Topics: Boy Pages: 8 (2753 words) Published: March 30, 2010
Article 9

Boys will be Boys
Developmental research has been focused on girls; now it’s their brothers’ turn. Boys need help, too, but first they need to be understood. BY BARBARA KANTROWITZ AND CLAUDIA KALB


T WAS A CLASSIC MARS-VENUS ENCOUNTER. Only in this case, the woman

was from Harvard and the man—well, boy—was a 4-year-old at a suburban Boston nursery school. Graduate student Judy Chu was in his classroom last fall to

gather observations for her doctoral dissertation on human development. His greeting was startling: he held up his finger as if it were a gun and pretended to shoot her. “I felt bad,” Chu recalls. “I felt as if he didn’t like me.” Months later and

much more boy-savvy, Chu has a different interpretation: the gunplay wasn’t hostile—it was just a way for him to say hello. “They don’t mean it to have harsh consequences. It’s a way for them to connect.”



Article 9. Boys will be Boys

Researchers like Chu are discovering new meaning in lots of things boys have done for ages. In fact, they’re dissecting just about every aspect of the developing male psyche and creating a hot new field of inquiry: the study of boys. They’re also producing a slew of books with titles like “Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons From the Myths of Boyhood” and “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys” that will hit the stores in the next few months. What some researchers are finding is that boys and girls really are from two different planets. But since the two sexes have to live together here on Earth, they should be raised with special consideration for their distinct needs. Boys and girls have different “crisis points,” experts say, stages in their emotional and social development where things can go very wrong. Until recently, girls got all the attention. But boys need help, too. They’re much more likely than girls to have discipline problems at school and to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD). Boys far outnumber girls in special-education classes. They’re also more likely to commit violent crimes and end up in jail. Consider the headlines: Jonesboro, Ark.; Paducah, Ky.; Pearl, Miss. In all these school shootings, the perpetrators were young adolescent boys. Even normal boy behavior has come to be considered pathological in the wake of the feminist movement. An abundance of physical energy and the urge to conquer— these are normal male characteristics, and in an earlier age they were good things,

even essential to survival. “If Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer were alive today,” says Michael Gurian, author of “The Wonder of Boys,” “we’d say they had ADD or a conduct disorder.” He says one of the new insights we’re gaining about boys is a very old one: boys will be boys. “They are who they are,” says Gurian, “and we need to love them for who they are. Let’s not try to rewire them.” Indirectly, boys are benefiting from all the research done on girls, especially the landmark work by Harvard University’s Carol Gilligan. Her 1982 book, “In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development,” inspired Take Our Daughters to Work Day, along with best-selling spinoffs like Mary Pipher’s “Reviving Ophelia.” The traditional, unisex way of looking at child development was profoundly flawed, Gilligan says: “It was like having a one-dimensional perspective on a two-dimensional scene.” At Harvard, where she chairs the gender-studies department, Gilligan is now supervising work on males, including Chu’s project. Other researchers are studying mental illness and violence in boys. While girls’ horizons have been expanding, boys’ have narrowed, confined to rigid ideas of acceptable male behavior no matter how hard their parents tried to avoid stereotypes. The macho ideal still rules. “We gave boys dolls and they used them as guns,” says Gurian. “For 15 years, all we heard was that [gender differences] were...
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