How should boys be boys? In 1994 Mary Pipher created a stir with her groundbreaking book about adolescent girls, Reviving Ophelia. Now it's the year of the boy, with two titles receiving widespread attention. The first, A Fine Young Man: What Parents, Mentors, and Educators Can Do to Shape Adolescent Boys into Exceptional Boys (Tarcher/Putnam, $24.95, 0874779197), is by Michael Gurian, author of the best-selling The Wonder of Boys. Gurian says adolescent males are our most undernurtured population. Much attention, he rightly says, has been given to adolescent girls; now it's time to give boys what he calls New Models of Manhood, which include compassion, honor, responsibility, and enterprise. Such timeless ideals are hardly new, but Gurian's thoughts are worth pondering.
In a similar vein, in Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, William Pollack argues that boys are forced to prematurely separate from their mothers at ages five or six. From that time on, we expect them to heed what he calls the Boy Code, to be stoic, rough-and-tumble little men. To make matters worse, Pollack says, society views boys as toxic in other words, psychologically unaware, emotionally unsocialized creatures. And yet as men they are expected to be masculine, communicative, and sensitive. No wonder, he notes, that boys are confused!Pollack concludes: Real boys need people to be with who allow them to show all of their emotions, including their most intense feelings of sadness, disappointment, and fear. Any parent will find this an intriguing, immensely readable book.
Alice Cary is a mother and a reviewer in Groton, Massachusetts.