Cover image for The men they will become : the nature and nurture of male character
The men they will become : the nature and nurture of male character
Newberger, Eli H.
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Publication Information:
Reading, Mass. : Perseus Books, 1999.
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x, 372 pages ; 24 cm
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HQ775 .N49 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Eli Newberger, M.D., one of this country's most distinguished pediatricians and experts on family development, brings decades of experience and insight to this vitally important subject. The Men They Will Become delves to the deepest roots of male character. A baby boy, says the author, has traits but no character. At each stage, particular characteristics--attachment, honesty, self-control, sportsmanship, generosity, courage--are either nurtured or thwarted. Along the way, intrinsic biological drives combine with parenting as well as gender-polarizing forces in the culture to create either the admirable qualities we all admire or those we deplore and fear.Unlike recent writers on this subject, Newberger does not try to make boys more like girls. Instead he shows us how to nurture, encourage and celebrate the best in men. The need for leaders of bold but nonviolent character makes this profoundly insightful book of urgent and timely importance.

Author Notes

Eli Newberger, M.D. teaches at Harvard Medical School and founded the Child Protection Team and the Family Development Program at Children's Hospital in Boston. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with his wife Carolyn, a developmental and clinical child psychologist.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Somewhat more scholarly in tone than Michael Gurian's The Good Son (see p. 80), Newberger's study of the development of character in boys also offers a significant perspective on the shaping of moral values. The product of a lively, informed mind, the book covers a wide range of topics related to character developmentÄincluding such chapters as "Honesty," "Self-Control," "Identity and Friendship" and "Discipline and Punishment"Äshowing how they relate to every stage of a boy's childhood. Pediatrician Newberger is quick to draw on supporting information from the fields of child development, psychology and education, as well as from a wide range of real-life examples of boys and their families. Convinced that child rearing is an acquired skill, Newberger describes four levels of "parental awareness," from the self-centered "Me First" level to the more tolerant level of "Living and Growing Together"; he refers to them throughout the book to demonstrate how a parent might better handle particular challenges. If there's a quibble here, it's that Newberger is so eager to share his knowledge that he occasionally scatters his fire. In any case, parents or adults involved in helping boys become "more caring and connected men" will relish the wealth of information presented in this useful addition to the growing body of gender-specific parenting literature. Agents, Donald Cutler and Pamela Hartford of Bookmark; 9-city author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Here are two solid books with practical advice on how to raise well-adjusted, ethical young boys. The Good Son is the culminating third volume of Gurian's best-selling series (The Wonder of Boys, A Fine Young Man) about raising young males to become responsible men. Like many recent scholars, such as Gad Cudner (Small Criminal Among Us), Gurian offers ethical explanations of youth violence: his "good son parenting plan" revolves around morality and discipline. Astutely synthesizing Jean Piaget's cognitive and Lawrence Kohlberg's moral stages of development, he gives detailed guidelines for instilling "good virtues" during each of three stages of moral development: obedience (birth to six), convention (seven to 12), and moral intuition (13 to 18). On the other handÄand in contrast to Donald Black (Bad Boys, Mad Men: Confronting Antisocial Personality Disorder, LJ 3/1/99), who emphasizes genetic attributionÄNewberger (pediatrics, Harvard Medical Sch.) thinks that the best explanation for boys' misbehavior is the interplay of biological drives and "character" development. He claims that boys are born with malleable "innate temperaments" that can be transformed into positive "male characteristics" such as self-control, courage, honesty, and sportsmanship. In short, boys can become leaders without resorting to violence. Both Gurian and Newberger use anecdotes to show that raising good sons need not be difficult, and their books are timely, insightful additions to the current debate on youth violence and school shootings. Recommended for public and academic libraries.ÄChogollah Maroufi, California State Univ., Los Angeles (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Newberger has created a text that is a rich collection of research, interviews, anecdotes, and personal wisdom based on his years as a pediatrician. He discusses the nature of character, what it means to be male, and how distinctively male character is nurtured, thwarted, and guided into adulthood. He deals with several dimensions of male personality; curiosity, identity, honesty, cheating, self-control, and sharing are a few among the many aspects of character that come under his scrutiny. Beginning with an examination of the nature and nurture of preschoolers, Newberger takes the reader on a journey of character development through the life and times of a variety of boys. His insights will provide general readers with both sensible guidance and challenges to traditional notions about young men in contemporary society. The more research-oriented audience might find Newberger's notions contradictory at times and his attention to theoretical understandings of male character somewhat perfunctory, but this does not detract from his thoughtful and wonderfully written accounts. Parents in particular will find this work practical and compelling. All levels. D. Van Ausdale; Syracuse University



