Chabot College Questions for Raising Cain Book Report

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The attached file is chapter 10-12 of Raising Cain book

Answer each questions below at least 300 words.

  1. According to Thompson and Kindlon, “The fact that relationships don’t come easily and naturally for many—even most—boys is the result of the conflict they experience between several powerful forces in their psyches and the failure of their emotional education to prepare them for the work of intimacy and relationship.” Discuss this quotation. What are the “powerful forces” in boys’ psyches that Thompson and Kindlon are referring to? In what ways does our culture deny boys the tools that they need for relationships?
  2. Does anything you have read in Chapter 9—or elsewhere in this book—help explain the kinds of male behavior that the “me too” movement is intent on exposing and stopping?
  3. Kindlon and Thompson say that "everyone has a theory about what makes children violent." What is their theory about what makes boys turn to violence? In other words, how do they explain the violent behavior of boys? What do you think of their ideas and why?
  4. Kindlon and Thompson say that in our culture men "are rarely celebrated for moral or emotional courage." What is moral and emotional courage? What might be some examples of this kind of courage? How does it differ from the kinds of courage that boys are encouraged to have?
  5. Throughout this book, Kindlon and Thompson have been talking about "the big impossible." Why do they think that our culture's expectations for boys are "impossible"? Do you agree with them? What are some specific expectations that they think are impossible? What do you think?
  6. Kindlon and Thompson make seven suggestions that aim "to transform the way you nurture and protect the emotional life of the boy in your life." Choose one of these suggestions and talk about why it might or might not be an effective way to approach some of the problems this book has discussed.
  7. Kindlon and Thompson say that they hope their book would cause the reader to "examine his or her deepest assumptions about boys"? As a reader, do you think the book has succeeded? Have any of your assumptions about boys been challenged, and if so, which assumptions?

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1/27/2020 Kindle RAISING CAIN: PROTECTING THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF BOYS Chapter 10 Romancing the Stone FROM HEARTFELT TO HEARTLESS RELATIONS WITH GIRLS but the emotion he brings to his actions is obscured and is subject to interpretation by girls, whose understanding is naturally colored by their own distinctly female sexual and emotional development. There are boys, of course, probably at least 2 percent, who aren’t attracted to girls and never will be. For them, coming of age in a homophobic environment is still a confusing and painful journey, despite today’s greater sexual candor. As therapists, we haven’t had a lot of experience with issues of homosexuality. So our discussion of love, sexuality, and romance is limited to a heterosexual framework. But we recognize that many of the issues in this chapter apply equally to all boys, and that all boys can find their way to a satisfying romantic relationship. What we see in teenage boys is a complex saga of sexuality and intimacy, one fraught with the tension of boys’ fears, hopes, and longing. Theirs is a tradition of emotion, no less true today than it was four hundred years ago when Shakespeare’s Romeo gave voice to adolescent boys’ intensely romantic, impulsive longing for a love relationship. Like Romeo’s yearning for Juliet—swift on the heels of a romance with a different girl—most boys’ first experiences of romantic relationships are full of emotional drama. In our work with boys, we see their pain, their struggles, their ignorance, how unrealistic their hopes are sometimes; we see the extent to which they lack the trust and love they would need in order to bring balance to their lives. And maybe I’m amazed at the way I really need you. —PAUL MCCARTNEY, “MAYBE I’M AMAZED” Romeo, come forth; come forth, thou fearful man: Affliction is enamored of thy parts, And thou art wedded to calamity. —ROMEO AND JULIET, ACT 3, SCENE 3 Every boy is potentially a romantic and thoughtful lover. But first he is a boy, and the story of boy sexuality, and an adolescent boy’s sexual awakening, begins well before girls enter the picture. Boys have a sexual nature that is biologically driven, without any doubt, but it does not preclude emotional intimacy and committed love relationships. It does, however, require that a boy make the journey from the simplicity of sex to the complexity of relationship, and that is the challenge for every boy—and for many men who continue to struggle to move beyond the lonely satisfaction of heartless sex to the rewards of an intimate relationship. Somewhere between heartfelt romances and heartless relationships is the story of how boys make that transition—or often pursue both simultaneously. It offers a complex picture of the inner life of boys, affirming a boy’s potential to be caring and loving while acknowledging the fact that many boys are capable of hurting girls in the headlong pursuit of sexual experience. Most boys come to “romantic” relationships with the desire to love and be loved, as well as to find sexual expression. The fact that relationships don’t come easily and naturally for many—even most—boys is the result of the conflict they experience between several powerful forces in their psyches and the failure of their emotional education to prepare them for the work of intimacy and relationship. Every man remembers the physical and emotional turmoil of his own adolescent sexuality—the twin torments of desire and anxiety—but most women don’t hear about it. For most mothers, as a son begins puberty, his sexuality becomes clearly visible in one sense—facial hair, broadening shoulders, a deepening voice—but almost completely obscured in terms of the expectations, hopes, fears, and emotional conflicts that are so powerful for every boy. For most girls a boy’s sexuality is clearly communicated in those physical attributes and a heightened interest in the opposite sex, b t th ti h b i t hi ti i b d di bj t t i t t ti b i l h d t di i What Boys Want The moment you look into a boy’s hopes and fears, you begin to understand the struggle that every boy confronts in his efforts to navigate adolescent sexuality. He is faced with a complex set of internal demands: he wants sex, he wants love, he wants to be manly—and through it all he doesn’t want to get rejected or hurt. This is a daunting emotional challenge, because each of these internal demands involves difficult obstacles and consequences. A Boy Wants to Love and Be Loved Boys yearn for emotional connection, but they are allowed very little practice at it. With their male friends, they have spent most of their time together before high school playing competitive games, teasing one another, or playing at being “big men” in fantasy or real games. As they get older, many find a kind of artificial tenderness during times of shared intoxication. Boys want to connect with girls, but most have so little grounding in emotional communication that they can’t even imagine what intimacy is. They’ve had few lessons in learning to “read” others, to pick up on emotional cues through conversation, facial expression, or other subtle body language. It is hard to be empathic when you can’t understand what someone else is feeling, and because boys have not been encouraged to cultivate empathy, they misread social and sexual cues from girls: they can’t figure out what a girl might think or want. They can easily become lost in the emotional complexity of an intimate relationship and choose simple sex over emotional intimacy, or just give up, saying, in effect, “Oh, hell, this is too complicated. Let’s go shoot some baskets.” Page 193 1/1 1/27/2020 Kindle RAISING CAIN: PROTECTING THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF BOYS has sex on his mind. If there is any difference between male and female sexuality, it may be that boys are more easily aroused than girls. This may be due, in part, to the fact that their world is saturated with female sexual images—from the Victoria’s Secret catalog or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition in the mailbox, to Baywatch or sexy beer commercials on TV, to the siren song of Internet porn ads boys see while cybersurfing, or simply to the girls they see every day in their classroom who are proudly celebrating their emerging womanhood with short skirts and tight sweaters. It would be difficult for boys to avoid sexual thoughts even if they wanted to. To contend with this arousal, nearly all boys masturbate, and they do it regularly. Because masturbation is such a natural part of an adolescent boy’s experience, he is a veteran of sexual pleasure before he ever becomes involved in partnered sex. When he is drawn by his desire for love coupled with mature sex, a boy has to make a precarious crossing over a bridge from that intensely personal, rewarding, and predictable fantasy exercise to a real-life girl with her own unfamiliar sexual and emotional terrain. From a performance standpoint, it’s almost impossible to fail at masturbation. With a girl, what was simple becomes infinitely more complicated, physically and emotionally. With complexity comes the potential for frustration or failure, and if a boy hasn’t learned how to manage those feelings any other way, he may react with hostility or anger toward a girl. them are in awe of girls; curious about sex and baffled by girls; frightened by their own inexperience and often unsure of themselves. Their journey follows a developmental path that takes them from sexual awareness to relationship—from solo practice to partnership—and the inner struggle it entails. Along the way, most boys manage to dabble in some version of boy-girl relationship, from group dates to puppy love, to “going steady,” to passionate love affairs. This consummated love happens for many before they are emotionally ready for it: the average boy first has sexual intercourse while he is still a teenager, often before age sixteen. On the journey, however, some boys lose their way and become sexual drifters, halfhearted partners asking little and giving the same. Others turn to sexual exploitation of girls, becoming thoughtless, heartless partners. And still others—a great many, in fact—push on toward adult life with hopes of finding love and security but sadly limited by their own emotional illiteracy. Whether boys become kind, devoted lovers and sexual partners, or heartless and exploitative, depends on the boy, his early experiences, his social environment, the kind of “script” that is written for him by his peers, and the girl culture in which he lives. From his earliest gender experiences, and the adolescent stirrings of lust and curiosity, a boy develops his own sense of what relationships and sexuality are all about. A Boy Wants to Be Manly Jonathon: A Young Man’s Awakening Through all of this, a boy wants to live up to the image of competent, independent masculinity he is being sold by his peers and culture. But parts of this image are in direct conflict with the traits he will need in order to have fulfilling relationships. Fundamentally, it is this wish to be competent, strong, and independent that makes boys wary of the mutual dependence and trust that are at the heart of any intimate relationship. From a young age, and as boys progress through adolescence, the distinctly male culture of cruelty pounds home the demand that boys toughen up, that they not appear vulnerable. Dependence on girls—being “pussy-whipped”—is derided by the group. Boy groups will exert these pressures in order to avoid losing a member—a valued drinking buddy or pickup basketball pal. Boys in groups will also deride girls in order to appear tougher or to save face by adopting a sour-grapes “Who needs them, anyway?” posture. The reason a boy fears dependence on a girl is that he fears her rejection and the pain and humiliation that go with it. A boy’s desire to be powerful isn’t as much about muscle as it is about heart and the fact that if you allow yourself to be dependent on someone—for a smile, for love, for sex, for self-respect—then you can be devastated by her as well. How a boy resolves these three challenges of his emotional life—intimacy, lust, and power—defines the quality of his intimate emotional relationships. Every boy moves toward manhood with his own unique history of emotional experience and education of the heart. There are many boys who are prepared for loving, intimate relationships because they have experienced emotional attachment through a loving relationship with a parent, and perhaps they have seen a good marriage in action in their own parents’ relationship. They see it as a doable, believable thing—something they can copy