Never was the difference between the handling of boys vs. girls more humorously apparent than during a park visit a while back. I held Laurel’s hand as she crossed a suspended balance beam repeating, “Go slowly Laurel, be careful!” (The suspension cables looked particularly unforgiving.) Minutes later, as we crossed the next obstacle, we saw a father jumping up and down alongside his son (who was of a similar toddler/preschooler size) at the balance beam, saying “Go! Go! Go! Run across as fast as you can!”
No doubt boys and girls are raised differently, and they also have different needs, some of which have trouble getting fulfilled in our current societal structure. This topic has not escaped the pros, and this morning, Jon (my husband) steps in with a guest post, offering his impressions of the PBS documentary Raising Cain: Boys in Focus.
“It’s a strange time to be a boy in America. Male stereotypes of the past generally (and happily) have gone by the wayside, but haven’t found a good replacement. Most boys do not have male role models at daycare or in school. And when they look at the wider world, whom do they see? Kobe Bryant? Bill Gates? George Bush? It’s pretty slim pickings.
In the PBS documentary Raising Cain: Boys in Focus, Boston-area psychologist Michael Thompson (co-author of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys) examines many of the challenges facing boys and their parents. He presents a range of stories that span infant development to high school graduation, and that come from poor urban communities as well as wealthy suburbs. The stories are informative, poignant, and sometimes troubling. We get a hopeful glimpse inside an alternative all-boys school in New York where boys are taught that intelligence and creativity are virtues. But we also see a football coach intensely berating a young boy for crying. We see a boy who can’t sit still long enough to make it through a class. And we meet a teenager who is on the brink of going to prison, walking on the edge of a criminal life.
Thompson presents a number of compelling ideas, some of which seem counter-intuitive. He says that we need to not be scared off by boys’ tendencies toward seemingly violent play because, for most boys, play violence is not a precursor of real violence. He points out that our school systems are demanding longer and longer periods of quiet, focused activity, which tend to be more difficult for boys. And most critically, he says that boys need adults in their lives who can help them learn to recognize and express their emotions.”