Chapter One WHAT IS CHARACTER? This is a book about how to understand and influence the character of boys so that they have every opportunity to become admirable men. I have wrestled with the issue of character for a long time. As a pediatrician specializing in the treatment and prevention of family violence, I have dealt with urgent situations where one person--usually a man--has hurt others emotionally, and often physically, too. Daily I see expressions of masculinity we all deplore--power-obsessed, controlling, self-indulgent, belligerent, insensitive, foolishly risk-taking. Yet I have not met a single man in whom I could not find some point of connection with his better self; I've always been able to find a side of him that loves his children, or that yearns for a better relationship with their mother, or that knows violence is wrong. No one is just a "bad" man.     Throughout my life I've enjoyed the companionship of boys and men who personify the qualities of masculinity we admire--courage, good humor, flexibility, dependability, sociability, protectiveness of others. Some of these friends I first met during childhood and in high school, others were contemporaries at college, or have become professional colleagues. My life as a musician has also generated a rich variety of associations. None of us is perfect. We've all behaved in ways we regret, have all done things we wish we could do over with a dearer conscience and more careful choice. No one is just a "good" man.     So I need to define what I mean by character very carefully. First of all, since character is a subject as relevant to girls as to boys, why am I writing a book devoted exclusively to boys? I have two reasons. First, heredity bestows a different body and mind on a boy than on a girl. Not totally different, but distinctive enough to provide a unique biological starting point for a boy's development through childhood and adolescence.     A boy's environment adds a second powerful influence on his character formation. Ours has been called a gender-polarizing society. From the moment of birth, we raise boys differently from girls. We have different ways of relating to them, different expectations for them, different goals for them, different roles for them. While these are not totally different from our ways of raising girls, they are distinctive enough to provide a unique cultural environment with problems specific to males and their character. The Role of Character To define what I mean by character as it relates to boys and men, I shall begin by telling a story about a second cousin of mine. The names and places are fictional; the events are actual. Sam Greenfield Sam was a senior in high school in the 1950s when a developer bought a large, wooded tract of land adjacent to his family's secluded home on Long Island, New York, and began to clear it off and fill it up with look-alike houses. The invasion of the Greenfields' wooded privacy was as bothersome as a chronic toothache. Laments about the new development dominated family conversations; there seemed little to be done about the new houses except gradually to screen them off with border plantings. Other neighbors were equally unhappy.     But Sam was not content to accept the intrusion passively. Exploring the construction site one evening, he found where the construction crew had hidden the keys to the bulldozer they used to build access roads and dig foundations. After a little experimentation, Sam got the bulldozer in motion. He didn't damage any existing foundations or frames, but he plowed up the access roads to make them temporarily unusable, then put the bulldozer and keys back where he had found them. He carried out this and other mischievous acts several times.     Eventually, on one of his prowls, Sam was throwing rocks into an empty foundation to create nuisance work when a guard jumped out of hiding to confront him. "So you're the one who has been doing all the damage!" the guard shouted. Sam kept his composure. He identified himself truthfully. But he denied having done anything other than the petty vandalism the guard had just witnessed. Sam removed the rocks he'd thrown into the foundation and left the site scolded by the guard's parting words, "If we catch you again on this property, you'll be in plenty of trouble! You haven't heard the last of this!"     Some boys would deal with the threat of investigation and arrest by worrying in private. Others might boast about the mischief to friends. Sam went home and told his parents what he had done to upset the construction schedule, and what he feared if the local police investigated.     "I feel partly responsible for what you've done, Sam," said his father. "We've all groused about the damned housing development without making it clear that we have to live with it, whether we like it or not." "But Sam," interjected his mother, "didn't it occur to you that if you got caught, Haverford College might learn of it and withdraw your acceptance for this fall?" Stella Greenfield's quick thought of Sam's month-old admission to Haverford was surely related to the fact that she had had to leave college herself in the midst of the Great Depression to help support her family; she knew the pain of lost opportunity.     