for themselves. Unfortunately, they are not the majority. The majority of boys are not prepared to manage the complexities of a loving relationship because they’ve been shortchanged on the basic skills of emotional literacy: empathy, conscience, the vocabulary for meaningful emotional expression, and the idea that emotional interdependence is an asset—not a liability. To talk meaningfully about the sexual and romantic aspects of a boy’s life requires that we all put aside any sexual politics, gender grudges, or defensiveness. Boys have a story of their own. In our talks with boys, we find that many of h i f i l i b d b ffl d b i l f i h db h i i i d f f A college senior we know to be an intelligent, caring, and thoughtful young man described his sexual career to us: “The girls in seventh and eighth grade were ‘crazy horny,’ but being small, I wasn’t in a position to act upon it. But there were stories about ‘Lynn’ telling ‘Josh’ that she was going to have sex with him, or this one doing it with that one. Everyone talked about everybody’s sex life. This kid, John, my friend, was developmentally ready, and he had gotten a hand job or whatever in a movie theater, and all the girls were talking about sex a lot—a lot. This girl, Emily, would talk about wanting it all the time, and she started going with this guy from Edison Junior High, and they had sex five times in a day, she said, and all of this was in eighth grade. Eighth grade.” “What was it like in high school?” “The best-looking girls in the freshman class go after the juniors and seniors. The freshman guys, you know, are still developing, or they’ve just finished developing and they’re still in the awkward stage, and then there are the kids who have been beautiful from day one, and they’re getting all the ass in high school, and you hate them with a passion, you know. Or you have braces, and then you’re really bummin’. “I remember being in awe of girls. I was still developing and still feeling awkward about my looks, and things were changing, and it was completely inconceivable to me to have a girlfriend. I went out on a couple of dates, and not much happened. But I had a lot of guy friends who were doing just fine. My best friend, Ned, lived in the city. They were having sex by their sophomore year. Not me. I was, you know, out of the woman scene in high school. Interested but couldn’t get anything. “Not until I got to college. And then it was a different ball game. There were more women than men, I’d gotten my braces off, and then, all of a sudden, it was like the junior high attitude about sex was back, only now the guys were into it, too. And freshman year I must have hooked up with ten different women.” “Everyone was sleeping with one another?” “Well, it depended. If you were a good-looking guy or an athlete or had a funny personality, you could definitely hook up on weekends. There was this really cool dance club, and everyone pretty much ended up there at the end of the night, d ti ll t dt h ll l d ith d t i t it ” Page 196 1/1 1/27/2020 Kindle RAISING CAIN: PROTECTING THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF BOYS and you were practically guaranteed to have a really close dance with someone and get into it.” “What is ‘hooking up’? Is that intercourse?” “Hooking up is getting close with someone. Holding hands is not a hookup. Kissing is at least a hookup. A hookup can be sexual intercourse as well. Some people were having sex right away. The girls I was hooking up with I wasn’t having sex with right away. It was new to me to be hooking up at all. You know, I was, like, new at this whole thing.” “What was your aim? What was your goal?” “To get … to get …” “To get laid? To have intercourse?” “Yeah … well, not really. I wanted my first experience of sex to be meaningful because I had heard so many stories from people saying it wasn’t. It’s not that everyone was saying, ‘I want to have sex with you,’ but there were times, you know, I could probably have pushed it, but I wanted my first time having sex to be meaningful.” “Was it?” “Yes, it was awesome. It was my sophomore year. I went on a camping trip, and I met this girl, Shannon, who was a senior. She was the head of the outing club. She and I hit it off right away. We fooled around that weekend in a tent, and then when we got back to school, we were kind of seeing each other off and on, fooling around. She didn’t know I was a virgin, and on my birthday she made me a really nice meal, and afterward we had some wine and we were fooling around, … and she said to me, ‘Do you want me to grab a condom?’ And I was about to tell her I was a virgin or about to say, ‘Are you sure you want to do this,’ but then I was thinking this feels totally right, I love this. I really liked this girl. I was really attracted to her; she was awesome. And she was down with it; it’s not like I had to persuade her. We had been totally comfortable with each other from day one. We got totally naked that first day we got back to campus, you know, completely. Even though we hadn’t had sex, we were still doing a lot of other stuff. We had sex three times, all these different positions. And she said, ‘I’m glad that I’m with someone who knows what he’s doing,’ and I told her it was my first time. And she didn’t believe me. She said, ‘Yeah, whatever …,’ and I said, ‘No, seriously.’ First she was shocked, and then she was honored, and then she said, ‘I’m glad you didn’t tell me, because I probably wouldn’t have had sex with you, knowing that it was your first time.’ Because girls think about it the same way, you know, the first time being a big deal. “But then my point of view changed. A month ago I was seeing a girl just on a sex basis. I mean, that was a big part of it. She was going to San Francisco at the end of April. She knew I was graduating. I was respectful. I asked her, ‘Are you sure you want to be doing this, because I’m going to be going at the end of the semester?’ She’s like, ‘Yeah.’ She’s cool with it.” “Are girls more romantic than boys?” “Guys can get away with not having to be romantic, so a lot of guys don’t bother. Because guys are at a premium there, you can get away with not having to court a woman. But it’s different, once you’re officially going out with a person; then I think people get a little more romantic with each other. But if you’re going out with a lot of women, you don’t have to be romantic. “I was romantic with Steffi. I was totally in love with her, like so much that it was unhealthy. I thought, if she didn’t love me, I’d never love anyone. She was going out with a friend our freshman year. Then we had this weird relationship in sophomore and junior year: we’d fool around, but we were like really good friends who would fool around, but we weren’t going out with each other. Then it got sort of complicated, so we broke it off. It was probably a good thing, because I was so hung up on her, but now I’m seeing Gail, and I’m finished seeing Ellen, whom I was having sex with. And it wouldn’t break me up if all of a sudden Gail and I weren’t being together. “But my freshman year my aim was to hook up with girls. I hadn’t done it before, and it was really big on my mind. I went to the clubs. I was thinking ‘Who can I go home with?’ It was exciting, being away from home. You go to parties, and I had crazy confidence. I went to a party with my roommate, Peter, and I was pretty intoxicated, and I just sat down and I had crazy confidence. I went to a party with my roommate, Peter, and I was pretty intoxicated, and I just sat down next to this really good-looking girl and struck up a conversation, and an hour later we were down by the pond making out on a bench, and then we went back to my room and fooled around. And then, here’s the problem. She wanted to go out with me, but I was pretty clueless. Did I put a note on her door? That was the first official hookup at school. But I didn’t know the rules of the game. She was like waiting for me to ask her out, and she assumed that we would be going out, and she got really mad at me. We fooled around the next weekend, and a lot of her friends thought we were going out, but then I ended up hooking up with one of her friends three weeks later, and she freaked out and was totally crushed and whatever. I guess it was an insult or something. She was very upset. And I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get it. I didn’t know she was looking for a relationship. I hadn’t had one, and I just, you know, I don’t know. Ever since then I’m just into hooking up.” In his candid retrospective, Jonathon has described a long-term, somewhat unrequited love relationship, a very happy first experience of sexual intercourse with a girl whom he “liked” but didn’t love, and a series of “hooking-up” experiences. His story illustrates many elements of male sexuality—his desire to show that he was “good in bed,” that he “knew what he was doing”; his emotional cluelessness and lack of empathy after his “first official hookup” in college; his preference for “just hooking up” as a withdrawal from the emotional complexity of relationships; the strength of his sexual desire; and his romanticism and capacity for love. These are a set of powerful forces that sexually active boys must contend with when they are even younger than Jonathon. Boys have a complex agenda, responding to these different forces; they want relationships, but they want to be manly as well. And those two wishes may conflict if a boy’s image of masculinity precludes emotional sharing. An attractive boy who is masculine in this way can leave many girl casualties in his wake. A medical friend of ours whose patients include many teenage girls describes them as “emotionally unprotected” when they deal with boys, in that girls almost universally believe that the boy loves them when he says he does, they believe the boy when he says that he has never had intercourse before, and they believe that the boy will still love them after the medical crisis is over—be it pregnancy, abortion, or a sexually transmitted disease. “Girls today are presumed to be more sexually sophisticated, more equal to boys that way than they used to be,” she says. “But girls are still more vulnerable because they still believe in relationships.” Boys are legendary for their casual disregard of relationship and their blatant interest in sex. As with most legends, there is a kernel of truth in it; and boys and men confirm this picture of themselves. One man in his forties told us, “When I think about what I did in high school, I am terrified for my daughter.” Another friend, turning forty-five, said, “I’m beginning to slow down. I don’t think about sex all the time now. It is kind of a relief.” Another man, who had struggled with fidelity in his marriage, said to us with obvious relief when he turned fifty, “I’m not thinking with my penis anymore.” That many boys pursue sex without any interest in love and end up in a cynical, exploitative place is undeniable. But for most boys, cynical or closed is not what they started out to be. Boys Start Out as Loving Partners Every child, boys included, comes into this world wanting to love and be loved by his parents. Forty years of research on emotional attachment shows us that without it children die or suffer severe emotional damage. Research id it i l d li i l i d th t h b i l t i ll tt b l d B b bi Page 199 1/1 1/27/2020 Kindle RAISING CAIN: PROTECTING THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF BOYS aside, it is also common sense and clinical wisdom that human beings almost universally want to be loved. Boy babies are as cute and beguiling and eager to please as are girl babies, and their desire to love and be loved is every bit as profound as that of girl babies. Young boys practice being lovers on their mothers. They hug their mothers, kiss them, bring them their excitement and the things they have found. A teacher who works with elementary children self-publishing books they have written notes that almost every child—including boys—names his mother on the dedication page, along with a simple but earnest declaration of his love. Boys are free to express love in a more complete way in early childhood because they do not yet have to be afraid to express a sense of dependence. The early mother-child relationship is a prologue to everything that occurs in adult intimacy, including gazing into each other’s eyes, caressing, and sensual, though not sexual, pleasures of all kinds. As infants and toddlers, boys are almost totally dependent, and they do love fully and completely the woman who, as a mother, loves them back and in so doing provides a template for all their later love relationships. Later boys start to transfer some of their love for their mother onto girls. Some boys recall having crushes on girls in kindergarten; others will tell us that, before they were thirteen, “I couldn’t have told you what a girl was.” But eventually many boys we talk with tell us they want love in their lives. They aren’t hunting for trophy