Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys - by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson




my notes:

Perhaps because men enjoy so much power and prestige in society, there is a tendency to view boys as shoo-ins for future success and to diminish the importance of any problems they might experience in childhood.

People often see in boys signs of strength where there are none, and they ignore often mountainous evidence that they are hurting.

Boys need an emotional vocabulary that expands their ability to express themselves in ways other than anger or aggression.

A boy must see and believe that emotions belong in the life of a man. All boys are born with the potential for a full range of emotional experience.

A person too anxious about being shamed cannot learn.

Today many boys face a steady diet of shame and anxiety throughout their elementary school years. From it they learn only to feel bad about themselves and to hate the place that makes them feel that way.

Boys are direct; they act and speak in simple terms. Their more slowly developing language skills are apparent in their often blind and unsophisticated humor or their preference for action over negotiation.

Boys’ need to feel competent and empowered leads them to express a keen power-based, action-oriented sense of justice, fairness, good and evil. Heroic action figures dominate the landscape of young boys because they want so much to be seen in heroic proportions- to be big instead of small, to have power in the world instead of the role of the powerless child, and to be the arbiter of right and wrong rather than a negotiator or an observer.

Plato, in the 4th century B.C., called boys “of all wild beasts, the most difficult to manage.”

It is easy to forget how powerful our expectations can be.

Boys turn to activity as an outlet for a host of emotions, especially when their feelings outstrip their language skills or other options.

Instead of fostering the development of internal controls, harsh discipline reinforces the idea that discipline comes from external forces: parents, police, courts, etc.

Harsh Discipline prevents a boy from internalizing the values—and learning the lessons of empathy, respect, and reason—that lead to responsible, moral behavior and emotional accountability. Those lost links weaken the chain of conscience as a boy moves through life.

Children are easily frightened by adults and for a long, long time believe what adults tell them, even when adults say irrational or destructive things in moments of anger. Your child does not necessarily know that you’re on edge after a bad day. A child sees only that he displeases you.

A boy’s eagerness for autonomy, the fact that he now receives less teacher supervision, and his desire to cut loose from his parents’ influence makes him a willing recruit into the peer culture. At the same time, the group demands conformity and holds him up to ridicule for any failure to conform.

Walking away from tormentors is a sign of weakness, and the lasting feeling of cowardice is greater punishment than any blow.

Boys not only feel the pressure to appear masculine, but they feel that they must be clearly NOT feminine—perhaps even antifeminine—and so they consciously and deliberately attack in others and in themselves traits that might possibly be defined as feminine. This includes tenderness, empathy, compassion, and any show of emotional vulnerability.

11, 12 and 13 year old boys fear homosexuality, literally, like the plague. They don’t understand where it comes from, which makes it all the more frightening, but they do know it’s not a “cool” thing to be.

In schools the prestige associated with athletic excellence creates a ‘caste system’ in which boy-on-boy cruelty can be played out with adult sanction.

Even boys who want to be friends have to struggle against the corrupting influence of the culture of cruelty, which demands that a boy place allegiance to the group above allegiance to a friend and be willing to prove it, and where friends betraying friends is a common theme.

Boys aren’t looking to be rescued by the adults in their lives, but they take adults’ lack of response as a sign that the culture of cruelty operates “outside the law” and the ringleaders will not be held accountable.

A father who idealizes his strengths and accomplishments distances himself from the reality his son inhabits—a world of more varied emotions and experience.

A boy needs to feel that his mother has confidence in his ability to manage new experiences.

You can tell how fragile a boy is by how ferociously he fights over autonomy. The more confident he is of his strength, the easier it is for him to acknowledge his dependence.