The Men They Will Become
Perseus Books, 1999 (A Merloyd Lawrence Book)
- The Times (U.K) February 16, 2004
- Doody review services four star review.
- Metapsychology Online Reviews May 2003
- The Permanente Journal, Winter 2002
- Kirkus Reviews May 2001
- The Times (U.K.) February 17, 2001
- Sierra Sacramento Medicine November 2001
- The Independent School, Winter 2000
- The Times (U.K.) February 25, 2000
- The Denver Post, December 12, 1999
- Boston Globe, October 24, 1999
- Minneapolis Star Tribune, September 14, 1999
- Publisher’s Weekly, August 16, 1999
Eight years old: Age of discontent
Has your eight-year-old son suddenly become aggressive, fearful and tearful? It’s a common trait, but he will need help
DOUGLAS MUNRO was, according to his literary critic mother Eve, the sweetest boy: curious, intelligent, affectionate. “Then just before his eighth birthday there was a real change. Either he wouldn’t meet our eyes or would stare with what looked like hatred — the childish equivalent of giving us two fingers. At the same time he became remarkably clingy and would kiss me goodbye in the mornings with all the passion of a lover bidding a final farewell. He seems to be utterly miserable without being able to explain why.”
Molly Innes, a writer, says the same of her son Dominic, who has likewise just turned eight. “He has always been a lovely boy but, although he still is most of the time, he is suddenly getting terrible moods when he seems to be boiling with rage. One night he had tears in his eyes as he told me he wanted to ‘smash up the house’. And instead of running happily into school, like he used to, he wants me to wait by the gate until he is inside the building; yet when we sit down together and try to work out what is wrong he says he doesn’t know.”
Davina Roberts, a television producer, who is also experiencing the sudden onset of both tantrums and a new clinginess in her eight-year-old son Tom, says that “it is as if his fears have suddenly stopped being about monsters in the dark but about the real world — about whether London will be bombed by terrorists or what if he can’t get a job when he grows up? At other times he just screams at me that he hates me and wishes he’d never been born.”
There’s something odd going on with eight-year-old boys, a sense of profound unease that to their parents, who thought the next milestone would be adolescence, seems inexplicable.
In fact none of this behaviour surprises Eli H. Newberger, one of America’s leading experts on family development and author of the bestseller The Men They Will Become: The Nature and Nurture of the Male Character (Bloomsbury) .
He talks about the “gnawing loneliness” of the eight-year-old boy. “At this age a boy is becoming aware of a world composed of individuals and his own need to form friendships and operate successfully within it. So far his closest relationship has been with his mother, but as he looks at the male world around him he understands that this is not a role model for his friendships with other boys who operate a different set of rules that he doesn ’t yet understand. In some societies this removal of a boy from the influence of his mother into the male world is even celebrated by ritual. In the modern Western world this initiation takes place in the playground and it can be a particularly difficult transition for the more sensitive, thoughtful — feminine, if you like — boy. While girls of this age talk and talk, boys’ friendships adhere to a pecking order of dominance, and the boy is worried about where he will fit in. It is a time of great confusion and loneliness.”
At the same time physical changes are also taking place. “At around seven to eight years the adrenal gland is switched on in both boys and girls as their bodies start to prepare for puberty,” explains Peter Swift, paediatric endocrinologist at the Leicester Royal Infirmary Children’s Hospital. “The androgens — male hormones — kick in to sensitise the body and promote a fresh growth spurt. Different children react differently to this — some might act with more/less maturity, or perhaps erratically. The body will then quieten down again until puberty — 7, 14, and 20 are all big stages in terms of physical and emotional development.”
That boys are more emotionally affected than girls by this physical development is not surprising, Newberger says. “Boys are becoming very aware of their bodies, particularly in a male world where success is often measured by physical prowess. They’re also increasingly aware of their limitations. But unlike girls, they don’t have the emotional fluency to express how they are feeling, which leads them to internalise their concerns or express them physically rather than verbally. Their confusion is manifest in rages and aggression, as well as passionate clinging to their mother.”
This is partly because boys develop more slowly, but also because, even if we are unaware of it, we bring up boys differently. “When we discuss an event with our daughters we tend to talk about how people were feeling, but with our sons we stick to recalling facts,” he says. “But the shorter time a boy is left to rely on the physical rather than verbal expression of his feelings and desires, and the sooner he learns emotional language and self-control, the more likely he is to turn into a decent, likeable man.”
We should talk to our boys as much as possible, Newberger says. Best of all is to guide them towards a creative passion — music, or art. “Creative activity is non-competitive, which can be a relief after the playground, a cure for worry and a great outlet for pent-up feelings.”
However, Newberger sounds a note of caution: depression among teenage boys is a growing problem and the seeds are often sown in this pre-teen period. A government survey in 1999 among 5 to 15-year-olds found that young boys are nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression as girls – depression in children also increases the risk of teenage suicide significantly.
In boys, depression is more likely to be expressed as anger and aggression. If a boy is having more than occasional bad moods you may want to visit a GP.
Mothers sensing their sons’ increasingly ambivalent relationship towards themselves may feel that it is best to stand back and let their boys go. “Absolutely not,” Newberger says. “Take an interest in their new interests. Above all, stick with them.”
From Doody Review Services
Reviewer: Eric W. Trupin, PhD (University of Washington)
Description: In this book, the author delves into the biopsychosocial roots of boys‚ developmental issues of early attachment to the struggle for individuation of adolescence. He melds research and clinical vignettes in order to provide guidance to health providers, educators, and parents who are struggling to help boys develop into ethical and caring adults.
Purpose: This book is written to enhance the knowledge and skills of health professionals, educators, and parents in understanding the challenges that boys and their parents encounter throughout childhood and adolescence.
Audience: The intended audience (although not clearly identified by the author) is health professionals, educators, and parents who posses significant motivation to understand complex biologic and psychosocial forces that influence the development of boys.
Features: The critical issues and developmental challenges confronting boys are covered. The author, a pediatrician, integrates research findings with wonderful stories and vignettes deftly used to exemplify important aspects of boys‚ and their parents‚ struggles.
Assessment: This is an important and useful book that comes at a time when professionals and parents are highly concerned about the proliferation of youth violence. The author provides an extraordinary array of guidance supported by empirical evidence and a wealth of clinical acumen.