girlfriends; they’re eager to please and thrilled at the thought that they could impress a girl and be special to her in a romantic way. The boys who are talking about the school prom two months ahead of time are high with romantic hopes—not plots for sexual conquest. They are eager to fall in love. Many boys also want the security of a committed relationship because dating scares them. One man, in looking back on a love relationship that started in high school and continued through his sophomore year of college, described his relationship with one particular woman as “such a comfort, such a wonderful thing. Dating was so painful. I wanted to know we were committed, that we had a relationship decided. It didn’t matter what the terms were about sex.” But boys are also sexually aroused—a lot. These strong feelings are not completely welcome. It’s like standing hungry and penniless outside a restaurant. Nearly all boys learn how to quell these pangs when they are alone. There is some relief in this and some shame. Many young boys yearn for an imagined day “when they are older” and can be having sex with a real girl instead of magazine centerfolds. The headmaster of a private boys school where we have consulted spoke the “boy truth” when he remarked, on the topic of boys’ silence about their inner lives: “Boys don’t want anyone to get close to their inner lives, because their inner lives are so close to their masturbatory lives.” The mother and father of a thirteen-year-old boy came to discuss their son’s recent refusal to talk about “personal” things. His mother asked, “Why has he stopped talking to me? Why do I only get monosyllabic answers from him?” When we suggested that the boy might be developing a wish for autonomy, a wish for privacy in general, and a private fantasy life connected to his masturbatory life, this intelligent, sophisticated mother said, half jokingly, “Oh, he’s not doing that yet.” Her husband thought aloud, “Let me see, seventh grade … Well, I had a pretty rich masturbatory life in seventh grade.” The mother was embarrassed to hear her husband talk that way. But it was clear that he felt a link with what might be his son’s authentic experience. Another mother of a thirteen-year-old boy asked us for advice when she discovered that her son, who had become increasingly private of late, was tapping into an “X-rated” Internet sex site—the computer-age equivalent of hiding a copy of Playboy under the mattress. We do not condone Internet pornography, but when we began to explain how sexual curiosity and masturbation do fit into the grand, normal scheme of things for a male, she winced and interrupted: “Can’t we just skip all the details and get to the part where you tell me what to do about what’s going on?” We could “skip all the details,” but anyone who wants to understand boys’ emergent sexuality and its effect on later love relationships—especially mothers trying to understand their sons—needs to know some details. There is a joke among men that goes like this: Studies show that 95 percent of boys masturbate and 5 percent of boys are liars. If a boy hasn’t tried his hand at masturbation prior to reaching puberty, the likelihood is that he will discover and practice masturbation during early adolescence. When? Zella Luria at Tufts University says that most parents talk to their boys about masturbation when they are thirteen and that they are about two years too late. A man in his late thirties recalls life at thirteen: “I was like everyone else, I guess. Until about sixteen, I was too afraid of girls to ask for what I wanted sexually. It was easier to beat off at night and stare at girls during the day. The first time, believe it or not, it happened almost spontaneously one night while I was reading in bed. I was thirteen, and I actually believed I had invented masturbation.” A boy’s experience with masturbation means that he begins to build up a library of sexual memories in his head long before he has any partnered sexual experience in adolescence. He controls these fantasies. He can have sex every night with the most popular girl in school, the hottest movie star, his best friend’s mom, or one of his teachers. All of these women are mad about him and will do whatever he wants. This desire for control of what happens in a sexual encounter is what motivates some men to pay for sex with a prostitute, an almost exclusively male activity. By adolescence, a boy wakes up most mornings with an erection. This can happen whether he is in a good mood or a bad mood, whether it is a school day or a weekend. A boy’s experience of an erection, however, is that it came to him, uninvited, but inviting—tempting him with its ability to provide sexual pleasure. Many boys even think of their genitals as having kind of an active consciousness—a penis with a mind of its own. So boys enjoy their own physical gadgetry. But the feeling isn’t always “Look what I can do!” The feeling is often “Look what it can do”—again, a reflection of the way a boy views his instrument of sexuality as just that: an object. What people might not realize when they justly criticize men for objectifying sex—viewing sex as something you do rather than part of a relationship—is that the first experience of objectification of sexuality in a boy’s life comes from his experience of his own body, having this penis that makes its own demands. Sexual Curiosity and Experimentation Healthy male sexuality is shaped by cultural norms, but it grows from a boy’s natural curiosity, biological energy, and raw enthusiasm. Healthy girls and boys come into the world with the same amount of sexual interest and curiosity. Unless a girl is taught to be inhibited, she is as interested and curious as a boy. Most girls are responsive to social cues telling them that certain behaviors are off-limits, but the limits are open to interpretation given today’s highly sexualized media and culture and fairly explicit reproductive education lessons in schools. As a result, most adolescent girls are sexually aware, and many are sexually active, even aggressive, presenting today’s boys with visions and opportunities the likes of which their forefathers could only fantasize about. Boys, traditionally less fettered by social restrictions on sexual activity, enjoy even looser limits today, and when the opportunity arises, they jump into sexual or quasi-sexual encounters. Heightened physical camaraderie of adolescent boys and girls becomes noticeable around the time of puberty and is reflected in the ambience of middle school and junior high school. On a visit to the campus of Saint George’s School in Tacoma, Washington, several years ago, a memorable scene unfolded one warm, fall day. A river runs right through the school campus, and on this sunny afternoon kids had taken tubes upriver and were rafting down through the school campus. In each large tube were two or three high school kids d d ll h b d i l i l d b i h i l b h b k Page 202 1/1 1/27/2020 Kindle RAISING CAIN: PROTECTING THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF BOYS draped all over one another: two boys and a girl, two girls and a boy, sometimes three girls or two boys—the boys took care to avoid crushing together with only boys. The physical ease, the pleasure in having to be pig-piled on top of one another, the casual sexuality made “safe” by the platonic restraint required by the river clearly delighted them. For all of them this was a forerunner to more intimate sexual contact. Probably some of these kids were already sexually experienced. But for those who were not yet there, this shared group physical contact was practice for them. In any school, when kids are allowed to sit however they want, they often lean or drape themselves over one another. On the emotional playing field, however, the gap between the emotional education of girls and that of boys begins to show itself in new ways. Through the eyes of a barely pubescent middle school boy, girls seem generally more mature, more powerful, and more confident than boys. Much of this impression is projected by their blooming sexuality. Girls enter puberty about a year or two before boys, at around age ten to eleven. They get secondary sexual characteristics and their growth earlier than boys. Boys start developing signs of puberty at between twelve and thirteen. All you have to do is look at a seventh-grade class—tall girls with developing breasts beside littler boys with high voices— to see the developmental gap. Often when we talk to eighth-grade girls in our work at schools and ask them whether they are looking forward to high school, they say, “Oh, yeah, we can’t wait to get out of here and meet some real boys.” A seventh-grade boy, thirteen, expressed dismay at the way “girls changed” from the easy friends they were in previous years to the “snobby, mean” creatures they became in seventh grade. “They used to respect other people and didn’t talk like they were the best things in the entire world. Now, it’s like, they think they know everything, and they act really strange. First of all, they all act exactly the same. It’s like they looked at a training booklet on how to dress, how to walk, how to comb their hair. And they all do it just that way. That’s really weird. And then they talk about who’s going with who and who’s mad at who, and sicker stuff—like who kissed who—and they do it everywhere. They do it right in the middle of the hall between classes! First there’s two, then five more come, and pretty soon there’s this big clump of them, and they’re talking in these loud voices about all this stuff. They’re really screwed up.” Boys vary in how early they become interested in girls, but by seventh or eighth grade, most boys are, and any boy who doesn’t at least profess interest is in danger of being labeled a “loser” or a “fag.” And when they’re ready, if they are attractive at least, they find no shortage of interested girls, who, because of changing mores, are allowed to be more sexually assertive, something boys find both challenging and relieving. Jonathon, the college senior, recalled the mutual sexual curiosity and playfulness of his eighth-grade crowd of boys and girls and described a typical bit of roughhousing, “just stupid games we’d play when we had a couple girls over to my friend’s house.” In this mutually sexually charged wrestling play, he said, “the girls would grab us, you know, down there. And guys would grab the girls’ breasts, too, and it was cool, you know, it was not assault, you know. It was okay with them.” Here, then, is the aggressive, roughhousing play of boys and girls that serves as a preface to more direct sexual activity. But even in these early and fun-filled moments, there is a power struggle playing out, a wish by boys to dominate in order to appear in control but, more important, to avoid the risk of rejection and humiliation by girls. The Culture of Cruelty: Providing the Male Sexual Script As it is for every adolescent, what boys do sexually is, to some extent, scripted for them by the peer group and by society’s stereotypes about the nature of male and female sexuality. Depending on his neighborhood, school, and ethnic or religious context, every boy has a sexual script that he is taught and that may be with him for life, whether it matches the reality of his circumstances or not. In early adolescence, before boys have really begun to have sexual experiences with partners, they begin to firm up their fantasy visions of their sexuality. Often the fantasies are connected to power— the idea that a man should be able to dominate a woman. Much of this fantasy of domination arises from anxiety or fear of rejection, as does so much male aggression. Moreover, to boys, it’s an important image to maintain, an aura of sexual pride that proves their masculinity to other boys. This is reflected in the cocky conversations we hear among boys today, reminiscent of the ones we heard among boys of our own adolescence a few decades ago, and similar to those we’ve seen captured in some truthful coming-of-age films about adolescent boys. The film This Boy’s Life, Tobias Wolff’s memoir of his adolescence, shows this behavior of ninth-grade boys. When two boys meet on the street, one asks the other (the fourteen-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio) about the date he had last night: “Did you go to Wanda’s last night?” the friend asks. “Uh-huh,” DiCaprio replies. “Did you make out?” “Uh-huh.” “Make out good?” “Uh-huh.” “How good?” “I fucked her ’til her nose bled,” DiCaprio says. To which the friend replies mockingly, “Sure you did.” They then go to the house of one of the boys and watch a Superman show on television. As the show comes on, DiCaprio groans theatrically, “Oh, Lois, oh, baby, come here, I got six hot inches just waiting for you.” His friend, mockingly, says, “You wish.” “Lois, I want you so bad … I’ll do better than Superman.” The narrator’s voice reflects: “We had to talk dirty for a while. It was a formality, like crossing yourself with holy water