My parents thought of Sam as a model of adolescent respectability. He was president of his high school class and an outstanding student. How did he come to initiate a one-man campaign to sabotage a housing development? One clue lies in his capacity for initiative and leadership. Sam wasn't one to sit around and mope. I suspect that he had a bit of the impulse to challenge authority that almost every adolescent has. He sincerely believed that the new housing subdivision was a bad thing for the community as well as his family.     I don't believe Sam thought what he was doing was anything worse than engaging in mischief. Many relatives who eventually heard of the episode thought of it as a humorous prank. Years later, at family reunions, someone would invariably say, "Do you remember the time Sam ...?" and everyone would share a laugh over his nerve and imagination.     But what Sam had done amounted to trespass, temporary theft of a bulldozer, and property damage. These acts constituted at least a serious misdemeanor, perhaps even a felony offense. An irritated public prosecutor might have chosen to exploit the case to Sam's and his family's embarrassment; an angry contractor might have initiated a civil suit for reimbursement of the damage Sam had caused. Stella Greenfield was properly concerned that public knowledge of Sam's actions might jeopardize his college acceptance.     The Greenfields were never put in the position of having to decide whether to acknowledge what they knew of Sam's escapades. No policeman ever came to the door to ask questions. Sam went to Haverford, and from there on to a distinguished career in public service.     Looking back at this family legend, it is clear that Sam was raised in an environment that stressed his ability--and responsibility--to make his own choices, and that emphasized the values of honesty, hard work, and positive action to benefit others. Sam exercised this responsibility by bringing the situation to his parents. He knew that he could trust them to help him work through the problem he had created for himself. They, in turn, made sure he understood the wrongfulness of what he had done, and its potential consequences, but not in such a way as to squelch his confidence in himself. After all, there are other, lawful ways to oppose housing sprawl, as many enterprising activists have found.     Sam was eighteen. His character was still being formed--as part of a process that began when he was an infant and would continue throughout his adulthood. The bulldozer was a blip on the screen; not the full picture of his personality. Like all adolescents, he was a work in progress, and Sam was blessed with a family that knew it. His admirable qualities, cultivated with care, weren't changed by one set of bad choices, although the consequences, had he been caught and punished, could have been devastating for him and his future. Sam--and his family--grew from this experience. Not least, it gave all the participants a frightening, penetrating sense of our human capacity for error, correction, and better judgment in the future. A good glimpse into what character is all about.     In For Kings and Planets , the novelist Ethan Canin says about his protagonist, who has undergone rigorous tests of character: "Hardship made character; hardship broke character; that was the paradox. Character to him was kindness and diligence and a certain social egalitarianism that was fundamental to society, and he still believed somehow that all three were instinctive. This, perhaps, was his unbending core."     We wouldn't have any way of discerning character if it weren't tested by hard circumstances. The testing often comes from outside as a challenge. It can also come from inside as a boy deliberately tests his own limits. But where does character come from in the first place?     At the beginning of his life, a boy scarcely has a self. He has a temperament, which I shall discuss later, but not a character. His world is microcosmic--consisting of himself and the principal people who take care of him. His strongest social instinct is to bond very closely to his mother. Very quickly he experiences tension between what he wants and what he is being given. In the course of infancy and early childhood, every one of his desires will be tested.     Depending on how he is treated, an infant boy develops fundamental attitudes about himself and his surroundings. He may develop trustfulness because his physical and emotional needs are met reasonably adequately and reliably; or he may develop distrustfulness because they are not. He may develop a capacity for intimacy because he is held and stroked and talked to lovingly a lot; or he may become accustomed to detachment from others because his first principal caregivers were somewhat distant toward him.     At every step of childhood and adolescence, the needs and wishes of the self get further crystallized, and more consciously in tension with the perceived interests of others. Eventually, in day care and school and in community activities, a boy's experience will become broad enough for him to deal conceptually with conflicts of interest. He begins to appreciate that there are needs that everyone can claim as worthy of fulfillment and protection. We call such universally justifiable interests "rights."     Though people argue with one another as to which needs are worthy of being called rights, most agree that everyone has some basic ones that deserve to be protected. The most challenging tension of the lifelong process of character formation arises when my wishes run headlong into the rights of others, or, just as importantly, when the wishes of others run headlong into my rights. There are plenty of occasions when our wishes conflict with the wishes of others, but those situations are not as significant as when rights are involved. As the following story shows, even five-year-old boys can develop friction that involves a human right. Peter and Larry Peter Nilsson and Larry Wyden, each five years old, live in a small New Hampshire town. The two boys are not buddies, but they meet each other regularly when children of the neighborhood get together to play. Peter's parents, especially his dad, Erik, have raised their only son to be self-sufficient and well-mannered. Erik practices self-sufficiency himself. He rarely has to call for the services of a tradesman or technician to solve a problem at his house; he has learned how to maintain and repair everything without help. He believes Peter ought to be able to solve his problems with minimal adult intervention.     