A work of such potential value to all parents that in a way it’s a shame it focuses on boys. Yet it’s also understandable – as a paediatrician specialising in family violence, Newberger is all too aware of how male upbringing can go badly wrong, and how wanton behaviours can reflect extremes of a general disposition. This contribution to the genre dealing with ‘the boy problem’ highlights the ubiquitous effects of what Newberger calls ‘a gender-polarising society’, with an influential media which pays equal attention to sex and to disrespect for adults. He offers many insights into the moral issues inherent to the development of character, and emphisizes the importance of letting boys talk and vent feelings – especially negative ones – as an alternative to acting out, and of not labelling such expressions as wrong. He has an uncanny knack of offering novel perspectives on simple observations, leaving the reader muttering ‘of course’ when solutions to previously intractable problems suddenly become startlingly obvious. His advice is both empathic and practical, so his suggestions on discipline focus more on the conduct the parent is trying to instil than on the punishment threatened to enforce it, with central importance given to the preservation of love and respect. As he stresses, this requires continual awareness of the qualities the parent wishes to foster, together with modelling positive behaviour and attitudes – values can be caught as well as taught. Worthy of study by all parents. (Kirkus) May 2001
One of the upsetting things about good books is that too few people read them. The Men They Will Become is one of those books that all parents and teachers of boys ought to read.
The author is a medical doctor, specifically a paediatrician, and he teaches at Harvard Medical School. He is probably best known for his work to enhance the care of maltreated children. Very early in his career he set up an interdisciplinary team at Boston Children’s Hospital to improve the care of these children. Since then, his concern has widened to encompass all aspects of child raising. This book is obviously the result of years of work with parents and teachers. It concentrates on the upbringing and education of boys from infancy to late adolescence. It is full of personal observation, case histories and homespun wisdom. Paediatric specialists would probably say that the book is nothing more than common sense but for parents and teachers there is a great deal of material which is arresting and thought-provoking. The first thing that might strike non-specialists is the very interesting discussion of temperament and character. If parents knew that their son’s character was wide open to influences from the way they brought him up, then they would be much less fatalistic. The four levels of parental awareness (Chapter 2, The Roots of Character) should be made compulsory reading for all couples expecting their first child. So many mistakes in child-rearing could be avoided if only parents thought about what they were doing and why. The sections on discipline and punishment, sharing and curiosity were also stimulating. Some chapters, however, really jumped out at me. What Newberger has to say about honesty in family relationships is deeply revealing. He makes a very interesting comparison between how the official legal processes protect witnesses by allowing them to remain silent, put the burden of proof on the complainant, make witnesses aware of the possible consequences of their testimony, distinguish direct experience from hearsay, reward honesty, avoid entrapment, etc. He then points out how frequently we break some or even all these safeguards in family and school situations and then wonder why boys begin to think that honesty is far from being the best policy.
Another section that parents and teachers ought to read is the chapter on cheating. As someone who has been a teacher for thirty-five years, I have been struck by the growing amount of cheating but I was far from prepared for the facts that Newberger reveals. Eighty-eight percent of high school students say that cheating is common; seventy-six percent of high school students admit to having cheated (ninety-two percent of them remaining undetected) with copying someone else’s work as the most common form of cheating, followed by cheating in exams, reading a summary rather than a whole book, and lastly plagiarising a published work. Collaborative work on assignments meant to be done by an individual is also common. This whole chapter is chilling reading for parents and teachers alike as they are reminded that it is they who have set the scene in which cheating flourishes. Parents who believe that the end justifies the means are, whether they are aware of it or not, inculcating the idea in their children that cheating is fine — “Just don’t get caught!” Teachers are made aware too that they are often colluding with cheating. In a system which judges teachers by the results of their students, which can pit enormous parental pressure against a school administration including the threat of litigation, cheating may turn out to be to everyone’s benefit! I have actually seen it happen so I know that Newberger’s account is right. Most cheating takes place not when the student could not do the work but because the student wants an even higher grade than he could get with his own work. When the grade is of paramount importance and the learning process is only a means to an end, cheating means happy students, contented parents, a teacher basking in the reflected glory of his students and highly satisfied school administrators! His analysis of what does lose out is interesting. The chapter’s concluding section on the effect of cheating on trust is a well argued plea for the importance of trust in personal relationships as well as in a wide variety of situations in a democratic society.
The chapter on cheating links up well with another on play and sports. As with cheating, Newberger bemoans the end justifying the means in so much sport and he is a powerful advocate for the importance of play. Other chapters on sharing, honesty, self-control, teasing and bullying, friendship, and alcohol are all equally full of sound and thought-provoking advice.
As well as a topic-based approach, the book also maintains a developmental thread so the topics are introduced at the appropriate point in a boy’s development and linked to specific stages — infancy, preschoolers, schoolboys, early adolescence, and late adolescence. This makes the book suitable for a cover-to-cover read or for use as a reference book.
The last chapter is entitled Giving Back. As might be expected from a man who spent two years working with the Peace Corps, Newberger is a passionate advocate of idealism, sharing and giving. This is an inspiring end to an inspiring book.
Any quibbles with the book? A small one. In the chapter on self-control, the author has a balanced account of ADD/ADHD, discussing to what extent it may legitimately be described as a disease and to what extent the diagnosis really applies to a state produced by temperament and upbringing. Later in the book, when he is dealing with young adolescents and ADD/ADHD, he accepts without demur that it is something for which medication is suitable and by the end of the book ADD/ADHD is described simply as a neurological problem. Newberger must be aware of the huge debate about the nature and causes of ADD/ADHD so it is a shame that he doesn’t stick to his earlier balanced view.
That small quibble aside, this is a first-rate book that would be of enormous benefit to parents and teachers of boys. If they were to heed its wise advice, our society would be a great deal more wholesome.
Kevin M. Purday teaches at Worthing Sixth Form College, in the UK, and is currently a distance-learning student on the Philosophy & Ethics of Mental Health course in the Philosophy Dept. at the University of Warwick.
It is a truism often attributed to Yogi Berra that “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up somewhere else.” If you could determine where your son was headed, where would that be? What kind of man would you want him to become? What character traits do you value and hope to develop in your son–for his own sake and for the sake of the world? The Men They Will Become: The Nature and Nurture of Male Character spurs the reader to contemplate these questions.
And this questioning is no mere intellectual exercise: in the book, author Eli Newberger, MD, states that although some basic characteristics of temperament are in place early in a boy’s life, parental influence and modeling are major factors in the development of his “character,” a broadly inclusive collection of traits that mark the ways in which people make life decisions and comport themselves toward others.
The Men They Will Become discusses major developmental stages in the life of a boy from his infancy through late adolescence as well as the character challenges he is likely to meet at each stage. These challenges–and the way they are managed–further shape who the person will become. (Although supposedly addressing development of boys, most of the information contained in this book is equally applicable to girls.)
The male infant “develops fundamental attitudes about himself and his surroundings”1:4 ie; develops trust or mistrust on the basis of whether his physical and emotional needs are met; and develops a capacity for intimacy on the basis of the attention he receives from caregivers. As a preschooler, the child’s world enlarges and he must confront a new issue: conflict between his own interest and the rights of others. School-aged children confront issues of honesty and self-control as well as bullying and other forms of victimization. As adolescents, they encounter cheating, drug abuse, and problems of identity and friendship.