when you went to church. After that we shut up and watched the show. We softened, we surrendered. We watched Superman have dumb adventures with dorky plots, and we didn’t laugh at them.” In the adolescent male culture of cruelty, boys feel that they have to talk about power; they have to talk about disrespecting women—they have to in order to display their strength. None of this has much to do with actually understanding or knowing girls and women. Much of it is in response to the impressive physical presence, social power, and perceived sexual aggression of adolescent girls. Adolescent boys spend a lot of time talking about impressing, dazzling, making out with, having sex with, and otherwise overpowering girls and women. Most of this boasting, as every man will later admit, is purely insecure bluster. This storytelling occurs years ahead of most boys’ first experience with sexual intercourse, and most boys have no intention of actually treating girls this way. Why do boys do this? Why is this their take on sexuality? The answers can be found in the early lessons boys get in viewing girls as foreign, in boys’ tremendous performance anxiety in life, and in the culture of cruelty, where boys are punished for showing vulnerability and pressured to demean feminine qualities as a way of boosting their masculine image. Performance anxiety dogs boys always, but perhaps most of all in their sexual endeavors. Every man knows this anxiety; a woman has to imagine it through a boy’s perspective: novice though he may be, he feels that, to satisfy his partner, he has to “do it right.” It starts out with whether or not he will be a “good kisser.” When he gets older, the stakes get higher. He has to get it up and keep it up. He cannot come too early—which, at seventeen, is a real possibility—and he cannot come too late. In his mind, he has to be the great lover, she the passive recipient. Why? Because it has been like that in a boy’s mind throughout his masturbatory career, because his fantasies of sex merge with his fantasies of power Page 206 1/1 1/27/2020 Kindle RAISING CAIN: PROTECTING THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF BOYS that in a boy’s mind throughout his masturbatory career, because his fantasies of sex merge with his fantasies of power in his private sexual moments. And he thinks he has to take that act on the road and make good on it. But he can’t, because he is frightened and inexperienced—and then he finds out that his partner thinks the whole deal should be collaborative. What a relief. But does that mean he’s less of a man? Maybe. And what if he is good with one girl but fails to get an erection with another girl? Maybe the girls have the power over him. Maybe he’s not such a big deal after all. This is what a boy is thinking. It is exhausting. The culture of cruelty adds punishment to pain: a boy can’t admit to other boys that he’s anxious, hurt, or sad if that has been his lot. Angry or hostile is okay, though, evidenced by the Monday-morning bragging about sexual conquests, demeaning descriptions of girls, and “Fuck ’em. Who needs ’em?” posturing. Performance is critical to boys; yet ironically, the endeavor in which some sort of failure is almost inevitable—sex and intimacy—is the one endeavor in which a boy can’t admit failure. Not only do boys carry around a large case of performance anxiety, but when they experience failure, in sexual or romantic terms, they have to lie about it—or at the very least keep silent about it to avoid humiliation of the worst kind. Intimacy in a relationship with a girl demands sensitivity, respect, and tenderness. At about the time that boys are beginning to develop sexually and beginning to develop an interest in girls, they are subjected to the culture of cruelty, which is all about power, dominance, and denial of sensitivity. Here a boy is taught in a systematic way to view tender feelings as “feminine” and to eschew them for the same reason. By portraying vulnerable qualities as alien—undesirably feminine—the boy culture promotes the view of girls and women as “other” and defines the eventual aim of a sex relationship as domination. That is the culture of cruelty’s “power teaching.” A boy under its influence denigrates girls and women in order to control his anxiety about them. If he has to talk with them and be tender and kiss right, each of those requirements becomes a risk, and his experience with risk is that if he doesn’t measure up, he’ll be slammed for his failure. In the context of a boy-girl relationship, rejection is emasculating; thus, girls become the enemy because they have the power to inflict the most humiliating emotional hurt. The culture of cruelty teaches boys that, in the male realm, feminine qualities are loathsome; to the degree that a boy buys into that belief, and loathes the qualities of tenderness and vulnerability in himself, he grows to hate parts of himself and girls as well. For that boy, and his like-minded audience of boys, girls represent the lowest caste in the social order, fair game for use or abuse. Behind that macho posturing is high anxiety about girls and women. Sometimes this hypermasculinity meets with approval: many boys can outrage and impress girls by being “bad.” Alongside his desire, a boy harbors a fear of girls because they hold such power to reject him. Anxiety limits a boy’s ability to pick up on external cues, and his anxiety about girls and about his performance with them distorts his perception of them and obscures the cues that might guide him toward a more meaningful experience in relationship. If boys are not taught empathy, then their response to rejection or frustration easily becomes devaluation of girls and women. He remembers his first kiss, with a fourth-grade girl, at a building construction site next to his parents’ house. At thirteen, he had his first sexual experience, with a twelve-year-old girl whom he adored. The parent of a girl this age might look at this thirteen-year-old boy as predatory, but more objectively, he was a boy in love who found a girl with mutual affection and budding passion. “I was so taken with her. I did love her,” Jerry says. “Her parents went out a lot, and they both worked. The first time we went over to her house alone, we went up to the attic and had sex. It was great. We had sex for three years. We were very creative. Location is tough when you are that age. We talked almost every day. We were inseparable.” They both loved acting and were in a children’s theater group together. Jerry was faithful to his girlfriend and presumed she felt the same loyalty. He was wrong. “One day she was acting strange, and I asked her about it, and she told me that she’d slept with a friend of her sister’s,” he says. “I was so hurt. So hurt. I got drunk and challenged this big kid who’d slept with her. He mopped up the alley with me.” Jerry was heartbroken and humiliated, and he gave up the girl rather than try to save the relationship. He didn’t see her anymore, and he had always thought of it as a clean break. But it wasn’t really, for him, because the loss of trust, and the association of intimacy and betrayal, colored his view of every woman thereafter who entered his life with love in mind. Jerry abandoned his previous interest in the full range of emotional intimacy: he simply sought refuge in sex and the warm, casual company of women, which he still desired. Sex was good. Music and drugs made it even better. Love? He didn’t want to think about it. “I dated a lot of girls and slept with a lot,” he says. “I insulated myself a lot. I didn’t let my guard down after that. I remember thinking ‘I’m not going to let that happen again.’ I wasn’t going to get attached. From sixteen to eighteen, I was involved with a lot of girls. I was definitely romantic, but I had a cold place in me. There was one girl I started to get attached to, but I pulled away from her because she was too clingy; her neediness scared me.” What is poignant about Jerry’s story is the very limited and stereotypical way he dealt with betrayal—how he had to go and physically challenge the fellow who had slept with his girlfriend and how he avoided emotional intimacy for years after that, despite his sexual relationship with numerous girls and women. He connected with women socially and sexually, but he was unable to cope with the hurt and complexity inherent in love relationships and withdrew into himself for a period of years. Happily, he became bored with and lonely in sexual relationships and threw himself wholeheartedly into marriage in his twenties. Some boys who can’t cope with emotional hurt or the painful challenges of relationship have a different reaction: instead of turning inward, they go on the attack. Exploitation: Boys Who Use Girls Michael with Jerry: Young Love and Betrayal Jerry, a man in his late forties, remembers how, in fifth grade, he listened to records by Carole King and Carly Simon, but only when he was alone in his room. “I hid the records when my friends came over because it wasn’t cool,” he says. He was a boy of tender sensibilities, a romantic, but the requirement of looking cool conflicted with his interest in girls and in love even at this early age. “I’ve always loved love—I love that female energy,” he says, recalling his crushes on girls from as early as first grade. He remembers his first kiss with a fourth-grade girl at a building construction site next to his parents’ house At A friend who played football his senior year in high school told us of a day another football player on the team boasted, “I fucked a girl last night and didn’t even have to kiss her.” In the moment he heard that, this friend thought, “I’m not like that. I’m a different kind of man than that guy.” There is a difference between men who struggle with relationships, men who want intimacy and don’t always achieve it, and those who exploit and prey upon women to satisfy their appetites for simple sex, to guarantee that they will be fully in control, that the power over what happens in a relationship will be in their hands. Sometimes there is an element of revenge for past hurts. And sometimes these men i i i h h h h d Page 209 1/1 1/27/2020 Kindle RAISING CAIN: PROTECTING THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF BOYS are imitating what they have seen other men do to women. At one extreme are men who themselves have been sexually abused. Sexual abuse of boys is more rare than sexual abuse of girls, and although in both cases the perpetrators are more likely to be men, with boys the abuse more often carries with it the burden of silent shame. For reasons of stoicism and the shame of having had a homosexual encounter, boys are reluctant to report abuse. While it is a minority of boys who are abused this way, their sexual and intimate lives are affected by abuse, and the consequences can be lifelong. As with girls, boys who have had these experiences are predisposed toward serious mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and character disorders. A sense of victimhood, the feeling that one’s body is not one’s own, and a profound mistrust of intimacy are all the result of abusive experiences. Because boys and men are more likely to express emotional pain in destructive ways, it is not surprising that most sex offenders were themselves victims of sex abuse at an earlier age. Not all victims grow up to inflict this trauma on others, but many continue to punish themselves by retreating from normal sex and intimacy. Some men, as boys, were not sufficiently athletic, developed, strong, or conventionally attractive to be a big draw for girls, especially in middle school or early high school. The boys who were not so conventionally attractive may have had to wait until they could become attractive to girls, and they may have had to develop other ways of communicating with or becoming attractive to girls. Boys who are athletes, who fit the conventional model of good-looking and powerful, are in an easy position to exploit their popularity. While this is natural, inevitable, and for the most part harmless, it can take a boy athlete down a road that leads to a destructive attitude toward women. The most terrible situations occur when empathy is systematically trained out of boys, when they are taught to see themselves as dominating, when they find themselves repeatedly in situations in which they do not have to empathize with girls, or when they are systematically taught to exploit girls. This is the “entitled prince” scenario played out in the sexual realm, and it is an ugly drama. Though many boys might be tempted by this idea—remember the masturbatory fantasies of domination that are so common for boys—it is the athletes, especially prominent and successful athletes at the high school or college level, who are most often trained to think of themselves as entitled to the sexual attention of girls and women. Taken to its worst extreme, the culture’s worship of boy athletes can result in the situation described in Bernard Lefkowitz’s