Cover image for Raising Cain : protecting the emotional life of boys
Raising Cain : protecting the emotional life of boys
Kindlon, Daniel J. (Daniel James), 1953-
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
xv, 287 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
"A living planet book."
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ775 .K56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HQ775 .K56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Parenting
HQ775 .K56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HQ775 .K56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Since the publication of Raising Cain, Michael Thompson has been on the road continuously, speaking to parent and teacher groups, education leaders, and public policy makers about the inner lives of boys. Wherever he has gone, parents have opened up their lives and aired their questions and concerns.Now, in "Speaking of Boys", Michael Thompson, with Teresa Barker, has compiled a sampling of the most-asked and most heartfelt questions about boys -- and his answers. Topics include friendship, sports, money, grades, peer pressure, electronics and video games, cruelty, body image, death and illness, divorce, depression, ADD and ADHD, dating, and drugs. In his responses, Thompson offers not only his own insights but those of many parents and teachers who have shared their thoughts with him.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

A genuine enthusiasm for their subject shines through the pages of this enormously compelling book, as the authors share insights on boys' emotional development from birth through the college yearsÄan increasingly high-profile topic in the wake of disheartening statistics about adolescent suicide and violence. In much the same way that Reviving Ophelia offered new models for raising girls, therapists Kindlon and Thompson argue that boys desperately need a new standard of "emotional literacy," showing how our culture's dominant masculine stereotypes shortchange boys and lead them toward emotional isolation. The authors turn a spotlight on the inner lives of boys, debunking preconceptions about gender, explaining the importance of nurturing communication skills and empathy in boys as well as girls, and steering boys toward a manhood of emotional attachment, not stoicism and solitude. They also challenge the ways in which, in their view, traditional school environments put boys at a disadvantage (why not hold off on reading instruction a year or two? they ask; why not five short recesses a day?). Such issues as drinking, drugs and the "culture of cruelty" among adolescents, in which "anything a boy says or does can and will be used against him," also meet with sensitive treatment. Separate chapters examine the relationships between fathers and sons and mothers and sons, and show how these can be protected and redefined. This thoughtful book is recommended for parents, teachers or anyone with a vested interest in raising happy, healthy, emotionally whole young men. Agent, Gail Ross of Lichtman, Trister, Singer and Ross. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The emotional well-being of our nation's boys only seems to become a topic when a television news reporter breaks in with a grisly report of a playground or high school commons area that has been littered with spent shell casings and the bodies of a certain boy's classmates. Kindlon, a leading researcher and member of the Harvard University faculty for the past 15 years, and Thompson, a preeminent child psychologist who lectures widely on the development of boys, bring more than 35 years of experience working with these youngsters. The authors attempt to answer the basic question: "What do boys need that they are not getting?" They identify social and emotional challenges that boys face growing up male; debunk outdated theories on "mother blame," "boy biology," and "testosterone"; and make a passionate and compelling case that emotional literacy is the most valuable gift that we can offer our sons. Highly recommended.ÄMarty D. Evensvold, Arkansas City P.L., KS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

As Americans struggle to gain insight into the shocking catastrophe of teen violence at Littleton, Colorado (when 15 persons were killed and more than 20 seriously wounded in a single violent event initiated by two male teenagers), Raising Cain could not have appeared at a more timely moment. Kindlon and Thompson, both teachers and psychotherapists, apply their vast clinical experiences of treating troubled male youth to present a broad yet meaningful overview on the topic of adolescent aggressiveness. Assuming a developmental approach, the authors show how American boys are trained from early school years to suppress expression of their inner feelings, thus becoming emotionally crippled in later life and inclined to act aggressively. Interspersing their highly systematic, comprehensive, and well-documented account (containing the most recent research findings) with interesting individual case materials (drawn from their clinical practices), the authors present a very clear and rich understanding of the origins of American male teen violence. Social science students and human service practitioners alike will find this book extremely rewarding and useful. All levels. W. Feigelman Nassau Community College