Under each of these rubrics, Dr Newberger weaves profiles and interviews of real boys, anecdotes, literary quotations, clinical studies, and his own insight as a pediatrician to illustrate how boys negotiate personal and social problems, resolution of which shapes the emerging man. The most successful boys–ie, those who possess admirable character traits and act accordingly–are those whose lives included parents or other significant adults who clearly communicated their expectations for the child’s behavior; who discussed options for handling difficult situations; and who expected the children to live with the consequences of their actions. These children also were likely to have observed their parents in a situation where the parents modeled the behavior; in other words, the parents “practiced what they preached.” For children with this type of adult support, even difficult situations were transformed into character-building opportunities with lasting positive value. The book contains practical tips on how to foster this type of relationship with a child and how to elicit dialogue with children of different ages to make them more receptive to discussing serious issues with their parents.
In striking contrast to the examples of successful parent-child character-building teamwork, the book also contains alarming illustrations of youthful character development that was seriously compromised by parents who sought to exempt their child or other family members from the consequences of the child’s criminal behavior or other proscribed activities.
In an important chapter on teasing and bullying, Newberger discusses the serious harm caused to children by behaviors that, when committed by adults against adults, are normally handled by criminal or civil courts but which have long been treated as an inevitable part of childhood. In contrast to the “blind eye” treatment given by most schools to such behavior, the author reports that some schools now preemptively teach respect and empathy for children who are most likely to become victims of teasing and bullying; this preemptive teaching recasts teasing and bullying as “injuries to the community.”1:201 These programs are proving effective, a result that shows that children’s inclination toward bad behavior can be tempered by effective adult intervention. In addition, instead of merely meting out punishment on an episodic and rules-oriented basis, educators who seek reasons for the bullying may help to “heal the offender as well as his target, and to reinforce the values of the community.”1:201
Newberger also argues convincingly that organized sports fail to qualify as the healthy form of “play” needed by boys and that these activities instead distort the very traits of “character” that sports are traditionally purported to engender in boys. Moreover, Newberger asserts, these activities have even led to the decline of “sportsmanship” throughout our society.
At one point in the book, Newberger concludes, “males get to this highest level of trustworthiness [or, it seems clear, to the highest level of any other positive character trait] by encountering someone who embodies it. It is a level of character that is much more effectively caught than taught.”1:299 This statement reminds parents and other concerned adults to comport themselves in ways they would like the next generation to reflect. After all, if we don’t put effort into directing our sons, we shouldn’t be surprised if they wind up somewhere else.
1. Newberger EH. The men they will become: the nature and nurture of male character. Reading (MA): Perseus Books; 1999.
OUR SON Kristjan asked for a Barbie for his fourth birthday. Glad to find him showing an interest in something other than Thomas the wretched Tank Engine, we took him to the toyshop and let him take his pick. Although my husband confessed to slight relief that Kristjan went for a Deep-Sea Diving Barbie rather than a full-on sparkly princess number, neither of us was particularly concerned. But to our surprise, many of our friends and family were appalled. “You can’t give him a Barbie – you’ll turn him into a ponce!” was one comment. In fact Kristjan’s interest in Diving Barbie was brief and desultory, and three years on he shows no signs of having been affected by his fourth birthday gift. But the strong reaction it received at the time is typical, according to a new book by an American paediatrician, Dr Eli Newburger.
In Bringing Up a Boy, Newburger describes a mother who buys her twin sons a playhouse and is accused by a relative of “trying to make them gay”. The doctor’s advice, however, is to relax about such things: “Give him a range of toys and let him play with whatever he wants.”
Fifteen years ago, rigidly unisex child-rearing was all the rage – switched-on parents avoided gender-specific toys like Barbies and toy soldiers. These days, the sexual divide is back with a vengeance. Little girls are positively encouraged to spend their days looking like drag queens, wrapped in pink feather boas and plastered in their mothers’ lipsticks. Shops like Claire’s Accessories – purveyors of glittery hair-slides to the under-tens – do a roaring trade. All good harmless fun in the name of girl power.
But when it comes to boys we seem to be at a loss. There are no “Arnie’s Accessories” selling mini-Terminator outfits. Play that encourages aggression and violence is taboo, so all those stereotypical boy-toys – soldiers and guns – must stay in the attic.
The dilemma over masculinity, combined with statistics indicating academic underachievement and a barrage of biological generalisations about the effects of testosterone and brain development, means that boys have been relegated to the category of a child-rearing problem. One mother I met recently told me how upset she had been when, after two daughters, her scan had revealed that her third child was a boy. “I didn’t know how I could handle all that awful aggression,” she said.
No wonder that there is currently a rash of childcare books rooted in the continually exacerbated gap between boys’ and girls’achievement at school. The best known of the crop, Raising Boys, by a family therapist Steve Biddulph, claims that boys need to be treated differently because of the biological distinctions that exist between the sexes from birth. Biddulph goes so far as to say that boys should start primary school at a later age than girls because of their slower rate of brain development.
“This would mean that they move through school being a year older than the girl in the next desk – which also means that they are, intellectually speaking, on a par with her,” he says. “Eventually boys catch up with girls, but in the way schools work now, the damage is already done. The boys feel themselves to be failures.
“Their motor nerves are still growing, they get signals from their body saying, ‘move around, use me’. To a stressed out teacher, this looks like misbehaviour. A boy sees that his craft work, drawing and writing are not as good as the girls’ and thinks, ‘School is for girls’.”
Girls have indeed been outperforming boys in subjects such as English for a number of years, and last summer, for the first time, girls achieved more A and B grades at A-level. The Department of Education has launched a three-year research project into boys’ underachievement, and a website to help schools evaluate and combat the problem. Examples of “good practice” on the site include a school in Essex that set up a “Boyzone” reading area, and a technological school in Rochdale that clamped down on “macho anti-school culture”.
Up until the middle of the 20th century, things were a lot simpler. Gender roles were rigid in adult life, and the way boys and girls were brought up reflected this. Across all social classes, there was segregation, from the single-sex boarding establishments of the upper and middle classes to the village schools where classrooms, playgrounds and even entrances were firmly divided and marked “boys” and “girls”.
Boys’ schools were often spartan, grim places, with cold showers and bad food. Fighting was not viewed with the same horror as it is today. This tolerance persisted well into the 1960s.
It is unlikely that today’s boys want a return to the gender apartheid of previous centuries. “I wouldn’t like to go to a boys’ school – I’ve got lots of friends who are girls,” says Adam, aged nine and a half. “I suppose the girls do behave better, but it depends on the girl – there are two in my school that are even naughtier than the boys. I donêt think boys and girls are that different really – we don’t need to be taught apart.”
