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the eric update - day 236: on raising cain?

there's nothing quite like having an infant son to focus one's mind on weighty questions, such as what it means to be a boy today? the statistics tell part of the unsettling story and there's a growing cadre of theorists who theorize that if you're looking for root causes as to why boys under the age of 18 are responsible for about one-fifth of the violent crime in the u.s., one might look towards how they are taught to express their emotions and relate to others.

why is is that, even today, when evidence exists that newborn boys are generally more emotionally expressive than girls, evidence also seems to indicate that although 2nd grade boys are more emotionally stressed when listening to a crying baby, they're less capable in handling their emotions and attempt to avoid the source of the emotional conflict? ( for now, we'll just assume that's factual since it's cited in the statistics , but no attribution is given for source research. )

raising cain was first published in 1999 and , according the publisher, "...through moving case studies and cutting-edge research Raising Cain paints a portrait of boys systematically steered away from their emotional lives by adults and the peer "culture of cruelty"--boys who receive little encouragement to develop qualities such as compassion, sensitivity, and warmth."

i'm not going to really argue with the merits of the assumptions of the book, with regards to the emotional depths that your average man is capable of reaching and how that might be related to early parental and societal conditioning. i think it's probably safe to say that while it might not be the only root cause of the effects , it's still probably an area of focus which is amenable to much improvement.

i guess whether or not "raising cain" is successful providing remedies to the situation depends on whether or not you think that advice like, "teach your boys that there are many ways to be a man" is really that insightful. and even if there was a modicum of insight in the platitude, what exactly does it mean and how does one actually teach it in a world that doesn't really reinforce the principle?

i mean, what would we do if we succeeded in nurturing the most sensitive and empathetic of boys, only discover that he's had his nose broken on the playground because word got out that he wanted to play dorothy in the wizard of oz?

unrelatedly ( and it might be an overly unfair nit), it appears that "raising cain" and many other books in this genre were written soon after the wildly successful "reviving ophelia" and i can't help but think that "raising cain" was slapdashed together after the pitch was made to the publisher, "you know it'll be like 'reviving ophelia', but for boys, now if we can just find a psychologist or two to fill it with 'moving case studies'...";

so, in the end, "raising cain" does an adequate job of raising important issues, but i certainly wouldn't consider it the final word on the topic.

more...

Boys to men: emotional miseducation
The Focus Shifts to Raising Boys
raising our sons
the emotional life of boys
The Wonder of Boys

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2/25/2005 09:51:00 PM 2 comments

2 Comments:

I am raising ONLY boys and I haven’t thought to read any of these. I will definitely check them out! I do wonder about families who have both girls and boys. Do they typically discipline them unequally? I know one family with two boys and one girl, and the girl definitely gets disciplined differently. She hardly ever gets spanked, while the boys do. And, not surprisingly, the boys are tough and will hit when angry and the girl is the “good” one who has more self control. Hmmm. But, unfortunately, that’s why their parents think they deserve to be spanked more than the girl. What a vicious cycle. I do think that perhaps people’s ingrained stereotypes of boys is why there are so many troubled and violent teenage boys out there. We unknowingly assume that boys have to be tough from an early age.

By Blogger Candy, at 10:45 AM  

Have you read Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen? He's a children's play therapist and also a dad. His theory is that boys need to be helped to express and process their feelings of vulnerability while girls need to be helped to process their feelings of power and anger. He's got concrete ideas about how to respond to kids in certain situations to allow them to explore the scary feelings without being punished for them and without letting them overwhelm. It's really geared for kids 3 years old and up (to probably age, oh, 25 or so), but I read it when my son was just over a year and it helped me formulate a plan in my own head for dealing with the frustrating toddler stages. I felt the best strength of the book (aside from the many examples of things Cohen has done with clients, mistakes and successes he's had with his daughter, and stories of families he's worked with) is that it helps you look at children's acting out as an immature attempt to get more closeness and connection, instead of something done to make you angry. I think that if we can continue to help our son play through his bad feelings he'll end up less emotionally suppressed and better equipped to deal with the culture and negative messages outside our apartment.

By Blogger Moxie, at 12:06 PM  

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