Thursday, January 7, 2010

PBS Parents - Emotionally Strong Boys

PBS Parents offers some companion posts to go along with Raising Cain, their documentary of the plight of boys in America, which come from the book on which the film is based. Below is one of their postings on how to raise emotionally strong boys.

As much as people have rejected the Freudian assertion that dysfunction in children (and adults - the classic mother complex that Jung formulated based on his studies under Freud) is the mother's fault, more and more research in the field of interpersonal neurobiology is showing that infant attachment to the parental figure (mother, father, grandparent) is crucial for healthy emotional development.

The question, then, is do we raise our boys different than girls, from the very beginning? Do we fail to recognize, as this article points out in the sidebar below, that male infants are more emotionally vulnerable than females, and in doing so, do we set them up for a lifetime of rejecting the emotional part of themselves?

Tough questions with no clear answers, but these are things we need to be looking at in the research.

Emotionally Strong Boys

How do we help our boys express their feelings and grow up to be unafraid of them? How do we help them understand that they can be masculine — and have feelings too? How do we help them survive the tests of masculinity intact and on their own terms? In the book Raising Cain, co-authors Michael Thompson, Ph.D. and Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. present the following strategies, designed to help parents nurture and protect the emotional lives of their boys, to respect their interests and needs, and help them grow up to be caring, intelligent, successful men.

Strategies from Raising Cain

An excerpt from the book, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, by Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. and Michael Thompson, Ph.D.

  • Give boys permission to have an internal life, approval for the full range of human emotions, and help in developing an emotional vocabulary so that they may better understand themselves and communicate more effectively with others. "The simple idea here is that you consciously speak to a boy's internal life all the time, whether he is aware of it or not. You respect it, you take it into account, you make reference to it, you share your own. There is something of the prophecy fulfilled here. That is, if you act as if your son has an internal life — if you assume that he does, along with every other human being — then soon he will take it into account."

  • Recognize and accept the high activity level of boys and give them safe boy places to express it. "Many parents of boys do embrace the physicality of boys… some do not. Most teachers of boys also love boys; some, unfortunately, do not. Boys are tremendously sensitive to adults who do not have a reasonable tolerance level for boy energy, and when they do sense that a person has a low threshold of boy tolerance, they usually respond to it as a challenge...Boys need to learn how to manage their physicality to do no harm, but they need not be shamed for exuberance."

  • Talk to boys in their language — in a way that honors their pride and their masculinity. Be direct with them; use them as consultants and problem solvers. "Because boys are miseducated to fear excessive feeling and vulnerability, it is important to communicate with them in a way that honors their wish for strength and does not shame them… Is communicating with boys sometimes difficult? Yes, it often is. Is it impossible? Almost never. Only with the most angry, contemptuous, and suspicious boys is conversation impossible. If you are willing to ask consultative questions, put your emotional cards on the table, and not be disappointed by brief answers, you can communicate with boys. "

More Strategies from Raising Cain

(Reprinted with permission from Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. and Michael Thompson, PhD. Copyright 1999, 2000 by Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. and Michael Thompson, Ph.D. Reprinted by arrangement with Ballantine Books, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.)

Here is some cool stuff from the sidebar on this post.

Watch the Video

video preview image

View the latest research on boys' emotional development.


Research Report: Vulnerable Boys

Research Report: Vulnerable Boys

Katherine Weinberger, Ph.D., a researcher featured in the PBS documentary Raising Cain, suggests that boys are more vulnerable and less resilient than girls in the first few months of life.

"Weinberg found that a higher proportion of girls could calm themselves when their mother's face displayed a 'stony expression' (as opposed to a warm one) — but that the boys could not. More boys would get easily distressed, they cried more frequently, and were unable to calm themselves. While we somehow expect boys to be 'tough,' this evidence shows them to actually be extremely vulnerable. This proves what we've known for years — that boys feel a full range of emotions — even those considered 'not masculine' like fear, shame, humiliation, and uncertainty. If everyone understood (as research now shows) that boys possess some emotional vulnerabilities that girls do not, would they raise them differently?"

Michael Thompson, Ph.D.

Co-Author, Raising Cain; Host, PBS documentary, RAISING CAIN

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