A young man is so strong, so mad, so certain, and so lost. He has everything and he is able to use nothing. --Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River Luke, thirteen, pauses at the office door, undecided whether to take his baseball cap off or leave it alone; he pulls it off and steps into the room--the school psychologist's office. "Come on in, Luke. Have a seat in the big chair." An oversized, ancient, leathery brown Naugahyde chair dwarfs all but the largest athletes at this all-boys school. Some boys sink deep into the chair as if hoping to distance themselves from scrutiny; others sit stiffly on its edge, clearly uncomfortable with the unnerving assignment to look inward. In our work with boys at schools and in private practice, we see this body language all the time. Boys approach their emotions with much the same awkwardness, alternately sinking into the depths or sitting stiffly on the edge of feelings that threaten to overwhelm them. Luke's a "good kid." He plays drums in the school band and makes fair grades, though they've dropped lately. At school he's not part of the popular clique, but he does have friends. He's not in the jock crowd and mostly steers clear of them. So what brings him here? In the past few months Luke has grown increasingly sarcastic and sullen, and especially argumentative with his father. A few evenings ago, concerned about his grades, his parents turned down his request to participate in an optional after-school activity. Luke flew into a rage. Stormed off to his room. Slammed doors. Kicked a hole in his bedroom wall. His mother was stunned by the violent outburst, his father was livid, but they left him alone to cool off. The next morning Dad left early for work, Luke had a headache and took a sick day off from school, and his mother called the school to see if anyone there might know what's troubling him. Luke's advisor suggested the counseling visit. Now here we sit, and Luke is both nervous and angry at the prospect of talking about any of this, but most especially about his feelings. He has pushed himself back and sideways into the chair as far as he can go. His keep out sign is clearly posted. The declining grades and the escalating hostility at home--especially the explosive outburst--are red flags of concern to everyone but Luke. "I'm fine," he says defiantly, while his eyes flash with anger at having been sent here at all. As we talk, the questions cruise the perimeter of his life: academics, music, friendships, family. His answers are curt, cautious, and begrudging, punctuated with shrugs and a steely expression intended to keep the conversation from moving any closer than that outer edge. He doesn't have an explanation for his recent behavior, and although he reluctantly agrees that talking about feelings might help, he shies away from it. "I just need to work harder," he says, shifting the focus to his grades. "I don't need help. I'm not crazy," he says. "My parents are the ones with the problem." But we're here to talk about Luke's feelings. He offers a candid, perfunctory assessment of home and school life: His eight-year-old sister is an idiot. His older brother is a jerk. His father, a businessman, isn't around much--gone early, home late most days. His mother treats him like a five-year-old and pisses him off with all her questions. And although he has friends and likes a few of his teachers, for the most part, school sucks. That about covers it. "About the other night. The rage and that hole in the bedroom wall. You must have been pretty mad to do that?" Luke looks wary, and even a little scared. He shrugs. "You look sad. Do you feel sad?" Luke quickly looks down, and his eyes begin to well up with tears. Clearly he is hurting, but it is masked in the toughness that fills his voice: "I don't know. Maybe, I guess." "Let's see if we can figure out what's making you feel so bad." Every troubled boy has a different story, but their stories share a disturbing theme of emotional ignorance and isolation. Each day we try to connect with boys like Luke, who are unversed in the subtleties of emotional language and expression and threatened by emotional complexity. When we ask them to open up, most, like Luke, respond with the same "fight-or-flight" response we all have to threatening situations. We see boys who, frightened or saddened by family discord, experience those feelings only as mounting anger or an irritable wish that everyone would "just leave me alone." Shamed by school problems or stung by criticism, they lash out or withdraw emotionally. A boy's world is full of contradictions, and parents are often at a loss to figure out how best to help. One mother asks how she can offer wise counsel to her eight-year-old son, when her advice to "use words" instead of physical aggression only earns him teasing and abuse from his peers. Another wants to know how she can get through to her brooding eleven-year-old when he fends off her attempts to make conversation: "Now everything's an argument--we argue more than we talk--and even when I know something's bothering him, he won't talk about his feelings--just like my husband." A father asks how he is supposed to help his teenage son when the boy "won't listen" or is openly hostile. A boy longs for connection at the same time he feels the need to pull away, and this opens up an emotional divide. This struggle between his need for connection and his desire for autonomy finds different expression as a boy grows. But, regardless of their age, most boys are ill-prepared for the challenges along the road to becoming an emotionally healthy adult. Whatever role biology plays (and that role is by no means clear) in the way boys are characteristically different from girls in their emotional expression, those differences are amplified by a culture that supports emotional development for girls and discourages it for boys. Stereotypical notions of masculine toughness deny a boy his emotions and rob him of the chance to develop the full range of emotional resources. We call this process, in which a boy is steered away from his inner world, the emotional miseducation of boys. It is a training away from healthful attachment and emotional understanding and expression, and it affects even the youngest bo y, who learns quickly, for instance, that he must hide his feelings and silence his fears. A boy is left to manage conflict, adversity, and change in his life with a limited emotional repertoire. If your toolbox contains only a hammer, it's not a problem as long as all your equipment is running right or repairs call only for pounding. But as tasks grow more complex, the hammer's limitations become clear. Emotional Literacy: Education versus Ignorance If you ask a boy the question "How did that make you feel?" he very often won't know how to respond. He'll talk instead about what he did or plans to do about the problem. Some boys don't even have the words for their feelings--sad or angry or ashamed, for instance. A large part of our work with boys and men is to help them understand their emotional life and develop an emotional vocabulary. We begin by helping them