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Friday, 21 September 2012

Real Boys: Something Every Parent of Boys Should Know

I'm sometimes taken aback by the roles cast by our culture for our boys and young men. Why is it that we encourage girls to move beyond roles deemed "traditionally feminine," say to use a toolbox or excel at sports, while boys who have preferences or qualities outside those considered "traditionally masculine," we view as weak or deficient?

Don't agree? Just think about that boy who cries a lot, publicly. Or imagine a boy who is utterly hopeless at anything athletic. Even if you don't shy away from these qualities, you've certainly thought, "Others will make fun of him," and worried for his emotional safety. I'm right, right?

Real Boys' Voices
A mother of four young boys, I was thrilled to stumble across the book Real Boys' Voices (RBV) by Dr. William S. Pollack (Random House, 2000). As a practising psychologist and research academic, Dr. Pollack has spent decades listening to North American men and boys open up about themselves and the pressures they feel. RBV is the follow-up book to Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons From the Myths of Boyhood, in which he walks the lay-reader through his analysis of what fundamental impact normative conceptions of "masculinity" have on boys.

RBV carries the same message as Real Boys, but as told through hundreds of first-person insights offered by boys in interviews. The message is simple, yet profound and disturbing: sensing that only a narrow spectrum of "masculine" emotions are available to them, our boys shut down and suppress much of their feelings, and manifest their fear, pain and sadness in forms condoned as "masculine," namely as anger, detachment and physical violence.

But, Dr. Pollack stresses, there is hope. If we create safe spaces for our boys, listen to them and let them open up in their own way, we can let them know that they can live beyond the "real boy" code of behaviour. Though heavy on the first-person accounts, RBV offers lots of practical tips on ways to help boys feel emotionally safe, how to open the door to conversations and what signs or signals our boys might be giving us if they're feeling lost or depressed.

Having read Real Boys' Voices, I feel better equipped to help my sons navigate the oft-confusing labyrinth of growing up male, and I really recommend Dr. Pollack's work for anyone raising and nurturing a boy.

Do you have a "lightbulb" book when it comes to parenting your boy or girl?

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