Already this story alludes to an aspect of character. The larger subject of character gets broken down frequently into subcategories we call "values." Erik highly values self-sufficiency. He wants his son to internalize this value and then express it in the way he behaves.     There are two methods Erik could use to recommend self-sufficiency to Peter. He could teach him with little instructions--and he has done that; or he could model self-sufficiency in such a way that Peter might choose to follow his example--and he has done that, too. Values can be taught and they can be caught. I think they're just as often caught as taught, but both methods can be successful. What doesn't work well is for a dad to try to teach his son a value that the father hasn't himself internalized and exemplified, but thinks he has. The result is a son confused about that value, a son whose respect for his father may be diminished. I believe, however, that it's appropriate for a parent to recommend values to a son even while the parent acknowledges that he himself doesn't perfectly embody them. He expresses the hope that his son will surpass his parental example.     Every adult in his neighborhood has a good word to say about Peter Nilsson; his respectful manners (reflecting another value his parents teach: deference to elders), together with his outgoing temperament, make him the kind of boy that other parents might envy. Larry Wyden, however, proved immune to Peter's friendliness.     One day, over lunch, Peter said to his mom, Jiffy, "Larry is always hitting me." It was an accurate statement. Larry had begun to hit Peter without provocation almost every time they met at play. He had also been observed to hit his sitter or his mother if he became frustrated with them.     "Do you like it when he hits you?" Jiffy asked.     "Of course not," Peter replied.     "Well, then, you say `I don't like it when you hit me,' and you walk away."     Jiffy was tempted to speak to Larry's mother, Sara, about Larry's aggressiveness, but she felt constrained. Larry's behavior was upsetting to Peter, but there was little chance that Larry would physically injure him. Jiffy fully endorsed Erik's wish to have Peter, with parental guidance and support, solve problems by himself. She also felt constrained because she didn't know Larry's mother very well and didn't want to make her defensive or irritated.     A couple of days later, Larry hit Peter again at the local playground. Sara happened to be there at the time, but didn't see her son deliver the punch. Peter responded to the blow by saying, "I hate you. You're not my friend, because you hurt me." Peter didn't walk away then. He spoke his mind and stood his ground.     The comparative lack of sophistication in a five-year-old boy actually helps us to see the workings of character here. If Peter had followed his mother's suggestion exactly, said "I don't like your hitting me," and walked away, Larry might not have felt really confronted. What Peter did was stronger, more confrontational than his mother had advised.     Probably to Peter's surprise, his response to Larry's punch touched a point of insecurity in Larry, who began to cry. What happened next shows just how unpredictable life can be, and why we can't ever eliminate the element of choice. Sara, seeing Larry in tears, rushed over and, without inquiring into the cause of her son's unhappiness, told Peter to apologize for making Larry cry. Peter was now caught between competing values. He had followed his mother's advice about how to respond to Larry's aggressiveness (self-sufficiency), but now Larry's mother was telling him to apologize (respect and deference to elders). The adult-respect rule won out, and Peter apologized to Larry for making him cry!     Both of his parents were home when Peter reported his confusing experience. "If it happens again," Erik told his son, "you say as respectfully as you can to Larry's mother, `I'm sorry I hurt his feelings, but he hit me , and I'm the one who deserves the apology."     As might be expected, the same scenario was played out during the next weekend. Larry punched Peter, and Peter told him off in the same terms he had used before. Larry again broke into tears. Both mothers were at the playground. Again Sara rushed over and told Peter to apologize. Peter looked to Jiffy for reassurance, then delivered the message suggested by his dad. Sara dropped her demand that Peter apologize, but she didn't respond to his suggestion that Larry was the one who should offer an apology.     Both boys wandered off in separate directions to play, and the mothers had a chance to discuss the situation. Sara said that she and her husband were experiencing difficulty getting Larry to acknowledge that he couldn't always do as he pleased. She said she much preferred Larry's infancy when punishment was not an issue.     Later the same day, after a talk with his mom, Larry came over to Peter's house and promised not to hit Peter again. Jiffy was less than confident of the reliability of the truce. The next time the two boys were at the playground, Jiffy noted that Larry was in a bad mood. She thought he might well hit Peter again. Larry appeared to think about it, reconsidered, and punched a five-year-old girl from the neighborhood instead.     