Adults are not so open-minded. Encouraged by the new fashion for biological determinism, we are quicker to recognise what we think of as appropriate boyish or girlish behaviour in children, and disregard the rest. My friend Jane, mother of two girls and a boy, laughs. “This morning, Arthur was playing with his toy dinosaurs – he was making them stomp around the forest, roaring away. Then his sisters came to join in the game. Asmita picked up one and said that she was the mummy dinosaur called Charlotte. Daisy said that hers were the little girl dinosaurs.”
But she also acknowledged that Arthur does also sometimes want to dress up as Snow White – and, yes, she would buy him Barbies if he wanted them.
The dinosaur scenario is fairly typical of our household too. Apart from his brief Barbie dalliance, my son, now seven, has always shown a strong preference for task-oriented toys – as a baby, his favourite pastimes were shape sorters and jigsaws; now he plays chess and computer games. His younger sister Lilja likes imaginative role-playing, dolls and dressing up.
This all fits in perfectly with the “boy brain/girl brain” school of child psychology. But then, other aspects of their personalities do not fit in with gender stereotypes. Lilja is generally more boisterous than Kristjan and has a shorter attention span. He learnt to read and write at a much younger age than his sister – being kept back a year, as Biddulph recommends, would have bored him senseless. And our youngest daughter Valdis likes dolls and dressing up, but also cars and football. What many of the “boy” books don’t mention is that while there are some differences in brain development between the sexes, are much smaller than those between any two given individuals. Newburger – a distinguished paediatrician who was the chief prosecution witness in the Louise Woodward case – believes that biological differences between little girls and boys have been “overdrawn”, and he says that as far as small children are concerned, individual temperamental differences are more important than sexual ones. (Puberty is of course another thing.) He professed delight when I told him that much of his advice on bringing up young boys could be equally applied to my daughters. “Brain development in very young children does not show such profound gender differences that the information would offer useful guidance to parents,” he says.
Even our sexually stereotyped ancestors recognised this, and treated very young children in a unisex manner. Until the Edwardian era, little boys and girls are indistinguishable in portraits, as boys wore long hair and dresses until they were “breeched” at the age of three or four.
Newburger’s message is about nurture as much as nature – not that boys are necessarily so different, but that we treat them differently. Some of his observations are more relevant to the United States: in this country, thankfully, one quarter of boys under two do not have a television set in their rooms, the average home does not contain a gun cupboard, nor do our schools have the kind of “jock culture” where football coaches humiliate boys they do not consider manly enough by placing packets of sanitary towels in their lockers. But other issues are equally valid on both sides of the Atlantic – little boys get talked to less by their mothers, and are punished more.
As far as genuine gender distinctions are concerned, he does suggest that boys might benefit more from physical space – in other words, bigger playgrounds. (This reminded me all too poignantly of my own son’s first term at school, aged four. When I asked him what he did in his lunch hour, he said: “I bumped into people.”) Newburger also isolates five chief elements that might currently be lacking in a boy’s upbringing. “A boy needs to know that there is least one adult – whether a parent or someone else – who is crazy about him. He needs to be given words to characterise emotions, and to feel he can express those emotions without being teased. His exposure to violence, on television and elsewhere, should be limited. Emphasis should be placed on inductive rather than punitive discipline (whereby a child understands and accepts what he is being told). Finally, he should be taught about giving back – about the importance of obligation, and service to others.”
Until the 1960s, such messages may have come from books with titles such as The Child’s Book of Heroes – uncomplicated, morally uplifting accounts of the lives of Captain Scott, George Mallory and Dr Livingstone. It would all seem hilariously old-fashioned these days. A modern boyhood icon like David Beckham is lauded as much for the money he earns as for his footballing skills, while his character, intellect and choice of marriage partner are frequently held up to cynical ridicule by the media.
Perhaps our own parental prejudices are limiting boys’ development. Girls can be tomboys if they like, but boys are being restricted to a narrower spectrum of permissible behaviour than they were before. It’s not just about Barbie – most boys’ toy-boxes contain little that emphasises relationships, family and human interaction.
Fortunately for the cause of diversity, many children are quite capable of defying the expectations and preconceptions of experts, surveys and parents. When his wife Liz was pregnant, our friend Andy, a talented footballer, told everyone that he was hoping for a boy. He rhapsodised about the father-son footie outings he would enjoy. The baby was indeed a boy – but despite all paternal encouragement, little Alex turned out to be a dreamy child, far more interested in art and drama than in sport. Andy has accepted this, and loves him for what he is.
Fortunately for Andy, he and Liz had another child who inherited his sporting talents and is a something of a soccer prodigy. Only thing is: this promising young footballer is called Chloï.
The Times (U.K.)
American paediatrician Eli Newberger argues in his new book that parents are raising boys differently from girls, with dire consequences. Boys need to be encouraged to show their feelings and, crucially, should neither witness nor suffer any violence – not so much as a slap – if they are to become balanced men. Interview by Miranda Ingram
Boys, lets face it, are a different breed. When my son was born I already had a daughter so I thought I knew a bit about raising babies. It didn’t take long to realise that, although there is little more than a year’s difference between them, I was dealing with an entirely different phenomenon. Where my daughter walks into a room, my three-year-old son tears in; where she washes herself in the bath, he soaks the entire bathroom, and his every activity has to be conducted at a decibel level I had not known existed.
With the success of such books as Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus we are tentatively overcoming political correctness to acknowledge the differences between men and women. Now, particularly as the adult male role is in such a state of flux, it is time to own up to the differences between boys and girls and take a closer look at the way we raise our sons, says Eli Newberger, the author of the forthcoming book The Men They Will Become – the nature and nurture of the male character.
Newberger’s message is twofold: we are raising our sons differently from our girls, even if we are not aware of it, and at the same time there are areas where boys need extra work to turn them into decent, likeable men.
“My working title was Bad Men and How to Avoid Them, can you believe it?” laughs Newberger, a paediatrician and one of the foremost experts on family development and male violence in America. But his point is that with boys’ biological propensity towards aggression, an insensitively raised male will grow into someone more violent and more dangerous than a girl in the same situation.
After the feminist movement in America had provoked a series of books specifically aimed at raising girls to overcome the adversities placed in their paths, Newberger decided it was time to write a book about raising boys. From their behaviour in childhood it is possible to determine the men they will become and, if necessary, set about altering that path.
“A boy’s biological imperative propels him to be aggressive, to find a place – and as high a one as possible – in the pecking order of a dominance-based hierarchy, and a boy will naturally resist attempts by his environment to control him. This is a biological reality.
“All cultures tacitly encourage aggression in boys -through competitive sports, choice of play or excuses made, like “boys will be boys” – and diminish it in girls. Girls, on the other hand, are encouraged towards a much freer expression of their emotional feelings, especially sadness.”
This influence can be incredibly subtle, says Newberger. “Listen to a parent recalling an event with a boy or a girl. With a girl they will recall how people felt, what mood they were in. Talking to a boy they will recall the facts – who was there, who did what.”