increase their clarity about their feelings and those of others--recognizing them, naming them, and learning where they come from. We try to teach them emotional literacy--the ability to read and understand our emotions and those of others. This process is much like learning to read. First we must master the letters and sounds of the alphabet, then use that knowledge to decode words and sentences. As we begin to comprehend and appreciate increasingly complex thoughts, we are able to communicate more effectively with others. Eventually, reading connects us to a larger world, beyond our own, of experiences and ideas. Similarly, learning emotional literacy involves recognizing the look and feel of our emotions, then using this skill to better understand ourselves and others. We learn to appreciate life's emotional complexity, and this enhances all our professional and personal relationships, helping us to strengthen the connections that enrich our lives. We build emotional literacy, first, by being able to identify and name our emotions; second, by recognizing the emotional content of voice and facial expression, or body language; and third, by understanding the situations or reactions that produce emotional states.1 By this we mean becoming aware of the link between loss and sadness, between frustration and anger, or threats to pride or self-esteem and fear. In our experience with families, we find that most girls get lots of encouragement from an early age to be emotionally literate--to be reflective and expressive of their own feelings and to be responsive to the feelings of others. Many boys do not receive this kind of encouragement, and their emotional illiteracy shows, at a young age, when they act with careless disregard for the feelings of others at home, at school, or on the playground. Mothers are often shocked by the ferocity of anger displayed by little boys, their sons of four or five who shout in their faces, or call them names, or even try to h it them. One of the most common complaints about boys is that they are aggressive and "seem not to care." We have heard the same complaint from veteran teachers who are stunned by the power of boy anger and disruption in their classes. Too often, adults excuse this behavior as harmless "immaturity," as if maturity will arrive someday--like puberty--to transform a boy's emotional life. But we do boys no favor by ignoring the underlying absence of awareness. Boys' emotional ignorance clearly imposes on others, but it costs them dearly, too. Lacking an emotional education, a boy meets the pressures of adolescence and that singularly cruel peer culture with the only responses he has learned and practiced--and that he knows are socially acceptable--the typically "manly" responses of anger, aggression, and emotional withdrawal. When we first began working with and speaking about boys, a large part of our task was to convince skeptical parents and educators of a truth we knew from our years of experience as therapists: that boys suffer deeply as a result of the destructive emotional training our culture imposes upon them, that many of them are in crisis, and that all of them need help. 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. There is a tendency to presume that a boy is self-reliant, confident, and successful, not emotional and needy. People often see in boys signs of strength where there are none, and they ignore often mountainous evidence that they are hurting. Our audiences are no longer skeptical. The change would be more heartening if not for the tragic events that have enlightened them in a few short years. Killings or other violent acts by emotionally troubled adolescent boys have heightened public awareness and sparked widespread discussion of "the boy problem" in schools and communities across the country. Statistics state the case boldly. About 95 percent of juvenile homicides are committed by boys. Boys are the perpetrators in four out of every five crimes that end up in juvenile court. They account for almost nine out of ten alcohol and drug law violations. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among boys in their mid- to late teens (accidents and homicides occupy the first and second spots). The vast majority of "successful" suicides are boys. Compared to a girl the same age, a boy in late adolescence is seven times more likely to die by his own hand. Although murder is an almost exclusively male enterprise, most boys don't kill. Most boys, despite feelings of anger and pain, are quieter students of emotional suffering. They long for love, acceptance, and approval from their parents and peers. They struggle for self-respect. They act impulsively, moved by emotions they cannot name or do not understand. Boys exercise their emotional ignorance in cruel treatment of one another or girls. Their inner turmoil is expressed in academic failure, depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, troubled relationships, or delinquency. At a junior high school orientation program for parents, the principal asked parents of daughters to take an active role in discouraging cliques and social competition among their girls. In contrast, the social trials of boys in junior high school were dismissed with a good-natured thumbs-up: "We don't worry so much about boys at this age because they are a lot more resilient and straightforward about it all," the principal said. "They get mad, they push each other around a little to blow off steam, and then it's done. They don't hold grudges." Yet boys do struggle with the same painful feelings of failure and rejection and not fitting in that we so easily attribute to girls. When they can't hold the pain any longer, they act on it. At any age, boys cut off from meaningful relationships miss critical opportunities for emotional growth. There is plenty of reason to be concerned: a confused young boy grows into an angry, emotionally isolated teenager, and, predictably, into a lonely, middle-aged man at risk for depression. What do boys need to become emotionally literate? We think the answer is clear. Boys need an emotional vocabulary that expands their ability to express themselves in ways other than anger or aggression. They need to experience empathy at home and at school