Our Guys: The Glen Ridge Rape and the Secret Life of the Perfect Suburb.1 The book explores an actual case in which four high school football players were charged with the gang rape of a mentally retarded girl whom they had known all of their lives. The girl was lured into a cellar, coerced into performing oral sex, and then penetrated with several objects, including a baseball bat. In the wake of disclosure that the boys had been involved in such an incident, many of the leading adults in the community—as well as many parents, educators, ministers, girlfriends, and others— aggressively defended the perpetrators as “good boys,” whose lives would be marred by this “tragedy.” Lefkowitz observed that very few people jumped to the defense of the girl, nor did many people question the moral character of the boys who had carried out the rape. Most adults excused them on psychological grounds: the boys were “hyper”; the girl was flirtatious. The message: Boys are not responsible for what happens when a girl goes down into a cellar with them, not even when the girl is retarded. These boys were, in their small town, “the Jocks,” the reigning kings of the town social set. They weren’t great athletes, but they were the most celebrated ones in town; they weren’t great students either, but their athletic credentials bought them safe passage through their teachers’ grade books. Mediocre in so many ways, they nonetheless excelled at creating a caste system in which they used certain “types” of girls to further their agendas of sexual conquest and social status. They had sexual access to a class of insecure girls—many of them thirteen and fourteen years old—who were desperate for their attention in order to advance their own social hopes. These girls were taken upstairs at parties to provide oral sex and other sexual services. Downstairs were the popular girls, called the “Little Mothers,” socially adept cheerleaders who doted on the Jocks but weren’t expected to satisfy their sexual demands. Lefkowitz writes: who doted on the Jocks but weren’t expected to satisfy their sexual demands. Lefkowitz writes: If you were a Jock, these girls [the Little Mothers] were perfect. Unlike real mothers and sisters, they weren’t censorious or judgmental. Because they were cast in the maternal role, they were not usually regarded as potential sex partners. For a teenage guy who might be insecure about his sexual performance, the last thing he wanted was to have to perform with a girl who could tell everybody he knew about his shortcomings in the sack. But even the Little Mothers were disregarded at the deepest levels. One of them said about the Jocks’ casual disregard of them, “That was something you had to accept when you were with these guys.… It was like [they] didn’t know how to treat someone.” But because they were Jocks, they didn’t have to learn how to treat someone in a respectful or intimate way. And the fact that no one required them to act responsibly, morally, or with character gave them the license to think that they could do what they wanted, with whom they wanted. The aura of entitlement around athletes is a uniquely powerful setting for sexual exploitation, but no class of boys has a corner on exploitative behavior. Almost any day in the newspapers you can find evidence of this worst-case mentality at work. As Lefkowitz notes: “For a lot of boys, acting abusively toward women is regarded as a rite of passage. It’s woven into our culture.” Less extreme, but similar, conditions exist for every boy and contribute to incidents of coercive sex, or what is sometimes called “date rape.” Date rape is a frequent and much-discussed problem on campus because young people, trying to work out their intimacy and their sexual drives, can often find themselves in situations where a girl can be exploited. Most often, those situations arise when one or the other or both people have drunk so much that their judgment is impaired, and the self-doubt and second-guessing can come the morning after, when a young woman wakes up and feels that she has been taken advantage of. The young man may have been following his own script of power and conquest, oblivious in the moment or in general to the visual and emotional cues that a young woman may give. If his peer or community culture holds him to no higher standard of conduct, then even a boy of conscience can get into situations in which he feels a cultural license to engage in sexually aggressive behavior: Perhaps the girl has been drinking. Perhaps their conversation has been flirtatious and seems to invite sex. Perhaps he’s drunk or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Perhaps he is sexually aroused and wants swift gratification more than he wants to stop himself. Perhaps his pals are waiting to hear the score. Under these circumstances the recipe for exploitation is available to everybody, and a boy who gets a steady diet of it knows he has no limits. When people say that a boy “should know” when a girl doesn’t want sex, they ask too much—and not enough—of boys. If a boy’s emotional education has left him blind to emotional cues and awareness, then a different, more direct kind of tutoring is necessary to communicate the basics: When you get aroused, you don’t just rape girls. If you know drinking makes you lose control, then don’t drink or don’t drink so much. If a girl’s judgment is influenced by drink, drugs, or emotional vulnerability, don’t exploit the opportunity. Boys and girls in middle school and high school, as well as young men and women in college, need to discuss these situations with each other before they occur in order to develop empathy for each other’s experience. It is the responsibility of people who raise boys to train them specifically to be good, empathic partners to girls and women. It can be done, by fathers who model respect for women in the family and in the wider world, by mothers who help sons understand a girl’s point of view, and by anyone in a boy’s life who helps him see his connectedness to others as a positive thing. What will not work is to ignore this need for guidance, leaving boys to their own devices, winking at their dominating and reckless behavior, and forcing girls and women to pay the price for this cultural and parental negligence. It serves a boy poorly, too, setting him up to play a dead-end role in relationships and condemning him for taking bad turns when that is where all the signs in his life were pointing Page 212 1/1 1/27/2020 Kindle RAISING CAIN: PROTECTING THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF BOYS taking bad turns, when that is where all the signs in his life were pointing. Guilt and Growth: Movement toward Maturity Like many men, Geoff, a political consultant in his early forties, recalls his exploitation of girls as “a phase I went through.” He was a boy who liked being around girls and knew how to relate to them, and they were attracted to him as a result. “I knew how to talk to girls, and I knew how to listen,” Geoff says. “I figured, if that’s what they want, then give it to them. What could be easier? What I wanted mostly was sex, but I never met a girl or a woman who wouldn’t reward a good listener. The hard part was talking after sex. Even listening after sex was excruciating. They thought I was being intentionally mean by not talking to them afterward, but the truth is, I just wanted them to shut up. What was left to say? Especially when my failures were too humiliating—times when I was either impotent or came too soon. I was embarrassed and angry. I knew I had blown it. Here I was in my high school years perfecting my image of a cool, incontrol kind of guy, and then something like this would happen, and there was no way I could pretend I was in control. So naturally, I took it out on the girl. I’d withdraw and refuse to talk. And when I did talk, I said mean things, things I’m embarrassed to remember. Even to girls I cared about. Whenever feelings got complicated for any reason, I felt cornered, and I lashed out—nothing physically violent, but saying something hurtful or cruel. Anything to fight my way out of that uncomfortable spot. I never wanted to hurt anyone. When I look back now at how I’ve treated some of the girls I dated in my teens, I’m really ashamed. I wish I could go back and apologize to them. I was such a moral midget!” Even so, Geoff eventually ceased to be such an overt manipulator. In part, the change was due to his simply growing up. All therapists clearly see that human beings are motivated to become better than they are. Without this motivation, psychotherapy would be almost impossible. If an adolescent boy is not too damaged psychologically, he will continue to become more mature as he moves into his twenties and thirties. It is a well-known fact in the field of criminology that most criminals (the vast majority of whom are male) stop committing crimes against society as they move into their thirties. No one is completely sure why this happens, but the same occurs for “relationship crimes.” As boys grow, most tend to be less exploitative and heartless in their relationships with girls. Another man, now a caring husband and father, describes a similarly exploitative adolescence with delayed regret, explaining, “Satisfying myself was all I knew about, and sex was the most satisfying thing around. It was uncomplicated if you didn’t get emotionally involved. It was simple at a time when a lot of other things at school and at home weren’t simple. The sex, the beer, the music: it was everything I wanted!” So why did he give it up? “I don’t know,” he says. “My focus started to shift.” Just as boys whose parents raise them to be emotionally whole men grow sooner toward that light, we believe that there is, within every person, every boy, something that pushes for growth, that wants to be better. Along the way, some men come down on the side of power, others on the side of intimacy, and many struggle in between. Some learn the lessons of relationship; others never do. Some of the lessons are clear and simple; others are more complex. But it is imperative that boys be taught, so that they may share the essence of human experience, the joy that comes from a loving relationship, without hurting others along the way. Chapter 11 Anger and Violence The greatest remedy for anger is delay. —SENECA We see a lot of angry boys. Some of them we see in therapy, sent by teachers or parents concerned about their aggressive behavior or about underlying themes of anger or violence in their school writings. We also hear about a lot of angry boys from their victims. We see other angry boys just out and about: the young bully who torments other children at the park, the punk who shouts abusive taunts at passersby in the mall, and the silent, brooding boy who looks like a powder keg ready to blow. The most powerful expression of anger is violence, and like everyone else, we see the worst of that in the news. There are few images more heartbreaking than those of the recent past involving boys who shot, strangled, stabbed, or in some other way inflicted violence on others, including children, teachers, and their own parents. Whether the stories come from rural Jonesboro, Arkansas, where two boys, eleven and thirteen years old, armed with guns, ambushed classmates in their schoolyard, or from Chicago’s inner city, where two boys, ten and eleven years old, dropped a five-year-old boy out a fourteenth-floor apartment window to his death on the asphalt below, each act of violence adds to the disturbing picture developing of boys as a class of violent offenders. Everyone has a theory about what makes children violent. Some blame the frightening rise in violence by children on the glorification of violence in the popular culture, easy access to guns, growing up in an economically disadvantaged violent neighborhood, and more hours of inadequate supervision brought about by the disappearance of the two-parent family. Certainly, those are significant factors. Criminologists and other social scientists have learned a lot about factors that place people at risk for becoming violent criminals. However, all this knowledge still does little to help us anticipate if and when a specific person will hurt someone else or destroy property. And these truths stop short of addressing the clear pattern of young male violence. In previous chapters we have highlighted a number of boy-girl differences that define the emotional miseducation of boys and the damage it does. Compared to girls, boys tend to experience and create more problems in elementary school; boys draw harsh discipline like a magnet; as teenagers, they drink sooner and harder, and drive drunk more frequently; their suicide rate is higher. But nowhere is this difference between boys and girls more extreme than when it comes to physical violence—against people or against property. Nowhere is it clearer that the emotional education our culture gives boys is failing them—and all of us. Dramatic statistics confirm that