Newberger’s 37-year medical career has centred largely on working with abused children and family violence, and he was a state witness in the trial of the British nanny Louise Woodward. This experience has lead him to some startling observations about the different way we treat our sons and daughters. “Boys are far more likely to be victims of shaken baby syndrome. Crying is tolerated for longer in girls because crying is seen as feminine. A crying girl is more likely to be comforted while a boy will be punished. Throughout their childhood boys are talked to less, cuddled less than girls, but punished more severely and more frequently even though punitive discipline – as opposed to what I call inductive discipline – is far more harmful to the development of the male character.”
Absolutely fundamental, and Newberger is passionate about this, is that a boy should neither witness nor suffer any violence – even a slap. “This is the most corrosive influence possible in a boy’s upbringing. A boy who witnesses violence against his loved ones or people he counts on, his mother for example, will see her powerlessness and eventually need to compensate by becoming physically dominant over others in later life. Whereas a girl who has witnessed or suffered abuse is generally likely to become a victim, a boy will need to compensate his childhood impotence by becoming a violent adult.” Even mild corporal punishment, says Newberger, absolutely violates the trust and communication between a boy and his carer that underpins the development of good character.
But this is not just a book for violent families. Although all the excellent child-rearing advice is equally relevant to girls, Newberger identifies areas where all boys need extra attention, most importantly verbal skills and self-control. Developing the former, above all the ability to express his feelings, is absolutely crucial for a boy, and the earlier the better. The shorter time a boy relies on physical expression of his desires and feelings and instead learns to verbalise them, the better his chances of becoming a compassionate, empathetic adult. Parents should seize every possible opportunity to talk with their sons about feelings, their own and other people’s. Above all the message is talk, talk, talk. We talk far more to little girls, he says, while playing rough and tumble with little boys. Boys often see that it is OK for males to express anger and aggression, but do not learn to show sadness or confusion. A well-rounded adult male have access to the full palette of human emotions.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to turn little boys into little girls. There are many admirable male qualities. But I believe, in America certainly, an underlying homophobia leads us to restrict the range of emotional expression in boys. This starts at home and carries on at school, where the emotionally sensitive boy may be teased and bullied.
“If a boy can’t express his feelings verbally, he will internalise them. He is also less able to empathise with other people’s feelings, which will make him an inconsiderate adult. There is an excellent book in America that I read at every opportunity with my two-year-old grandson. It shows pictures of babies with different expressions on their faces – sad, happy, laughing, crying, bewildered, tired. He loves it but at the same time he is learning to recognise and identify different feelings. Little boys as well as little girls are born with empathy – in a nursery both sexes will respond to the crying of another infant by crying themselves.”
Reading is a cornerstone of both verbal development and the other vital area of boys’ upbringing: self-control. “In listening to stories boys learn verbal skills and, through empathising with the different characters in the story, to see other points of view. Later, as a child learns to read by himself, reading also plays a crucial role in the development of self-control.”
TV, which offers instant gratification for minimal effort, is perfectly suited to the male character. Reading, on the other hand, takes practice, patience and application, which are areas in which boys need particular encouragement.
“Character is an issue of choice,” says Newberger. “But boys, far less than girls, see their behaviour as a series of choices. When men act they are not aware that they are choosing to act this way, they act on impulse and review their mistakes later. Girls understand much earlier that their actions and responses are a matter of choice.” Parents, therefore, particularly if your boy fails the marshmallow test (see box), should cultivate the ability in boys to defer gratification. This can be turned into a game. If he wants to eat that bag of crisps now, for example, you could hide them and turn finding them into a treasure hunt. Newberger cites a method that his wife Carolyn, a child psychologist, used with one boy who was overwhelmed by his impulses. He wanted a doughnut and could not concentrate on anything until this need was satisfied. Carolyn wanted to buy him some time between feeling his need and satisfying it, so she made up a game. Together, in fantasised play, they had to drive to the store that sold doughnuts, park the car, enter the store, find the doughnuts, take them to the checkout etc.
“The ability to defer gratification is vital for boys as this is the time they will need in later life in which to consider the action they are about to take so that they choose an appropriate action rather than acting on impulse.”
At all times Newberger stresses that his advice must be tailored to suit the temperament of the boy. “A boy with a very short concentration span might be best discouraged from watching too much fast-changing television. Similarly, witnessing violence on TV may be more potent to a boy with a naturally aggressive temperament, but not an issue for a gentler boy.”
The same applies to guns. “Boys will see guns in movies, on the news, and will need to deal with this disturbing and confusing issue through play in order to make sense of it. This is perfectly useful.
“But if your son is temperamentally fairly aggressive, seems to like violent TV and prefers violent games with guns to other activities, you may want to intervene.”
Reading the child’s character is everything and to this end Newberger suggests that it is useful for parents to write down a paragraph about their boy’s temperament.
“The very act of putting it into words encourages you to think about it and understand it.”
Boys’ activities, particularly competitive sport, tend to promote aggression and competitiveness. “Be sure that there is also an area in their life for creative expression. Music, for example, is superb,” says Newberger, a tuba player since childhood. “Be it painting, writing or music, creative expression is not about winning, it’s non-competitive; like reading, it takes patience and application and is at the same time a marvellous outlet for feelings.”
Newberger hopes that men will read his book, too. “So many childcare books are addressed to women, but I’ve put in lots of science and detail about how things work to make it attractive to men. It is only since the Industrial Revolution that women have become primary child rearers; in earlier centuries men played a much more prominent role. But I hope this book will help men to understand themselves and the roots of their own characters better.”
Newberger’s final message is uplifting: “Most important of all is that every boy has at least one person in his life who is absolutely crazy about him and 100 per cent committed to him. If he is not to grow up to be anti-social, he must grow up knowing that there is somebody on his side.”
* The Men They Will Become by Eli Newberger, Bloomsbury, £12.99. To order it for £10.99, plus 99p P&P, call The Times Bookshop, 0500 418 419.
FROM his birth until his death, a male is caught up in three different dimensions of control. First, he wants to control his environment so that it meets his desires adequately and promptly, from his perspective. Secondly, he wishes to contain to a degree tolerable to him the environment’s efforts to control him. Thirdly, he develops internal self-control with the encouragement of the environment and for his own purposes.
When this three-part process is successful a grown man will find a reasonable balance of the three modes of control: he will have enough influence within his environment to pursue a satisfying life but will not exploit opportunities to dominate others in ways hurtful to them; he will have enough power to stop his environment exploiting him in hurtful ways; and he will have enough self-control to be able to handle challenging situations thoughtfully and creatively rather than impulsively and unreflectively.
Boys: the marshmallow test
The following experiment was conducted at Stanford University in the 1960s. Four-year-olds were called individually into a room where a kindly man gave each a marshmallow and said the child could choose either to eat the marshmallow at once or wait for him to return. If the child waited, he would get an additional marshmallow when the man returned.