and be encouraged to use it if they are to develop conscience. Boys, no less than girls, need to feel emotional connections. Throughout their lives, but especially during adolescence, they need close, supportive relationships that can protect them from becoming victims of their turbulent, disowned emotions. Most important, a boy needs male modeling of a rich emotional life. He needs to learn emotional literacy as much from his father and other men as from his mother and other women, because he must create a life and language for himself that speak with male identity. A boy must see and believe that emotions belong in the life of a man. Dan with Mario, Robbie, Jack, and Friends I sit in a small, rectangular room with a group of eight seventh-grade boys. Characteristic of their age, they are a varied lot. One, Mario, is taller and physically more mature than the rest, already well along on the journey through puberty. His straight, jet-black hair hangs at a severe angle across his forehead. In my youth this would have been considered a bad haircut, but for Mario and the others it is fashion. His friend Jack looks like a baby by comparison. A head full of soft, fine blond hair and vivid blue eyes give him an undeserved look of innocence. Jack is sharp-tongued and witty, the dominant personality in the group. Mario sometimes vies with him for leadership but more often serves as his lieutenant. A third boy, Robbie, whose trials are the focus of today's discussion, has a physical package that lies somewhere in between Jack and Mario. With a soft, pudgy build, he shows none of the budding athleticism of some of the other boys, but he is also taller than everyone but Mario. His mouse-brown hair is never combed, and his clothes look as if he has slept in them. These boys are not gathered in my office today for group therapy--at least not in the traditional sense. None has been diagnosed with a particular emotional problem. They are not especially "bad" boys, poor students, or troublemakers. They make good-enough grades. In fact, there is nothing unusual about any of them. And that's why they're here. They represent a cross section of their class, and they have been picked by their principal to talk with me about the cruel teasing that has become so commonplace at their school as to seem unremarkable. They all take part in the drama. Jack most often plays the role of the attacker. If he can find a flaw in someone, real or imagined, he'll point it out, turn it into a nickname, hammer it home at every opportunity, and enlist others to join in the fun. Mario is often at his side, the combination of his imposing size and Jack's sharp wit making them an almost irresistible force. Most boys in their class find themselves in the uneasy middle. Sometimes they are targets; sometimes they are the attacker. It is the way of the jungle. Only the strong survive. Robbie finds himself among a handful of boys who have been the frequent targets of teasing. The other day he broke down crying and ran out of the room when he was teased by some boys in his math class for failing a pop quiz. I am trying to engage them in a discussion about how teasing can hurt. My initial questions are directed to James and Ernesto, who are friends. "Is it ever all right to tease someone?" James: "Sure. I tease Ernesto all the time, and he teases me back. But we're still friends." "What do you tease each other about?" James: "I don't know. I'll tease him about his shoes." (Everyone looks at Ernesto's old, very plain square-toed shoes and laughs. Clearly they are familiar with the topic. Buoyed by their laughter, James's explanation gains vigor.) "You know how, like, they're so old. His shoes are homemade, you know. His dad made them for him. His whole family has homemade shoes, even his sister." "Does it bother you, Ernesto, when James teases you like this?" Ernesto: "My shoes aren't homemade. I like my shoes." James: "Yeah, right! They're like made of wood or something." Ernesto: "Dr. Kindlon, you know how James's mom packs him a cheese sandwich every day? That's because she has all this welfare cheese at home, and that's all she'll give him for lunch. His sister gets, like, McDonald's every day, but she saves the welfare cheese for him." "Okay, what does everybody else think about this? Is it okay to tease like this between friends?" Jack: "Yeah, it's funny. Nobody minds." "When isn't it okay? How do you know when you've hurt someone's feelings? When you've gone too far?" There is silence and long vacant stares. Although I should know better by now, I am surprised by the boys' lack of understanding of how their words and actions affect one another. "Does teasing ever hurt?" Several boys admit that it does. "Then how can you tell whether you've hurt someone? How about with Robbie? You were all in class with him the other day. What about that?" More silence. They don't have a clue. They're not faking it to look cool or tough. They don't know how to read Robbie and don't even sense that they should. Another boy from the uneasy middle, Randy, offers a response, finally, that singles him out as the deepest emotional thinker in the group, yet none too confident in this intuitive realm. His answer is a question: "You know you've gone too far when somebody starts to cry?" "Sure, that's right. But wouldn't it be better if we knew how to stop teasing before we made somebody cry? Does someone have to cry before you suspect that what you're saying might be hurting him? How else might you know that a person's upset?" More silence. This is really hard for these boys, even the ones who usually have all the answers in class. They squirm in their seats uncomfortably trying to come up with something that will get them out of this discussion. It's no use. They're stumped. If a boy this age were unable to decipher the alphabet or read any better than this, every adult in his life would recognize that he needed help. But emotional illiteracy is so pervasive among boys that no one notices until something drastic happens. It takes a schoolyard shooting, a hole kicked in a wall, a drunk driving arrest, or a suicide for a boy's emotional needs to get anyone's attention. For adults, the question might be: "Do boys have to cry--or run or crash or kill, even