boys, as a group, are more aggressive and violent.1 Of all killings committed by juveniles, about 95 percent are committed by boys. In the recent past, there have been dramatic increases in the rates of the types of violent juvenile crimes that, in the United States, are committed almost exclusively by boys—homicide, Page 216 1/1 1/27/2020 Kindle RAISING CAIN: PROTECTING THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF BOYS the types of violent juvenile crimes that, in the United States, are committed almost exclusively by boys—homicide, aggravated assault, and forcible rape. The problem is not restricted to the United States. In Europe juvenile rates for these crimes are on the increase.2 For every one of the tragic stories we read about in the paper, there are many others, less sensational, but most share the common denominator of angry boys hurting those around them or destroying property. Sometimes in the archaeology of the life of a violent boy, we uncover extreme conditions, such as years of unspeakable abuse. Other such boys—whether killers, fighters, or vandals—will have experienced a breach of trust by someone close; a loss they could not mourn, be it from death, divorce, or leaving; shame from harsh or critical parents or teachers; humiliation at the hands of cruel peers or in the ebb and flow of social interactions, sports, or academic performance. In short, they suffer the trials and tribulations of life imposed on many of us at one time or another. The difference between boys who turn violent and those who don’t is that the violent ones lack sufficient psychological resources to control their emotional reactions. Despite the clear pattern suggesting a serious problem, our society tends to overlook boy violence until dramatic episodes such as the schoolyard shootings capture public attention. Even then, there is a kind of cultural denial, an aroused yet ineffectual talk-show mentality that does little to address the problem and only reinforces the sense of societal helplessness in the presence of violent boys. A concerned mother in Colorado, in a letter to the editor in USA Today, wrote that she was concerned about the escalating violence and its impact on her own son: If we are ever to have an effective dialogue about violence, the crux of the problem must be identified and targeted and that, friends, is that we have a nation of boys who do not control their anger. Before anyone cries “male-bashing,” I have an 11-year-old boy and I am concerned about him and the level of escalating violence from the schoolyards of Arkansas and Kentucky to the basketball courts of the so-called professionals.… We must teach boys that to control one’s anger is not to be a sissy but to be a civilized human being.3 What’s to be done? Some respond that we need to get tougher about how we raise our boys—spank them more often— in much the same way that death penalty advocates respond to rising crime rates. But as we know from research and our therapy experience with boys, the “bigstick” approach to discipline doesn’t work; it only makes boys more prone to meanness. Our work takes us into the inner world of boys, where they absorb the hand that life has dealt—how their parents treat them, the neighborhood they live in, how well they learn at school, the way their friends act—and then react to it. This is where you find the difference between a boy who acts violently and one who does not. Thus, we return to the story with which we began this book—the biblical tale of Cain. Here we find many of the same themes that characterize the emotional lives of boys today who use violence as a response to conditions in modern life. In the story from Genesis, Cain’s anger is triggered by his perception that God, the heavenly father whom he so strove to please, holds him in disregard, while Abel is clearly favored. Cain, naturally, is disappointed, and his reaction to disappointment is anger. The next lines in this brief story are subject to a wide range of interpretations, but at the heart of it, God admonishes Cain for dwelling in self-pity and anger: Why are you distressed, And why is your face fallen? Surely, if you do right, There is uplift. But if you do not do right But if you do not do right, Sin couches at the door; Its urge is toward you, Yet you can be its master. (Genesis 4:6) We won’t try to second-guess the biblical intent of God’s words, but we find there an expressed challenge to Cain to think through his angry impulse, and although the desire to act on it might feel urgent, “yet you can be its master.” Count to ten. Think about it. Choose to “do right.” But Cain isn’t listening, or more precisely, he isn’t hearing the nonviolent option. He slays Abel, and God’s response is to decree that Cain live in the shadow of his act for the rest of his life, working the soil without gain and being banished to the land of Nod to become a “ceaseless wanderer on earth.” Cain is stricken with remorse—“My punishment is greater than I can bear,” he cries—but it’s too late. The deed is done, the damage inalterable. This is the story of so many boys today whose shame becomes anger, and whose anger moves so swiftly to violence. These boys, too, need fuller emotional resources to deal with the distress they experience from a teacher’s criticism, a parent’s harsh comment, a classmate’s taunt, or a girl’s rejection. Our challenge as parents and teachers is to teach the lessons of emotional literacy that enable a boy to bend under emotional trials without breaking into violent revenge: Life isn’t always fair. Learn to deal with it. You can’t just go around hurting people every time you get angry. You need to consider how your actions affect others. Don’t see threats where they don’t exist. You need to know that controlling your anger does not make you a sissy. Instead, it is the legacy of Cain that we see in aggressive boys we have known, and it is one borne out in research on delinquency and violence. A boy who has been disappointed or feels disrespected, who has been shamed or frustrated, grows angry and lashes out. Like Cain, he doesn’t pause to consider the consequences to either himself or his victim. Many of these boys are sorry afterward, but by then the damage has been done, and the contrition is of little use to anyone. Their violent actions have inflicted irreparable harm on their victims and wounded the hearts of all who care. And the boys themselves are diminished by those violent actions. Like an ax that is dulled as it chops a tree, the boys are hurt by the social and psychological consequences of what they have done. The mechanism of cause and effect can be seen when we look at the world of sports and the lessons it teaches about the value of self-restraint. For instance, Alonzo Mourning, a multimillionaire basketball star for the Miami Heat, was interviewed about an on-court altercation in which he was the main attraction. At the very end of the game, an angry Mourning had punched Larry Johnson, an opponent who Mourning thought was playing too rough. Johnson returned the punch; both men were suspended for two games. Unfortunately for Mourning, his suspension coincided with the final of an important play-off series. As it turned out, his team, which—had he been in the lineup—would have been heavily favored to win, was roundly trounced, and the season was finished. One instant of bad judgment helped erase a whole season of hard work by an entire team, disappointing a legion of fans. Mourning said later that he shouldn’t have thrown the punch. That he had let down his teammates. That he was stupid. The man he hit, Larry Johnson, who was suspended because he retaliated, said, “I should have known better. I should have been a punk and walked away.” Most boys don’t want to risk being seen as a wimp—a “punk.” And many boys don’t know when to walk away. Too often there is too little buffer between an angry feeling and a violent response. The line between throwing a punch and walking away is sometimes very thin. Violence could have been prevented had there been a little more empathy, a bit lf t l b tt di f th it ti littl l d i i t d i t d f ti h d Page 219 1/1 1/27/2020 Kindle RAISING CAIN: PROTECTING THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF BOYS more self-control, a better reading of the situation, a little less anger, a decision to use words instead of actions—or had a man possessed the maturity to walk away from a fight without thinking of himself as a “punk.” These are the things that we, as parents and educators, must teach our boys. In order to teach those lessons, it helps to understand three things about the way a boy interprets incoming signals— real and imagined—and why he responds to his life and our lessons the way he does: 1. In boys the motivation for aggression is more “defensive” rather than offensive or predatory. The aggression that boys display is usually in response to a perceived threat or a reaction to frustration or disappointment. Violent boys are not testosterone-laden beasts, as some would suggest; they are vulnerable, psychologically cornered individuals who use aggression to protect themselves. 2. Boys are primed to see the world as a threatening place and to respond to that threat with aggression. Because they are caught in the trap of trying to satisfy the impossible requirements of the traditional masculine self-image, boys are sensitive to any perceived disrespect. Furthermore, their experience in the culture of cruelty leaves them expecting hostility in their interactions with others. Last, boys, because of their emotional illiteracy, are bad at reading emotional cues in social situations. As a result, they are more likely to interpret neutral situations as threatening. 3. Boys often don’t know or won’t admit what it is that makes them angry. This is the flip side of their difficulty in reading emotional cues in others. Because of their emotional miseducation, boys are often unaware of the source or intensity of their bottled-up anger. As a result, they are prone to engage in explosive outbursts or direct their violence toward a “neutral” target—usually a person who is not the real source of the anger. feeling of inferiority or being devoid of social status. There is little scientific evidence to support the admittedly popular idea that boys with high testosterone levels are aggressive and yet have higher social status. Our clinical experience also refutes the notion of such a biological imperative. It is not the virile class leader who is usually the bully or the one getting into fights after school. It is the boy who is further down the social ladder, one who feels rejected or ashamed, who expresses his hurt through aggressive action. Clinical evidence tells us that boys who have the genetic defect Kleinfelter’s syndrome tend to be aggressive. Kleinfelter’s is a clinical condition caused by an extra female chromosome (XXY), and affected boys have small genitalia and a testosterone deficiency. Clinicians who work with these boys report that they tend to be self-conscious because, especially for those on the cusp of puberty who must shower together after gym class, penis size is a visible measure of manhood. These boys tend to get into trouble fighting, perhaps to protect themselves against the pain of this shame and perhaps in part to validate their manliness. Research directed by Richard Tremblay at the University of Montreal with normal thirteen-year-old boys also verifies the observation that it is the rejected, unpopular boy who is most aggressive. Tremblay studied a large group of boys from the time they were in kindergarten. Those who had been consistently rated by teachers and peers as physically aggressive also tended to be boys who were having academic problems and were generally unpopular. This is not news; other studies have confirmed this finding. But what is most notable about Tremblay’s work is that he found that these boys had lower levels of testosterone than the more popular tough but not physically aggressive school leaders.5 Dan with Leif: Passing Around the Pain Violence as Armor There is a long history of behavioral research with animals that has classified physical aggression by variety and examined the different brain structures involved in each type. The research shows, for instance, how different neural pathways are involved in different kinds of aggression.4 An example: the brain processes aggression that is directed at killing an animal for food along different pathways than it does violence that is part of a display of male dominance. Only some of this is relevant to human aggression. The most significant point is the distinction between the more predatory or offensive type of fighting and aggression that is reactive or defensive. From our experience with “normal” boys, we feel that much of their physical aggression is reactive. That is to say, a boy will perceive a threat, either real or imagined, and react like a cornered animal. It is aggression triggered by the need for protection or as a reaction to