A dozen years later the same children were tested again with more elaborate techniques. The ones who had delayed eating the marshmallow in order to get a reward were still capable of selfcontrol. They were less likely to go to pieces, freeze or regress under stress, or become rattled and disorganised when pressured; they embraced challenges and pursued them instead of giving up in the face of difficulties; they were self-reliant, confident and trustworthy.
The youngsters who had immediately eaten their marshmallows were more likely to be seen as shying away from social contacts; to be stubborn and indecisive; to be easily upset by frustrations; to think of themselves as unworthy; to become immobilised by stress; to be mistrustful or prone to jealousy; to overreact with a sharp temper.
The Denver Post
If you’re looking for a fastpaced how-to book to help you raise a
son, complete with checklists of dos and don’ts, then “The Men They Will Become: The Nature and Nurture of Male Character” by Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Eli Newberger is not the book for you. If, however, despite today’s terrible time constraints, instant parenting strikes you as a contradiction in terms, and if you’re interested in a thoughtful, steadying look at the big picture, which helps make sense of the messy details, and maybe even avoid some of them, “The Men They Will Become” will repay you many times over.
Newberger’s primary focus is the influence of parent and son relationships on character development. Other influences, from genetics to peer culture, receive serious and insightful treatment, but ultimately within the compass of parent-son relationships.
In the beginning, Newberger explains, infants have no character, only traits of temperament – activity level, adaptability, sensory threshold, persistence/attention span, etc. – from which researchers have identified certain trait-clusters. These clusters call for differing parental approaches. While traits themselves are somewhat malleable, greater flexibility comes in how character develops through the “interaction” of nature – exemplified by temperamental traits – and nurture, embodied in the parent-child relationship.
The more specifically parents understand their sons, the more effectively they can nurture them. Newberger sensibly counsels parents to strike a balance between setting strong examples for ultimate goals and maintaining considerable flexibility about means to reach those goals. This approach fits well with his use of a four-level model of parental awareness, based in moral development theory.
Level One, “Me First,” sees children’s actions only in terms of how they affect the parent. Level Two, “Follow the Rules,” revolves around the idea that “there are hard and fast rules that tell us what makes a good parent and what makes a good child.” Level Three, “We Are Individuals” seeks to identify and meet the child’s particular needs, while Level Four, “Living and Growing Together,” brings parental self-awareness and recognition of the parent-child relationship to the fore. It boosts tolerance for conflict and ambivalence in the relationship without feeling distressed.
Each stage builds on previous ones, rather than supplanting them, so rules remain important beyond Level Two, but the parent approaches child-raising more like a player, not an umpire. Parents operating at Level Four have the greatest ability to motivate without forcing, to pass on their core values without imposing crippling limitations on their sons’ self-expression. Newberger’s focus on parent-son relationships implicitly provides a Level Four perspective throughout without talking down to us.
The overall organization of Newberger’s book is developmental, marked by age-specific chapters – “Infants and Toddlers,” “Preschoolers” – that deal with a general mix of moral and developmental issues. Each is followed by chapters dealing with specific moral virtues ( “Sharing,” “Honesty,” “SelfControl”), challenges ( “Teasing and Bullying,” “Alcohol and Drugs”), and concerns ( “Discipline and Punishment,” “Identity and Friendship”) that are prominent at that stage of life. The developmental framework supplies a unique kind of realism for Newberger’s discussions of moral issues, which draw on anecdotal experience from his own life and clinical practice as well as a wide familiarity with clinical and research literature.
Abstract, didactic books on character often present morality in terms of good vs. evil, forgetful that virtually every evil act is done in the name of some good. Newberger focuses on more realistic, concrete challenges, such as learning to spot and take advantage of opportunities to bring abstract virtues to life. Informative, pragmatic and reflective, “The Men They Will Become” is an excellent companion for parents who want to be proactive, not reactive, in one of life’s greatest challenges – and joys.
Paul Rosenberg, a California-based writer and reviewer, has written on science, culture, history and politics for the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor and other newspapers in the United States and Canada.
By Trudi Feinstein, 10/24/99
Teaching college-level psychology has been my professional life since 1978. Several years ago, needing to enrich the offerings, I developed a course in the psychology of women, which has been a joy to teach. The reading list included ”She’s Come Undone” by Wally Lamb, ”Girl, Interrupted” by Susanna Kaysen, and ”The Secret Language of Eating Disorders” by Peggy Claude-Pierre.
Some time later I was asked to develop a course in the psychology of men. Very few suitable books were available. After many hours of
research, I was lucky to find Frank Pittman’s book, ”Man Enough: Fathers, Sons, and the Search for Masculinity.” It was well written and generated good discussion, but I asked myself, is that all there is?
Things have changed. Researchers in gender studies are attempting to find solutions to tragedies infecting many areas of human existence, and important new work is finding its way into print. Pediatrician Eli Newberger, focusing in his new book, ”The Men They Will Become,” on the factors shaping male human development, sheds considerable light on the qualities of human character that aim at solving problems, not just for males, but for all human beings.
This is a book about life written by one who is well qualified by professional training and experience in the arts and sciences, by interaction with parents and children (including his own), and by a wealth of knowledge in the field of human development. Newberger, founder of the Child Protection Team and the Family Development Program at Children’s Hospital, teaches at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.
Newberger recognizes the value of applying well-defined theories as assumptions that validate practical behavior. All theories, to be useful and practical, need to be justified by convincing illustrations and authentic anecdotes. With great effectiveness Newberger demonstrates his skill by forging theories into principles; he supports the validity of the principles with research data, case histories, and relevant personal experiences.
For example, in response to those who maintain that peers have replaced parents as the most important determinant of a child’s actions, Newberger points out that scientific research, case histories, and human history as a whole clearly demonstrate that a child is most strongly influenced by what he experiences as a result of parental behavior. He illustrates it with examples of a child’s aggressive disobedience caused by parental hostility. Examples also show that when love and respect are generated between a father and a son, the son grasps the father’s position and internalizes it.
Newberger notes that the non-physical inner experiences of human beings – which include the ability to feel, to choose alternatives, to think about ideas, and to will purposefully – are basic and cannot be
In Newberger’s book we find a comprehensible, analytical, and coherent study of the human male. In fact, his results apply equally to the development of men and women. He includes the environmental, ethical, social, scientific, and philosophical factors affecting all human beings. He asks his readers to try to make choices that will develop the kind of human beings who know the right actions and who carry them out, for their sakes and that of humanity. There is considerable importance to the theoretical and practical notions that apply to both genders and which, in fact, are relevant to the diversity that exists in all human beings.