kill themselves--before we suspect that something is wrong, that they might be hurting?" Is it any wonder, then, that so many boys seem so emotionally bereft or limited? How can they be so oblivious to others' feelings? What happens to boys that denies them full access to the world of feelings? All Boys Are Born with Emotional Potential One of the most common disclaimers we hear from mothers talking about a problem their son is having is this: "I know my son is sensitive, but ..." The inference is, of course, that most boys aren't sensitive and that her son is somehow different because he is. That's something our culture would have us believe, but it's not true. All boys have feelings. They're often treated as if they don't. They often act as if they don't. But all boys are born with the potential for a full range of emotional experience. When researchers compare men and women or boys and girls on their emotional awareness, understanding, and expression, males almost invariably finish second. If boys and girls are given a series of pictures of faces showing different expressions, boys generally will be less accurate in their identification of the emotions that are being displayed. In therapy one of the most common complaints we hear from women about men is that men so often seem oblivious to the hurt feelings or emotional needs of others. Many men readily acknowledge that the generalization is true: they do prefer to avoid emotional people and situations. That doesn't mean, however, that men lack the "wiring" for expressing or understanding emotion. Newborn boys, on average, are actually more emotionally reactive than girls. For example, studies show that baby boys cry more than baby girls when they are frustrated or upset. Despite those expressive beginnings, the overall pattern is that--with the possible exception of anger, regarding which the research results are inconclusive--as boys get older, they express less emotion. This is true when they are observed in natural settings or when they are observed watching slides or film of emotionally arousing situations. Leslie Brody, a leading authority on gender differences, describes this as a "developmental shift in which males become less facially expressive of emotions with age, whereas females become more so."2 So boys don't show as much emotion. But does that mean that boys actually feel less? There is evidence that they may feel more. When heart rate or skin conductance--sweaty palms--are measured in emotionally arousing situations, there is no consistent pattern of differences between girls' and boys' responses. Studies that have shown a difference suggest that boys may react to a greater, not lesser, degree. Other research findings suggest that when boys get emotionally aroused, they may do less well at managing their emotion. In an intriguing study by Richard Fabes and Nancy Eisenberg at the University of Arizona, researchers played a tape of a baby crying to a group of kindergarten and second-grade boys and girls and monitored their physiological and behavioral reactions.3 Specifically, they noted whether the child tried to eliminate the troubling sound by turning off the speaker or to soothe the baby in a manner that had been demonstrated previously by an adult--talking to the baby over the speaker. The results? The girls were less upset by the crying. They made greater efforts to calm the baby and less often moved to turn the speaker off. Boys whose heart rate pattern showed that they were quite stressed by the crying also were quick to "turn off" the crying with a flip of the speaker switch. These distressed boys were also more likely to act aggressively toward the baby--telling it to "shut up," for instance. Boys whose heart rate showed a lower stress level were more likely to comfort the infant. The researchers theorized that children--in this case, boys--who are more easily stressed by emotional responses may prefer to avoid them. In other words, boys who have trouble managing their own emotions may routinely tune out the cues of other people's upset. Boy Biology: No Simple Answers In the wake of a 1998 schoolyard killing in Jonesboro, Arkansas, a journalist asked us about "the nature-nurture question," whether the boys' violence was genetic or the result of how they'd been raised. Her implicit assumption was that boys are prone to violence because of their biology. Certainly, male hormones were present at the scene: every boy has them. But we think the intensity of discussion about boy biology obscures the more meaningful and urgent issue of how we raise boys in this culture. We answered the reporter's question with an apocryphal anecdote about a famous psychology professor who said that he had studied the nature-nurture question with great care, reading all the literature, and had finally come to a conclusion: nature wins--by a score of 53 percent to 47 percent. The reporter laughed, seeing both the humor and the truth contained in the statement--that clearly everything we do is influenced heavily by both. Then we asked her why it is that there is always such an exclusive, determined hunt for a biological culprit. She paused and said, "Well, people are looking for simple answers." But human behavior defies simple explanation, whether we're talking aggression or tenderness. What is clear is that every behavior is influenced by multiple forces, from biology to community. The "nature or nurture" debate sidesteps the genuine complexity of these issues. Rather than making it a contest between the two, current thinking in the neurosciences highlights the inextricable link between biology and experience, and it is now widely recognized that environmental factors can affect the structure of our brain.4 An extreme example is a trauma victim whose body releases stress hormones over a long period, which cause physical damage to parts of the brain, which in turn will affect how he behaves. On the other hand, brain functioning can be enhanced by various learning experiences, such as being in an environment rich with exposure to letter shapes and sounds. These experiences will shape his brain--new neurons may actually be created--and a child will end up with a greater ability to read than he "was bo rn with." The bottom line: heredity