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Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood Hardcover – May 26, 1998
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What are little boys made of? In Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood author and psychologist William Pollack presents his findings from almost 20 years of clinical work and his recently completed study examining contemporary boyhood and the ways boys manifest their social and emotional disconnection through anger and violence. There's a code of boy behavior, Pollack says--an unspoken "boy code" that teaches boys how to act and demands that they cover up their emotions. But the author submits that boys are lonely, they are loyal, they are depressed, they struggle with self-esteem issues, they are at risk, they need to be understood, and they need to be listened to. Boys can be empathetic and sensitive, Pollack stresses, as he effectively and convincingly disabuses readers of a number of myths: that testosterone controls a boy's behavior; that boys should fit into a gender stereotype of masculinity; and that boys are toxic, "psychologically unaware, emotionally unsocialized creatures."
Real Boys presents more than the problems of modern boyhood, it also provides advice and assistance--ways for parents to talk with their sons, read their moods and emotions, and help them become confident, empowered men with genuine voices of their own. --Ericka Lutz
From Publishers Weekly
In a lucidly written primer for parents, Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor Pollack dismantles what he terms "the Boy Code"?society's image of boys as tough, cool, rambunctious and obsessed with sports, cars and sex. These stereotypes, he argues, thwart creativity and originality in boys. Linking clinical insights to practical suggestions, Pollack advises caregivers how to help boys repair their fragile self-esteem, develop empathy and explore their sensitive sides. Drawing on his clinical experience as well as an ongoing Harvard research project, he offers advice on "attention deficit disorder"? which, he maintains, is often a misdiagnosis for normal high-energy behavior? recognizing signs of depression, discouraging violence and helping boys cope with their parents' divorce. In discussing homosexuality, he notes that many of the assumptions of the psychiatric profession have been shown to be incorrect, such as that homosexuality was abnormal, a psychological disorder. Pollack's glorification of sports as an arena for self-transformation and emotional openness is counterbalanced by his recognition that athletics often encourages brutal competitiveness. His proposal that schools adopt curricula "on traditionally 'male' and 'female' topics" to spark separately the interests of boys and girls seems at odds with his own imperative to break through gender stereotypes. On balance, though, his manual is enlightening and stimulating. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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What the author calls "The Boy Code" is what Steven Covey would probably call using efficiency rather than effectiveness as a goal in raising males. The problem is that efficiency leaves the boy with a limited arsenal when it comes to understanding and taking responsibility for his own emotional life. It certainly leaves the boy with limited resources when it comes to understanding or helping others who are wrestling with problems in their own inner life. The lie of "The Boy Code" is that recognizing one's own "negative" emotions is a self-indulgence that simply makes a person weak, a weakness that is permissible in famales, but not in males. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We don't do our boys any favors by teaching them to ignore their own emotions. We also do them a disservice if we let the expectations learned from females dictate what kind of emotional life we expect of males. I know men who live by what this book is espousing. They aren't "wimps", as some reviewers have implied that boys raised in this way will be. They are adults who understand their own emotions well enough to not be unknowingly ruled by them. They know when they are angry, they can admit when they feel fear, and they know how to choose to act under those circumstances, rather than simply reacting, which is what people who refuse to acknowledge their own inner life tend to do. They are certainly not men who expect themselves to experience emotion in the same way as their wives or other women in their lives do, nor do they feel some authority to dictate emotional taboos to other men. They process their emotions in their own ways, they let others do the same, and they don't apologize for it.
I wouldn't, however, limit the observations in this book to boys. There are women and girls who, for whatever reason, have learned to live by what the author calls "The Boy Code." There are men who don't process their emotions as this book implies that men raised in earlier decades will. For that reason, I would caution that the reader not presume after reading this book that he or she now "understands men." The book gives tools for understanding others and helping them to understand themselves, and points out some ineffective but "efficient" ways that people often use in dealing with strong emotion. Knowing these common human patterns isn't a substitute for paying attention to the actions and emotional style of the person you're actually dealing with.
The reviewers who complain that the book takes a great many pages to repeat the same story over and over have a point. A reader who does not want or need so many examples to get the author's point won't lose much by simply skimming the book after the first 100-200 pages or so.
I especially liked the "mix" of sound research and practical advice. The book has the depth that a foremost clinical psychologist can provide, but at the same time it's not overly theoretical. There are lots of practical suggestions that I know will help me do a better job working with boys.
I can't quite give the book five stars for two main reasons: First, the book is sometimes a little verbose and repetitive; second, while the first several chapters are a very easy and fascinating read, I found the later chapters a little "flatter" (again, more repetition than new insights). Nonetheless, I really think that many teachers, coaches, and mentors (besides parents, of course) could benefit greatly from reading this book. Strongly recommended.
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