Newberger states emphatically, ”Never strike a child,” and argues effectively for that principle. He advocates, instead, a profound respect for the growing child’s mind, with a stress on learning how to verbalize feelings constructively. Instead of punishment, his emphasis is on encouraging a child to think, Whom and what have I harmed and how may I make amends? This outward capacity to make amends requires an inner development of self-discipline – the capacity to ask: What are my responsibilities to others?
Newberger endorses the view that life is what Jonas Salk referred to as a continuum. Morality begins with respect for the wholeness or integrity of every human being. The way to respect helpless infants is to respect their needs. He points out that the basic physical needs of food, clothing, and shelter are obviously a human right. The basic emotional needs of love and respect are equally a human right. Creating a better human race can never happen without the interdependence and interaction of all human rights.
Newberger suggests that values can be both taught and caught, with a dependence on the importance of the interior world. The self’s uniqueness saves the child from becoming a slave to conformity imposed by the tyranny of statistics. His closing sentences express the fundamental core, the essence of his work: ”The age-old way to achieve happiness is to seek reciprocity wherever it is available – in marriage, in parenthood (where the helpless child can, parodoxically, by his very being give as much as he receives), at work, or at play. Giving back and reciprocity are the most powerful bulwarks against the urge to be exploitative. The foundations of admirable character lie in a boy’s realistic sense of himself as a human being. He will never be perfect, and he is what he is because others have given to him. With such knowledge comes the possibility of fulfillment, and of character that will continue to be strengthened by choosing to do right, and, after failure, to do better the next time.”
Newberger’s advocacy of nurturing universal, interactive, reciprocal,
enlightened and mutual inner experience in the basic character of human beings speaks well for solving personal failures. It may not be fair, and would be beyond the scope of this book, to ask him to apply it as the remedy for the larger problems on this planet, but it would be worth the effort. Life is interactive sharing. Problems cease to be problems when all who are involved come to real solutions that work. With ”The Men They Will Become,” Eli Newberger has taken us a long way on the road to those solutions.
This story ran on page C01 of the Boston Globe on 10/24/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.
It seems that now it’s the boys’ turn.
After years of books on the cultural forces that get girls in trouble these days — kicked off by Mary Pipher’s “Reviving Ophelia” — the publishing world has taken a fancy to books that point out being a boy is no walk in the park, either.
Two more are hitting the bookstores this month: “The Good Son,” by Michael Gurian and “The Men They Will Become” by Dr. Eli Newberger. They are two very different books but their message is much the same: To raise boys into men of good character, parents have to come through with a firm hand, solid boundaries and more tenacity than they’d probably need for girls.
“The Good Son” is more nearly a “how-to” book, with Gurian spelling out a “cradle-to-college” parenting plan — complete with lists of traits normal to boys at each age and parents’ “rules to live by” along the way.
Newberger’s book, on the other hand, is less prescriptive than descriptive in its detail. He spends more time explaining the psychology behind child development — especially boys’ — and his approach is more literary, quoting authors as varied as Mark Twain, Kathleen Norris and Walter Lippmann.
However, both authors argue that boys need a specific kind of affection and direction — for biological and cultural reasons different from what girls need — and in too many cases they are not getting it.
They came to that conclusion from very different directions.
Gurian, who’ll be in the Twin Cities on Thursday to speak about his book, said in an interview that he wanted to address the moral neglect of boys, already having written about the general emotional neglect of boys in “The Wonder of Boys” and “A Fine Young Man.”
“More of our boys, at rates I see growing exponentially, live in moral confusion,” Gurian wrote, citing statistics showing that American children — boys, 90 percent of the time — commit more violent acts than any other children in countries not at war.
Newberger, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital in Boston, was alarmed by the family violence he was seeing — which was hurting boys and at the same time turning out no shortage of violent men.
Now, turning to boys
The two titles join a growing list of books about boys, including the popular “Raising Cain” by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson, and “Real Boys” by William Pollack.
Part of the shift in public attention followed a growing collection of sad statistics: Boys face violence at three times the rate girls do; learning-disabled boys outnumber girls 3-1, those with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) 7-1; boys are also likelier to repeat grades and eventually drop out of school.
But both Gurian and Newberger say the point is not who has things worse — after all, anorexia is virtually unheard of among boys. Both also stress that they see great overlap in the lives of boys and girls, and what they need from their parents.
The point, they say, is that there are some basic differences, and parents need to know more about the nature of boys in order to shape competent, ethical men.
Gurian begins with a primer on the male brain. The amygdala, an important aggression center of the brain, is bigger in males than in females, he said. Also, the male hormone testosterone fuels aggression.
Gurian also describes the male brain as a “hunter brain,” more spatially attuned than women’s. That’s partly why, he said, while girls contemplate the meaning of things, boys understand the world by physically leaping into it.
All that adds up to this: A boy’s impulse to act is often more than he can control, and parents need to help him with that before he gets himself in trouble.
That’s why the very permissive, hands-off approach of many parents these days is particularly bad for boys, Gurian said.
“A boy will do better with a clear sense of boundaries,” Gurian said. “He learns self-control by being compelled to obey the people he cares about in his life, until gradually he learns how to ‘obey,’ or control, himself.”
Setting tone for parents
Newberger sets the tone early in his book with the story of a little boy whose playmate always hits him. In rich detail, Newberger shows how this family is getting right many of the principles he’ll cover throughout the book: the boy’s comfort in turning to his parents for guidance, their reliable presence and involvement, and their clear advice as he faces a series of confusing encounters with a troubled boy.
More than anything, Newberger asks parents to keep their eye on the big picture.
“Even as their children make choices about hair color and clothing and body piercings that could be offensive to parents,” he said, “I think they’d do well to think about the larger issue of character, that the more important set of concerns would have to do with their [sons’] ability to choose their friends well, for example.”
Newberger sees one more trait as crucial to good parenting: tenacity.
“When I started with this book, I really did begin with the notion that most of all, people have to be patient and let children’s personalities ‘unfold,’ ” Newberger said. “But now I see we need to will ourselves to be involved deeply and continuously with our children.”
He and Gurian both insist that parents not shrink from making fine distinctions on morality: For example, unrolling toilet paper on a teacher’s car is a stupid prank, but throwing a rock through a windshield is materially different because it hurts something that belongs to someone else.
That is not splitting hairs or mixing messages, they say; that is getting specific, and that is something that children need.
Newberger’s study of the development of character in boys also offers a significant perspective on the shaping of moral values. The product of a lively, informed mind, the book covers a wide range of topics related to character development — including such chapters as “Honesty,” “Self-Control,” “Identity and Friendship” and “Discipline and Punishment” — showing how they relate to every stage of a boy’s childhood. Pediatrician Newberger is quick to draw on supporting information from the fields of child development, psychology and education, as well as from a wide range of real-life examples of boys and their families. Convinced that child rearing is an acquired skill, Newberger describes four levels of “parental awareness,” from the self-centered “Me First” level to the more tolerant level of “Living and Growing Together”; he refers to them throughout the book to demonstrate how a parent might better handle particular challenges. If there’s a quibble here, it’s that Newberger is so eager to share his knowledge that he occasionally scatters his fire. In any case, parents or adults involved in helping boys become “more caring and connected men” will relish the wealth of information presented in this useful addition to the growing body of gender-specific parenting literature.