isn't destiny. There are, however, two clear biological differences between boys and girls that have been shown to have an impact on development and behavior.5 The first, which we discuss more fully in chapter 2, is that girls' verbal abilities, on average, mature faster than boys': they talk earlier and more fluently. Boys tend to catch up later, but in the early grades especially, feminine superiority in this area is readily apparent to parents, teachers, and researchers. The second difference is that boys tend to be more physically active than girls, moving faster and staying in motion longer. As we shall see, this propensity for activity and the consequences of it shape a boy's every experience and the way others experience him. Other than these, there are not many developmental differences that are clearly biological in origin. Even the celebrated superiority of boys in math skills cannot be reduced to boy biology. Many studies of gender difference in math performance show that overall the girls tend to do slightly better.6 Generally, people are fascinated when sex differences in brain functioning or biochemistry are discovered. If, for example, a researcher finds in a neuroimaging study that slightly different parts of the brain light up for men and women when they are doing a rhyming game, the findings make headlines. But when another similar study finds no sex differences, it often doesn't get reported. It's not news. The greater attention paid to the gender differences skews our view of reality. If we had to sum up all the scientific work on sex differences in one finding, it would be that men and women are a lot more the same than they are different. When research does offer us fascinating glimpses into the science of boys and gender differences, the information is too often misrepresented to the public or oversimplified, then accepted as a truth--however flawed--about boys. Testosterone, for example, has become a buzzword for masculinity and a popular explanation for all boy attributes. A parent tells us that her two sons "fight constantly," but she feels it's futile to intervene. "It must be testosterone," she says with a shrug. Referring to some rowdy students in her gym class, a teacher says: "They're just testosterone-crazy boys." Testosterone's reputation, however, goes far beyond any grounding in scientific literature. A recent review of scientific studies of preadolescent and early adolescent boys concludes that the research literature "provides no evidence of an association between testosterone and aggressive behavior."7 One example, a study done at the Bronx Children's Psychiatric Center in New York, measured the testosterone levels of the center's most violent young boys.8 The researchers found that none of the boys had blood levels of testosterone that were outside the normal range or were significantly different from those of a group of nonaggressive children of the same age and race to whom they were being compared. Although scientists have yet to discover the extent to which testosterone shapes brain development before birth, we know that before and after puberty, the amount of testosterone in the bloodstream does not cause aggression. For example, all normal boys experience a huge surge of testosterone in early adolescence, but they do not all display increased aggression. Gender differences in aggressive behavior can be observed as early as eighteen months and throughout early childhood, and yet testosterone is present in boys and girls in roughly the same amounts before the age of ten. Blood levels of testosterone are not stable. Although a man may inherit a certain baseline level of testosterone, that level was never meant to be locked in place. Levels vary considerably over the course of the day, and, most important, they vary according to what happens to a person. For example, research shows that if a man wins a tennis match, or even a chess game, his level of testosterone rises and remains elevated for some time. The loser? His testosterone level falls. The typical action of a hormone is to change over time in response to environmental events--testosterone is no different. In many cases where high levels of testosterone are measured, they are the effect of aggression rather than the cause of it. Anthropologists offer evidence that further discounts the power of testosterone's role in aggression.9 The Semoi of Malaysia are one of the most peaceful societies known. Men don't fight one another; husbands don't beat their wives; parents don't hit their children. What's more, the Semoi children seldom fight among themselves. Assault, rape, and murder are virtually unknown. The Semoi believe that aggression is dangerous and that aggressive thoughts or even unfriendliness puts a person at greater risk for getting sick or having a bad accident. Thus, their children learn from a very early age that nonviolence is the way of the world. Within North America, culturally distinct groups such as the Hutterite Brethren, the largest and most successful Christian communal group in the United States, or the Amish, have been astonishingly peaceful, perhaps more so than any other of the peaceful societies known to anthropology. For over 350 years no Hutterite living within his own community has slain another community member. A destiny of aggression isn't born, it's made, most notably in societies like ours in which aggressive impulses are allowed free rein. We can raise boys to be nonviolent if we so choose. Closer to Home:Training Boys for Toughness Although there is a lot of lip service being paid to the new age of the "sensitive male," stereotypic images of masculinity are still with us. Whereas boys used to emulate John Wayne or James Dean (who now seem quaint by comparison), today's boys see even more exaggerated images of stoic, violent, impossibly powerful supermen on movie, television, computer, and video screens. The media serves up as role models Neanderthal professional wrestlers; hockey "goons," ready at the slightest provocation to drop their sticks and pummel an opponent; multimillionaire professional athletes in trouble with the law, demanding "respect" from fans and the press; and angry, drug-using, misogynist rock stars. Even boys who are not allowed