pain. Boys feel extremely vulnerable in their efforts to live up to the “Big Impossible,” and there is much emotional inner territory that they need to protect. There is, for example, the impossible self-image of manliness to uphold. But perhaps most problematic is their low threshold for emotional pain. Boys who do not have well-developed psychological resources for managing their feelings tend to be very vulnerable to emotional pain. They are not adept at recognizing or coping with anxiety and sadness—feelings that often accompany close human relationships—so they must be vigilant in protecting themselves. When they do feel the emotional pain, it is often intensely acute—like a hammer slamming a thumb—and accompanied by a howl of anger and a lashing out at the most convenient target. Many circumstances can trigger anger, but one that is commonplace in the male adolescent culture of cruelty is the feeling of inferiority or being devoid of social status. There is little scientific evidence to support the admittedly popular Leif was a boy who seemed to have a lot going for him—a caring mother, comfortable economic circumstances, a good school to attend. And he was talented, very bright, athletic, and possessed of a very nice boy’s version of his mother’s good looks, blond, with a classic Nordic face. Until he was around eight years old, Leif did nothing to suggest that he was other than happy, and his fighting was limited to garden-variety rough-housing with a brother who was two years his junior. But at the start of his third-grade year, a new boy joined Leif’s class. Jeffrey was a superstar. He was smart as a whip and soon eclipsed Leif as the brightest kid in class. On the playground no one could touch Jeffrey. He could run faster, throw a football farther, and beat anyone easily in one-on-one basketball, an honor that was once Leif’s. If that had been where it ended, Leif could probably have survived. But Jeffrey also wanted to be at the center of third-grade society, and he had the social and political skills to pull it off. He was adept at forming coalitions and advancing his popularity while subtly undermining that of his rivals. This talent, together with the popularity afforded Jeffrey by his intellectual and athletic gifts, meant he could dictate what was cool and what wasn’t. And with Leif as his primary rival for third-grade alpha male leader status, Jeffrey began to consciously try to undermine him. If Leif touted Ken Griffey Jr. as the best baseball player, Jeffrey would counter with Sammy Sosa. If Leif brought a Smashing Pumpkins CD to school, Jeffrey would see to it that Green Day, his favorite band, was acknowledged as superior. Leif got mad, and his sometimes immature responses did little to help his popularity. He would lose his cool with Jeffrey and say things that Jeffrey would use to mock him. As Leif began to lose friends, his aggressiveness only mounted. His mom brought him in to see me because he had started to fight with his little brother all the time. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when she found herself in the emergency room watching her younger son getting three stitches in his lower lip. Leif was a deeply angry defensive and clearly pained boy His fall from grace had left him defensive and hard to Page 223 1/1 1/27/2020 Kindle RAISING CAIN: PROTECTING THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF BOYS Leif was a deeply angry, defensive, and clearly pained boy. His fall from grace had left him defensive and hard to reach. And just around the time he started seeing me, things got even worse for him at home. His very uninvolved father —his parents had never been married—moved back to the city where Leif lived and decided that, if he had to pay child support, he wanted to get his money’s worth. So he set about obtaining joint custody and having Leif and his brother visit him on weekends. This might have been nice had his motivation not been primarily spiteful. Leif told me that, when they went to the father’s apartment, his dad usually just rented a video for them and spent most of the time hanging out drinking wine with one of his girlfriends. Because it was hard to get Leif to talk about his feelings, I spent a lot of time talking sports with him. He enjoyed these conversations, but at another level sports was a “hot-button” issue. It revealed his need to be better than he was. Leif had become focused on athletic ability as the key to his happiness. His unspoken assumption was clear: he thought that if he could beat Jeffrey at basketball, he’d be popular. Because Leif no longer felt that he had control over his life at school or at home, he wanted to be more powerful. Who could be more powerful than the sports gods he had been taught to worship? He began to fabricate wild stories that he fervently wanted me to believe. He would say that he could “almost” dunk a basketball on a regulation rim. The fact that he was under five feet tall would have made this highly unlikely. Wanting desperately to appear tough, he would tell me about fights in which he supposedly “destroyed” some fifth or sixth grader. Whenever I began to make progress with Leif and he would start to exaggerate less, or he wouldn’t get into so much trouble at school, his father would engineer his removal from therapy, only to return him in a few months when his behavior had deteriorated. By fifth grade, his parents decided to transfer Leif to a school in his father’s neighborhood. The change would do him good, they said, and the cheaper tuition was attractive. But instead of flowering in his new school, his grades got worse, and he became a disruptive force in class. In my experience, it often takes a whole year for a boy to become fully integrated into a new class. Leif didn’t have the patience to weather the initial storm. Because he was so hurt and raw, and had lost interest in pleasing his teachers or working hard, and because he wasn’t readily accepted by the “nice” kids, he started to hang around with the “bad” kids. He told me about their practice of taking keys and gouging deep scratches into cars or stealing their license plates. He got caught once and had to repay some damage to the owner of a Cadillac, but Leif showed no real remorse. As he got older, his vandalism escalated. He told me stories about defacing public property with spray paint, and he had started making pipe bombs at home out of match tips and gunpowder he extracted from numerous smaller firecrackers. When his father switched to an HMO-based health insurance plan, Leif left therapy with me and started being seen at his local health center, where he was allowed far fewer therapy sessions. Not surprisingly, his destructive behavior worsened. Leif was the recipient of large doses of some of the worst kinds of pain for a boy: rejection by his friends, an inconsistent and generally disinterested father, and a narrowing of opportunities to share his painful feelings. Since Leif could neither understand his inner turmoil nor find solace in friendship or family, his pain became anger and his expression of it became violent, in a perpetual cycle of social and emotional distress. When Boys See the World as Threatening We have said that much of boys’ aggressiveness is reactive rather than inborn. That is, a boy perceives a threat of ki d d d ih i ih k h h b i i I d d d some kind and responds with aggression, either to keep the threat at bay or as a reaction to pain. In order to understand how this happens, it helps to understand what it is that boys find threatening—or more specifically, why boys often see other people as threatening regardless of whether they actually are. Although men don’t challenge one another to duels as they did in centuries past, a cornerstone of the traditional masculine belief system is that a man must uphold his image as strong and deserving of respect. As a matter of honor, boys feel compelled to defend themselves against being “dissed.” Boys who have endured the teasing, the taunting, and the perpetual “dissing” of the culture of cruelty become habitually on their guard against attack. Like a simple textbook case of psychological conditioning, boys come to associate peer relationships with hostile strikes, most often verbal but also physical. Scott, an MBA candidate in his mid-twenties, entered therapy with the short-term goal of helping him make some decisions about career and relationships. During one of our sessions, he mentioned that he had recently been at a party with his fiancée, and she had noticed that he would flinch slightly when someone near him made a sudden arm movement. In talking with her about it, he remembered that in seventh grade all the boys had a ritual of hitting one another in the balls whenever they could surprise a boy with the quick assault. He recalled always walking down the school corridors holding a thick textbook to protect himself below the belt, should he become the target of a sneak attack. In addition to the physical harassment at school, Scott had two older brothers at home with whom he wrestled nonstop through childhood and well into high school. One brother in particular used to smack him in the stomach almost every time he was within arm’s reach. Scott eventually came to realize that he reflexively tightened his stomach muscles whenever he passed another man on a sidewalk or in a hallway. “It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s like I was abused or something. I can’t believe that I’m still affected by stuff that happened so long ago.” Unfortunately, he is not alone. The culture of cruelty leaves this kind of legacy in the lives of many boys and men. The culture of cruelty and boys’ emotional miseducation teach them not only to startle at shadows but to see threats where none exist. This emotional myopia blurs emotional cues and makes boys more likely to miss or misunderstand the meaning of others’ actions or words. Michael Holley, a sports columnist for the Boston Globe, relates a story about baseball star Albert Belle—“the angriest brother in America”—who when approached by a sportswriter asking “What’s up?” heard “You suck.”6 When someone like Mr. Belle perceives the world to be this hostile, his resulting violent actions are a little more understandable. Aggression researcher Ken Dodge and his colleagues show how aggressive boys often misinterpret the intentions of others, see hostility of intent where it doesn’t exist, respond to that perceived threat with hostility, and feel that their aggression is justified in response to the incoming hostile action.7 The reactions of one boy—we’ll call him Jack—provide a good illustration of Dodge’s experiments. Jack is a third grader. He and the rest of the boys in his class have agreed, with parental permission, to take part in the study. As soon as school is over for the day, instead of heading home, he is escorted by a young man to a small room with a TV monitor. Jack is told that he is going to watch a videotape of some boys doing different things together and then answer some questions about what he sees. In the first scene, there is a boy about Jack’s age seated on the floor building a tower with large wooden blocks. Jack is told by the researcher to imagine that he is this child. In the video scene another child enters the room. He walks by the block tower and knocks it over. Most of us, watching this tape, would find it hard to tell whether his action was the result of carelessness, purely accidental, or intentional. But see how Jack responds when he is asked: “What happened in this story?” “The kid knocked his tower over.” “Can you tell me anything else about it?” Page 226 1/1 1/27/2020 Kindle RAISING CAIN: PROTECTING THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF BOYS “Can you tell me anything else about it?” “Yeah. He just came and knocked it over for no reason. Maybe he didn’t like the other kid.” “How could you tell what happened in the story?” “Well, he just walked by and did it. You could see him do it.” “How do you know he did it on purpose?” “He didn’t like the other kid.” “How do you know?” “He knocked his tower over.” “What should the other boy do?” “He should never let him play with him again. Or he should wait and wreck his tower if he makes one.” Not all boys see malicious intent in this tape. Some see the incident as accidental, or they don’t respond with hostility even if they suspect malice on the part of the tower-toppling boy. But aggressive boys do tend to interpret neutral events as hostile actions. In life, just as in this study, at least three factors contribute to boys’ emotional response of aggression. First, in viewing the tape, they don’t take in or use enough information about the other boy’s intent. Aggressive boys like Jack make less use of relevant information—that is, they rely more on what they expect to see happen than on relevant social cues, such as the boy’s facial expression or tone of voice. Second, they are more likely to see a hostile intent in an ambiguous situation. In other tapes in