Does the world really need another book on rearing children? Yes, if it is subtitled “The Nature and Nurture of Male Character” and it is written by a male pediatrician known for his work with children of violent families – and for his artistry as a jazz tubist.
At first, it is hard to tell whether this book is for pediatricians and teachers, or for parents and other child care givers. The opening chapters define character and its roots in a way that is too bookish for lay readers, too elementary for sophisticated physicians and too ambiguous for anyone looking for answers.
But once Newberger gets to the stages of physical and mental development, he spins an interesting and informative yarn, correlating biology and social environment in male character development. He weaves in interviews with children, adolescents and their parents with illuminating studies and surveys, and discussions with teachers and fellow pediatricians, social scientists, police officers and a few administrators. He creates a tapestry for each of us to experience in our own way.
Newberger sees each event as a blip on the screen, not a forecast of the future. Although his children and families are not perfect, he is never judgmental and always respectful. From five-year-old Peter trying to deal with unprovoked attacks by five-year-old Larry to 14-year-old Mark, he listens well to children and parents to learn the values that motivate them, their care-givers and school administrators.
Nine-year-old Pascal is a well-chosen example of how a “sterling character” can develop out of a dangerously disruptive and violent family history. “The process of making character,” concludes Newberger, “involves not only the outside world pushing on the boy but also his inner self working actively to integrate his own desires with these outside pressures.”
He also focuses on abilities and character traits most prominent during each developmental period: how males connect with others, how they connect with their own emotions, “Word Magic,” “Discipline and Punishment” and learning self-control, sharing, curiosity, honesty, “Teasing and Bullying,” “Identity and Friendship,” alcohol and drugs, “Enabling,” “Cheating,” “Play and Sports” and “Giving Back.”
At first he names his chapters for the individuals (e.g., “Infants and Toddlers”; “Preschoolers”, Schoolboys”), but in adolescence he names them for the stages (e.g., “Early Adolescence”). His greater distance from adolescent subjects is reflected in fewer and shorter interviews and more use of other peoples’ case histories and study and survey results.
Newberger uses Chase and Thomas’s 1980s work on temperament and Erikson’s 1960s work on identity and intimacy well, as he does his data. He acknowledges that only half of the 36 million boys in the U.S. in 1998 lived with both biologic parents, while a fifth lived with one biologic and one step-parent, a third with a single parent (of whom 80 percent were with the mother) or no parent, and that 1-1.5 million boys lived with non-parent relatives and over half a million were in foster homes or other institutions. However, he reports almost no contacts with such families.
His comments on discipline and punishment are especially noteworthy. He contends that corporal punishment provokes a cycle of hostility: when parents hit children, children hit one another, fathers hit mothers, mothers hit fathers, and children hit parents.
By contrast, in 1979 Sweden adopted a national goal of eliminating corporal punishment. It mounted a large public education campaign, emphasizing such objectives of discipline as family harmony and a more civil society, but never criminalizing corporal punishment. After initial controversy, there has been wide public acceptance. Eight other countries have now followed that lead, and Newberger would like the U.S. to join them.
He offers “inductive discipline” as an alternative to spanking. It fosters self-discipline through internalizing a child’s caring for others and assuming responsibility for how he affects others. That, he suggests, might go a long way toward deflecting children from later violence.
Given how many young adolescents seem to drift from social isolation and exclusion at school to lethal violence, his reference to teacher Vivian Paley’s observations of social relationships in children’s play is an eye-opener.
In discussing self-control, he tells the story of Louis Armstrong, who grew up in “The Battlefield” of New Orleans. On New Year’s Eve of 1912 or 1913 Louis took a pistol out on the street to celebrate. When other boys fired blanks, he fired a real bullet. He was arrested and, after a short hearing the next day, was sent to The Colored Waifs’ Home to begin an indeterminate sentence. The home had a band that performed around town to raise money. “Day after day, Louis sat quietly in the band room, listening and watching. Finally, he was offered a tambourine to play, then the bass drum, and still later an alto horn, on which Armstrong shone. The rest is history.”
That paralleled Newberger’s own introduction to the tuba in sixth grade. His passion for the tuba motivated him to the long hours of practice required to be a creative jazz artist.
There is also the story of a 15-year-old boy with borderline Attention Deficit Disorder who fell in love with the trumpet in fourth grade. Once thrown out of a concert orchestra for inserting some bars of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” into a performance of Brahm’s First Symphony, he has become known as a trumpeter, not as an ADD.
We all need more than stimulants alone.
Newberger never comments on “The Hero” as a factor in the development of male character. My experience has shown that the ego-ideal is a major determinant of a boy’s values, whether that is a religious icon, a family member or a teacher, or a sports or entertainment idol.
This is a valuable and readable book. Character development, although neglected in the pediatric literature, is of great importance to parents and society. For readers who have let their early curiosity grow, this book will be a find; for those who have developed a veneer of adult skepticism, there are 21 pages of bibliographic notes arranged by chapter, a five-page bibliography arranged alphabetically, and reference sources shown alphabetically in the index.
As our culture sees repeatedly the appalling consequences of failing to address the emotional needs of growing boys, numerous contenders have arisen as the brother book to Reviving Ophelia. Eli Newberger’s The Men They Will Become is a masterful addition to the growing genre. As a pediatrician specializing in child abuse, Newberger has seen the worst in adult — usually male — behavior, and its consequences for children. Yet he approaches his subject with hope (“I have not met a single man in whom I could not find some point of connection with his better self.”) and sensitivity. For independent school audiences, some of his most valuable insights come from those arenas that trouble our schools most: adolescent drinking, parental enabling and defending of their children’s behavior, and the ambivalent role of sport in the making of male character. More schools should consider these words, for example: “I view sportsmanship as something a boy more likely brings to the sport than vice versa. Sports can support the development of a boy’s character, or they can degrade it.”
While the book is full of problem-solving tips — parenting groups, approaches to discipline, getting a boy to talk (“take him for a ride in a car”) it goes far deeper, and far more broadly. This book is about the development of character, and about how boys’ behavior, however genetically influenced, or socially inculcated in our “gender-polarizing society,” is often the logical outgrowth of the anger, substance abuse, homophobia, lying, and other ills that beset the adult world. In fact it is almost false advertising to call it a book about the “men” they will become, as most of its words are true for all children. Perhaps Newberger should have borrowed that Yiddish term of approbation, used freely of both genders, to describe exemplary character — The Menschen They Will Become.