to watch violent movies or play violent video games, but who watch television sports, will nevertheless consume a steady diet of commercials in which a man is not a man unless he is tough, drives a tough truck, and drinks lots of beer. These are not visions of manhood that celebrate emotional introspection or empathy. We are often invited to schools to talk with students when incidents or behaviors have roused the concern of parents or teachers. At one such meeting, the topic was drinking, which, on an average weekend, reached epic proportions among the high-school-age boys. The boys talked openly about hangovers, passing out, fights, drunk driving, and casual sex, but this behavior did not appear to worry them. Instead, they spoke with pride about the amount of alcohol they could consume. Our culture co-opts some of the most impressive qualities a boy can possess--their physical energy, boldness, curiosity, and action orientation--and distorts them into a punishing, dangerous definition of masculinity. Evidence of the maladaptive nature of this vision of masculinity comes from one of the most revealing windows on boys' attitudes, the National Survey of Adolescent Males, in which researchers interviewed a large, representative group of fifteen- to nineteen-year-old boys in the United States.10 Funded in the early days of the HIV crisis, the survey focused on risk-related sexual behavior. Boys were asked, for example, whether they used condoms. To find out how strongly they believed in a "masculinity ideology"--the attitude that manhood is primarily based on strength, stoicism, toughness, and dominance over women--researchers asked the boys how much they agreed with the statements: It is essential for a guy to get respect from others. A guy will lose respect if he talks about his problems. A young man should be physically tough even if he's not big. A husband should not have to do housework. The survey results showed that the more boys agreed with the masculinity ideology statements, the more those statements corresponded to the boys' own views, the more likely they were to drink beer, smoke pot, have unprotected sex, get suspended from school, and "trick" or force someone into having sex. In fact, the most significant risk factor for a boy's involvement in unprotected sex was his belief in this set of "hypermasculine" traditional male attitudes. This mind-set spelled trouble for boys whether they were black or white, rich or poor, city kid or suburbanite. Popular culture is a destructive element in our boys' lives, but the emotional miseducation of boys begins much earlier and much closer to home. Most parents, relatives, teachers, and others who work or live with boys set out to teach them how to get along in the world and with one another. In the process of teaching them one thing, however, we often teach them another, quite different thing that ultimately works against their emotional potential. Traditional gender stereotypes are embedded in the way we respond to boys and teach them to respond to others. Whether unintentionally or deliberately, we tend to discourage emotional awareness in boys. Scientists who study the way parents shape their children's emotional responses find that parents tend to have preconceived stereotypic gender notions even about infants11 (like the father we know who bragged to us that his son didn't cry when he was circumcised). Because of this, parents provide a different emotional education for sons as opposed to daughters. This has been shown to be true in a variety of contexts.12 Mothers speak about sadness and distress more with their daughters and about anger more with sons. And it shows. A study observing the talk of preschool-aged children found that girls were six times more likely to use the word love, twice as likely to use the word sad, but equally likely to use the word mad. We know that mothers who explain their emotional reactions to their preschool children and who do not react negatively to a child's vivid display of sadness, fear, or anger will have children who have a greater understanding of emotions.13 Research indicates that fathers tend to be even more rigid than mothers in steering their sons along traditional lines. Even older siblings, in an imitation of their parents, talk about feelings more frequently with their two-year-old sisters than with their two-year-old brothers. Here's how this gender socialization can look in its mildest, most ordinary form: Brad is four years old and has a question about everything. His mother fields most of these questions because she's with him more often than his dad, and even when the whole family is together, she typically is the more verbally responsive of the two. She tries to give all questions equal attention, but what she doesn't fully realize is that she, like any parent, subtly shapes the kinds of questions her child asks. "Mommy, why do I have to sit in a car seat if you don't?" he asks. She responds with a discussion of the safety advantages, and explains how it is against the law for children to ride in a car unless they ride in a car seat. Because of her thoughtful answer, Brad feels rewarded for asking about how things work and is thereby encouraged to do it again sometime. But in the park, when Brad points to a small boy who is crying and asks his mother why, she gives a much shorter and less animated answer. "I don't know, Brad, he just is. Come on, let's go. It's not polite to stare." The truth is, Brad's mother may not know why the little boy is crying, and she is teaching her son good manners when she tells him not to stare. But her short answer is less engaging, less informative, and less rewarding for her son. It subtly discourages him from thinking any further about why someone cries or what might have moved this particular child to tears. Her quick closure on the inquiry also may convey her own discomfort with the subject--a message that boys frequently "hear" when fathers give short shrift to questions or observations about emotions. Studies of parent interactions with both boys and girls suggest that, when a girl asks a question about emotions, her mother will give longer explanations. She's more likely to speculate with her daughter about the reasons behind the emotion or