberty; and the age of moral intuition: puberty, the middle teens, and preadulthood. Instructive stories from a variety of sources open and close each chapterfables and myths from India, Hawaii, and East Africa, as well as personal experiences of parents and teachers. In each chapter the author traces the intellectual, emotional, and moral development occurring in that stage, and considers issues most likely to arise. He includes practical advice on dozens of issues from bedtime, television, and bullying to peer pressures, sex, drugs, and alcohol. Two features especially helpful to parents are "The Range of Normal" and "Rules to Live By," in which Gurian sums up what is to be expected in a boy's life at each stage. Appendicesprovide not only reading lists for parents but a selection of age-appropriate books and movies for stimulating moral growth in boys. A well-planned program whose nonsectarian, nonpreachy approach makes it an appropriate guide for all parents concerned about the moral development of their sons.