Mapping the journey from boy to man
"A boy can become a male adult, physically and socially, but he isn't a man until he has become loving, wise, and responsible. In terms of the individual, every boy has within himself and within his family and his community, a code of manhood that is trying to emerge ... " - Michael Gurian, author of 'The Good Son: Shaping the Moral Development of Our Boys and Young Men,' in an interview with the Monitor's Brad Knickerbocker, page 14.Skip to next paragraph
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For years, Michael Gurian has worked with families, school districts, churches, and criminal- justice agencies - as well as in his private practice as a family therapist in Spokane, Wash. - on problems of raising boys. He's written several books on the subject, including "The Wonder of Boys" and "A Fine Young Man." His latest book, "The Good Son: Shaping the Moral Development of our Boys and Young Men," asserts that the causes of - and the solutions to - such problems are societal, involving all Americans.
Here are excerpts from a recent interview:
Having studied 30 cultures around the world, and lived in seven, you've come to the conclusion that American boys "have the least moral development of any boys in the world." What are the evidences of that?
We imprison more males than any other developed country except Russia. In our schools we have more discipline problems and more visits of our children - 90 percent of them males - to the principal's office than in any other developed country.
What do you see as the root causes of this?
No. 1 would certainly be the breakdown of the three-family system - and by that I mean the nuclear family, the extended family, and the communal family.
The advantage of American individualism is immense creativity and technological development, and we're the richest country in the world.
But the disadvantage of Jeffersonian individualism is that in child-raising we don't spend time on bonds in the three families.... We're ending up with kids being raised with one parent, no extended family, and going to a school with 2,500 kids in it. And that means less chance for moral development.
More specifically, we're not sitting together at the dinner table talking about right and wrong. [We're seeing] a 10-year-old who goes into his room and closes the door and gets on the Internet, or a 12-year-old who spends two hours a day playing the video game "Cardinal Sin."
Those are symptoms of the fact that many of the systems are breaking down by which moral development was a daily occurrence in the life of a child.
A recent survey found that twice as many youngsters say it's easier to talk to their mothers than their fathers about drugs. What does this say about a dad's role in the moral development of boys?
At first impression it sounds like it's saying the mother is the one that boys should turn to. But I think what it's saying is that the father isn't close enough.
A lot of these teen boys are yearning to talk with their dads. The divorced dad sees his kids, on average, two days a month, so that's a third of the boys right there who aren't close to their dads.
At a certain point, an adolescent boy starts pulling away from his mother and he needs his dad to be teaching moral development. At 14 or so they really need elder males - fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and other male mentors - to teach them moral development.
At a certain point, what the mother can give them ends and they've got to get the lessons from men about what it means to be a man. Big Brother, scouts, a coach, a church leader, an older brother, a teacher, or counselor - somebody who becomes emotionally intimate with a child.
Why is it important that that individual be male?
Boys are really hungry for male attention. That's primal, and that's natural. I find it in every culture. As the boy hits puberty, he starts looking to men, and it's the culture's job to provide him with men. That means his dad, but it doesn't just mean his dad. At some point he'll start rebelling against his dad.