to validate or amplify her daughter's observation: "Yes, honey, he does look very sad. Maybe he's got a little hurt or he's lost his toy.... What do you think?" The message the daughter gets is that it's okay to be concerned about another's feelings; her natural concern and empathy are reinforced. Boys experience this kind of emotional steering constantly. When six-year-old Jack and his family moved into their new house, one of the three children had to take the downstairs bedroom, separate from the others on the second floor. It was not his eight-year-old sister, Kate, who got the assignment, or his four-year-old sister, Amy. It was Jack. When Jack expressed a little uneasiness at sleeping alone on the first floor, his father said to him, "Oh, you're a big guy; you can handle it. Your sisters are scared to sleep alone." When boys express ordinary levels of anger or aggression, or they turn surly and silent, their behavior is accepted as normal. If, however, they express normal levels of fear, anxiety, or sadness--emotions most often seen as feminine--the adults around them typically treat them in ways that suggest that such emotions aren't normal for a boy. The Story of Cain: Could There Have Been a Different Ending? The biblical story of Cain and Abel, in which a jealous Cain kills his brother, endures as a parable of sibling rivalry, but it offers much more than that.14 We see in Cain's story a reflection of the emotional life of boys today--a boy's desire to be loved and respected, and his propensity to respond to humiliation and shame with anger and violence rather than reflection and communication. This short tale in the Book of Genesis opens simply enough. The brothers, both eager to please the Lord, each make an offering, Cain from the fruits of his labor in the fields and Abel a prized lamb from his flock. The Lord expresses pleasure with Abel's offering but pays no heed to Cain's. The Scripture doesn't explain why the Lord responded so differently to each boy's gift, but Cain feels humiliated. In the story, Cain is visibly distressed--"his countenance fell"--and yet he utters no words to express his feelings. "Why are you so distressed, and why is your face fallen?" is the Lord's sharp response to Cain in the biblical script. In other words, "Get over it!" And he gives Cain a stern lecture admonishing Cain to do right and be uplifted. Cain remains silent, though surely he must be hurting at the rebuke and seething with anger as he draws his brother out to the field and slays him. When the Lord, well aware of Cain's murderous act, asks Cain what has become of Abel, Cain replies, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" The Lord confronts him with his lie and banishes Cain to the Land of Nod, away from his family and any future he might have envisioned. When confronted with the unalterable consequences of his action, Cain cries out with self-pitying remorse, "My punishment is too great to bear!" Although the Lord places a mark upon Cain to protect him from harm in exile, with his family shattered and his brother dead, Cain is burdened for life. Conspicuously absent from the story are the boy's biological parents, Adam and Eve, with whom Cain might have talked or from whom he might have received calming counsel. As Elie Wiesel asks in Messengers of God, "Could they not have reasoned with [the two brothers], explained to them calmly but firmly what life, particularly collective life, was all about?" Cain's story describes every boy's desire to please--especially to please his father--and the sequence of ill-managed emotional reactions that lead to a tragic ending. We see a reflection of boys today in Cain's disappointment and shame at his heavenly father's rejection, his anger at feeling disrespected, his silenced voice in the turmoil of feeling, the absence of empathy or emotional reflection, and his impulsive act of anger. For us, Cain's story resonates in the lives of boys today when we see them distanced from their own feelings and insensitive to the feelings of others, so clearly suffering the consequences of an impoverished emotional life. Before Cain kills his brother, God reminds him: "Sin couches at the door; its urge is toward you. Yet you can be its master." How different Cain's story might have been had he been able to draw upon inner resources, emotional awareness, empathy, and moral courage, for instance, to master the moment. But this emotional education was missing for Cain, and it continues to be the missing piece in the lives of most boys today. Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys In our work as therapists, we have seen boys suffer terrible losses--the death of a parent or sibling, a serious injury or catastrophic illness--and yet struggle successfully to reclaim a life and a future for themselves. We've seen others snap under the pressure of what could only be termed a bad day. The difference between boys who overcome adversity and those who surrender to it always comes down to the emotional resources they bring to the challenge. Boys often find an emotional mentor in a favorite teacher or coach, but parents have a unique and powerful influence on a boy's view of himself and on his willingness to engage in learning emotional language and literacy. Parents can model emotional connectedness and empathy. They can listen to boys' feelings without judging them, hear their problems without dictating solutions. We have to come to grips with the fact that every boy has an inner life, that their hearts are full. Every boy is sensitive, and every boy suffers. This is a scary idea for many adults, who, consciously or unconsciously, don't want to acknowledge a boy's emotional vulnerability. But when we do acknowledge it, and we use this understanding to advance our own emotional education as parents and teachers of boys, we can help them meet the shadows in their lives with a more meaningful light. If we teach our sons to honor and value their emotional lives, if we can give boys an emotional vocabulary and the encouragement to use it, they will unclench their hearts. Excerpted from Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Daniel J. Kindlon, Michael Thompson, Teresa Barker All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.