The Wonder of Boys: What Parents, Mentors and Educators can do to Shape Boys into Exceptional Men by Michael Gurian
This is an interesting book that was introduced to me by a Boy Scouts of America trainer. My wife and I both read it, and came away with better understandings about how boys are different, and what approaches we need to think about differently. What follows is not a concise summary or review of the book, but key points and takeaways.
The first section of the book makes it very clear that boys are different from girls, and not because we nurture them to be, but by nature. It cites research about increased testosterone in the brain during development that leads the right side to grow faster, leading to increased focus on spatial relationships and activity (including math). While girls’ more balanced brain improves reading, verbal, and social skills.
Boys thrive in and need competition. They must find ways to compete and see themselves as performing well. If society does not provide them with these opportunities, they will compete against society itself through drugs and gangs. Boys also show empathy differently. Since they are usually focused and task oriented, you can teach them to show delayed empathy, like after the play or game.
One of the key insights in the book is that boys need 3 families:
- The birth family who raises the kid.
- Extended families, including teachers, friends, and close role models.
- Community, church, and other large groups providing social norms.
Where have all the values gone? The answer is perfectly simple. We’re lonesome. We don’t have enough friends or relatives anymore.
In our study of children of divorce, we didn’t see a single child who was well-adjusted. And we didn’t see a single child to whom divorce was not the central event of their lives.
On some fathers seeming detached (perhaps more of a 90s problem?):
An evolutionary view of the father-son relationship reveals that the key problem in our age is not that once upon a time individual fathers were deeply intimate with sons and now they are not. It is better summed up, once upon a time men in general were intimate with boys through male kinship systems involving fathers, uncles, grandfathers and mentors. Now those systems are pretty much broken down, leaving dad to be the only king a son has but forced to work most of the time; often at a job that makes him feel more like a mule than a king….Both mothers and fathers must seek their own support systems, and both must let the other go.
Poem by Douglas A MacArthur:
Build me a son, O Lord,
who will be strong enough to know when he is weak,
and brave enough to face him self when he is afraid;
one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat,
and humble and gentle in victory.
Build me a son whose wishbone will not be
where his backbone should be;
a son who will know Thee- and that
to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.
Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort,
but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge.
Here, let him learn to stand up in the storm;
here, let him team compassion for those who fall.
Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goals will be high;
a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men;
one who will learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep;
one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.
And after all these things are his,
add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor,
so that he may always be serious,
yet never take himself too seriously.
Give him humility, so that he may always remember
the simplicity of true greatness,
the open mind of true wisdom,
the meekness of true strength.
Then I, his father, will dare to whisper,
“I have not lived in vain.”
The book talks a lot about guiding boys through a hero’s journey that shows the coming of age story, and what it means to be a man. He discusses Jack and the Beanstalk in these terms, where he’s sent to market, and ends up saving the family.
If boys appear to be spending too much time in a single task, the way to take them out of it is by offering a replacement with them, rather than setting a time limit.
Techniques for healthy discipline:
- Show the effect of his inappropriate action.
- Redirect aggressive energies to an inanimate object. (pillow)
- Use a stern tone of voice.
- Give a time out.
- Choose a diversion or distraction.
- Ignore his refusal. Can remind after a minute.
- Provide choices. Negotiate.
- Take away privileges
- Use positive expectations. “You can do it.”
- Make things into games whenever possible.
- Focus boys on the challenge of the task. Can you make it a game?
- Teach through mistakes.
Regarding sexuality. Teach about the difference between sex, love, and commitment. Teach them how to think about sex. Talk about abstinence and virginity, birth control, pregnancy and its impact, and abortion. Teach boys codes of relating: “If you say this to a girl she might think.”
As my personal takeaways from the book, it made me realize that the boys needed have have more time with “extended family,” which includes good friends, and role models. It made me better appreciate the role of sports and competition. It made me better prepared for upcoming, important puberty talks.