which a boy is shown trying to be helpful but failing—something bad happens anyway, such as paint spilling on an art project—aggressive boys also typically fail to recognize the positive effort that was being made by the helpful boy; they see only the damage and interpret it as the result of a hostile intent against them. Last, these boys generate more hostile reactions to these situations. Rather than come up with what the researchers call “socially competent responses”—talking about the problem and reaching a compromise or better understanding, for instance— they are more likely to come up with hostile responses to the other child. Patterns in how a boy perceives these videotapes predict how that boy will behave in response to an actual provocation. A child who expects others to act in hostile ways, sees hostile intent in others’ actions, connects with that hostility, and returns it completes the circuit that powers aggressive behavior. In experiments that confront boys with what seems to be a real threat, those boys who are wired for aggression react with even greater hostility. Dan with Seth: The Safety of the Black Belt Seth was a tall, angular, high school sophomore. When I first saw him that September after school started, I hardly recognized him. He had grown at least six inches over vacation and now was one of the tallest boys in his class. He had been lifting weights religiously over the summer in anticipation of varsity football tryouts and was beginning to look less like a boy and more like a man. I had known Seth since his arrival at the school in eighth grade. I had seen him for several months at that time when his parents had separated, but now they were back together, and although I hadn’t really been seeing him “officially,” we often seemed to find ourselves in the same place—hanging around outside at lunch, watching a game, or as part of an informal group that seemed to materialize in the same place many days after school. Sometimes, as was the case on this particular day, he would just grab me when I was walking down the hall and ask if I had a few minutes to talk. As chance ld h it I l i i k t b ff h f k f ff I i it d hi t would have it, I was planning a quick escape to a nearby coffee shop for a wake-up cup of coffee. I invited him to come along. Seth was not the most popular boy among the teachers. He was very smart, which helped, but like his father, a successful trial lawyer, he had an incisive argumentative facility that he would employ at times just for sport—often against an unsuspecting teacher. In a fit of frustration at Seth’s repeated challenges, an English teacher had once hurled an eraser at him. The school took disciplinary action against the teacher, but a mitigating factor was that he had missed hitting Seth. The teacher was allowed to remain on the faculty, but the incident continued to create tension between Seth and him. Similarly, some of Seth’s fellow students were happy to tell me they thought he was a pain in the ass. There were a few who were especially put off by Seth’s constant bragging about his competence in tae kwon do, which he had been taking since second grade. As we sat down in the restaurant, I asked, “What’s on your mind?” “Nothing, really. I just wanted to get out of that hellhole for a while. Thanks for the coffee. I need it. I was up until one in the morning working on that stupid government paper for Mr. Stancowski.” “What’s it on?” “Immigration. Like whether we should have quotas or whatever. Mr. Stancowski is so liberal it makes me puke. It’s like the fucking foreigners are gonna take over the country, and all he wants to do is let in whoever wants to come and give them whatever they want. Man, what we really need is to build a huge wall across the whole Mexican border and put machine gun towers up there and give the guys infrared glasses. So like every time they see someone trying to cross the border, they could just mow ’em down.” “Why do they bother you so much?” “Man, it’s like they’re gonna take over. They come here, they’re not Americans, they don’t have any money, they don’t speak English, they just drain the economy and have a million kids. It’s ridiculous. They just want to come here and live off us.” Anger comes out in all kinds of ways, and Seth’s racism was one more symptom, an affectation, of his anger looking for a target. “Okay, that’s enough racism for me today. How about we change the topic. What did you do this weekend?” “I went to that party at Marty’s.” “Did you have a good time?” “Yeah, I hung out with this girl, Brenda. Like she was really hot for me. We didn’t do anything, but I’m gonna call her tonight. She used to be Bill’s girlfriend, but she doesn’t like him anymore ’cause he’s such a loser. He like practically stalks her now ’cause he’s so whipped. She told me that he still like calls her all the time, and she just kind of says, ‘Whatever,’ and talks to him for like two seconds and says, ‘Gotta go.’ He’s gonna be wicked pissed when he finds out I’m boffing her. He’ll probably go nuts and try to kill me. Like he could. Man, I can just see it.” At this point Seth is looking pretty excited, and he stands and begins to act out a hypothetical scene between Bill and himself. “‘Hey, Seth, I hear you’re goin’ out with Brenda.’ “‘Yeah, like so what? Leave me alone.’ “Then he starts to come at me, then—bam!” Seth demonstrates his best tae kwon do kick, followed by two rapid punches that would probably have disabled Bill if he really had been at the receiving end of them. So the stage was set. With Seth’s preconceived assumption of hostility on Bill’s part, the chances of their ever having a reasonable discussion about the situation were next to zero. Seth would ignore the reality of the situation and eventually shape it to his expectations. h d d d i i k d b hi lif i dh i l i i d Page 230 1/1 1/27/2020 Kindle RAISING CAIN: PROTECTING THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF BOYS shape it to his expectations. Seth was damaged goods. His perceptions were skewed by his life experience, and he routinely misperceived most cues as hostile. Seth’s angry responses to the world of people around him would not change with harsh punishment: his life had already dealt him harsh blows. To defuse that anger would be an “inside job”—helping Seth recognize his feelings as anger, track the anger to its source, and develop more successful strategies for coping with those circumstances and managing his feelings. Looking Inward: Reading One’s Own Emotions If an angry boy has difficulty accurately reading other people’s emotional signals, it is the flip side of trouble that stems from his inability to read his own emotions. As we have discussed before, boys who have been emotionally miseducated can have an inner landscape that is as foreign to them as the dark side of the moon. As a result, boys who are mad or sad or afraid often don’t really know why. They may have a general sense that they are upset, but they often cannot identify the emotion and are even more blind to its real cause. In cases such as these, the human tendency is to look to the immediate environment for a cause. The blame may be inappropriately assigned to a certain teacher, a sister, a coach, or a girlfriend. This becomes particularly dangerous in cases where there is a reservoir of strong unconscious negative emotion, because it is continually seeking outlets. Dan with Dale: Anger under Wraps In a school a therapist’s office may often be a makeshift affair. Most schools cannot afford to hold a designated spot for a psychologist who is around only one day a week. Today I was seeing Dale in an old, rarely used room in the back of the main administration building. It was small, with only a few pieces of odd furniture, but Dale and I had made a home of sorts there. The best part about it was that three of its walls were composed of a series of long, vertical windows. It was late in the school year and a beautiful day, so we had opened many of them and were enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Dale was nearing the end of his junior year. He was one of the brightest boys in the all-honors program at this competitive school. His grades were generally quite good except in his Spanish class. He was at odds with his teacher, who had the reputation of being something of a martinet, and Dale had just finished serving a suspension for swearing at him in class. His mandatory visits to see me were part of the deal that had been worked out to keep him from being thrown out of school. Dale’s father was a successful research chemist, and like him Dale showed a strong aptitude for the sciences. But unfortunately for Dale, his father didn’t want to have much to do with him. He had ended his marriage to Dale’s mom in a bitter divorce, when Dale was about six years old. He had remarried and had had two children with his new wife, Eleni. She and Dale didn’t get along at all, and she discouraged her husband from spending any time with him, usually using their own children as the wedge to drive between Dale and his father. Making matters worse, Dale’s mother h...
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Raising Boys outline
1. Discuss this quotation. What are the “powerful forces” in boys’ psyches that
Thompson and Kindlon are referring to? In what ways does our culture deny boys
the tools that they need for relationships?
2. Does anything you have read in Chapter 9—or elsewhere in this book—help explain
the kinds of male behavior that the “me too” movement is intent on exposing and
3. Kindlon and Thompson say that "everyone has a theory about what makes children
violent." What is their theory about what makes boys turn to violence? In other
words, how do they explain the violent behavior of boys? What do you think of their
ideas, and why?
4. Kindlon and Thompson say that in our culture, men "are rarely celebrated for
moral or emotional courage." What is moral and emotional courage? What might
be some examples of this kind of courage? How does it differ from the types of
courage that boys are encouraged to have?
5. Throughout this book, Kindlon and Thompson have been talking about "the big
impossible." Why do they think that our culture's expectations for boys are
"impossible"? Do you agree with them? What are some specific expectations that
they think are impossible? What do you think?
6. Kindlon and Thompson make seven suggestions that aim "to transform the way you
nurture and protect the emotional life of the boy in your life." Choose one of these
suggestions and talk about why it might or might not be an effective way to
approach some of the problems this book has discussed

7. Kindlon and Thompson say that they hope their book would cause the reader to
"examine his or her deepest assumptions about boys"? As a reader, do you think
the book has succeeded? Have any of your assumptions about boys been challenged,
and if so, which assumptions?


Running head: RAISING BOYS

Raising Boys
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Raising Boys
1. Discuss this quotation. What are the “powerful forces” in boys’ psyches that
Thompson and Kindlon are referring to? In what ways does our culture deny boys
the tools that they need for relationships?
Kindlon and Thompson have pressed quite much on the argument that boys should be
more emotionally literate for a good cause. A compelling glimpse of the impact this education
would have on the lives of boys as they grow up and transition into adulthood is shown, and its
need is articulated. A vested insight in raising happy, healthy, emotionally stable, and flourishing
young men has been seen. The authors’ illuminate on the gift of cultivating in the wellbeing of
the boys by eliminating archaic theories and expectations, but rather invest in helping them deal
with emotional and social pressure, which is distractive and long term. Support in all ways
possible is quite vital during this phase of navigation through life. This is where empathy and
emotional awareness should be adequately modeled as it plants a seed that goes deeper into the
inner lives of the boys, where their emotional life is protected as well as their physics. This was
as a result of the alarming number of boys who have sunk into societal pressures of drug abuse,
suicide, violence, and loneliness that would lead to depression. All these are significant threats
that could be cut off by showing the boys a balance of macho strength and stoicism (Thompson,
Our culture has denied the young boys an opportunity for emotional education in
preparation for the work of intimacy and relationships. The culture just assumes that the physical
changes being visible are it all, and they put no effort in providing direction for the boys. They
are, however, expected to handle things responsibly, and impossible manhood standards are
shoved on them, thus, brings about lots of emotional conflicts. This would have been essential,

especially during adolescence, where...

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