Peter, in many ways, is a five-year-old version of my cousin Sam. He already displays a temperamental outgoingness that could make him a born leader at an older age. His parents are teaching and modeling a coherent set of values, and he is comfortable discussing problems with them, trying their proposed solutions, coming back home for further consultation, and returning to the playground with a revised game plan. His mother is carefully calibrating her involvement, letting Peter work things out for himself, but staying close enough to be protective if the need should arise. She and Peter's dad could be counted on to protect Peter's right--the right not to be assaulted.     I don't know the causes of Larry's moodiness. Why did he embark on a pattern of hitting other children? His parents are said to be very mild-mannered in public. I have no reason to think Larry is copying aggressiveness he has witnessed at home, although in my medical practice I have many times met men whose public behavior was reasonable but who raged out of control in the privacy of their own homes.     Sara and Larry were at a neighborhood tea when the hostess left the dining room for a few minutes. Larry immediately shifted over to the hostess's chair and began to eat cake from her plate. Sara said, "Larry, please ask before you take something next time, okay?" Then, as if to reassure everyone, including herself, she asked, "Isn't he cute?" Her way is to follow every hesitant public correction of Larry with an immediate assertion of his adorableness, a disarming tactic that no one has the nerve to challenge.     Another neighbor found it disconcerting that Larry would come into her house without knocking, with the intention of playing with her children's toys. She was quite firm with Larry, telling him that it alarmed her when she was on the second floor and heard the door open and an unknown person walk through the downstairs rooms. Larry accepted the correction amiably, and abided by it; to the neighbor's surprise, Sara herself after Larry had been taught to knock, walked into the same neighbor's house one day unannounced.     Larry's parents' insecurity and inconsistency have left him confused and anxious. He wields more power, without their loving restraint, than a five-year-old boy can feel comfortable with. He knows he's small and relatively defenseless. His hitting behavior may be a way of reassuring himself of his power in an environment where his parents are so weak they can't control him. The Force of the Environment Responsible parents begin to give their children structure and guidelines early in life so that the building blocks for resiliency, strength, and respect for others are laid. In other words, the building blocks of character. The only way to tell what a boy is absorbing from this tutelage is to observe how he behaves, particularly in a situation where there is some tension that pulls him between alternative choices.     In situations where the choices are familiar and undemanding, a boy may behave as if on automatic pilot. But stressful situations will make him weigh the alternatives more carefully and try to make a choice that is acceptable to him and others. His temperament will be a factor. Peter isn't even tempted to hit others without provocation. Larry might find it difficult to give up this outlet for his moodiness.     I think of character always as something that develops and is influenced, but not acquired. "Acquired" suggests that one can go out and get it, or that it can be indoctrinated into a child. The process of making character involves not only the outside world pushing on the boy but also his inner self working actively to integrate his own desires with these outside pressures. Parents, neighbors, and others (the human environment) can encourage certain kinds of boyish behavior and restrain others. Sometimes external demands are so strong that a boy feels overwhelmed. Then his masculine impulses of "fight or flight" cut in. He may submerge his own desires and attempt to escape the demands (flight) or he may become aggressive (fight).     Character thus consists of a constantly evolving balance between a boy's inner desires and ideals and the forces of his environment. The balance can shift in an instant. The dynamic quality of character formation means that sterling character can develop out of unlikely family histories--as the story of Pascal amply demonstrates. Pascal Pascal's mother grew up in a Moslem family in Southeast Asia, and came to the United States to go to college. "I was like a bird that had never flown before," Lani says now. "I was crazy about the freedom. I never neglected my education, but otherwise I tried everything. I met my first husband, a foreign student like me, but from the Balkans, and I had sex for the first time; and it was like Pascal's `spirit' said, `Oop, this is what I want, coming in,' and there I was: pregnant from my first sexual experience. I came from a family with very strong values, which included getting married when you were pregnant. So I did, but it was a tempestuous relationship, and Alex and I soon separated. When Pascal was nine months old, and I was still nursing him, Alex kidnapped Pascal and took him back to his native country."     "How did you get him back?" I asked, sitting spellbound in Lani's living room in a suburb of Boston. "The United States Embassy and my father hired the best lawyer," she replied. I asked whether the local authorities cooperated in the effort to repatriate Pascal. "No," Lani said, "but my father was a military officer and he had some paramilitary connections. I was asked whether I wanted Alex killed or just hurt. I said I didn't want him hurt at all. In five weeks I had Pascal back."     Lani returned to the United States as a graduate student and she met Joe Lehman when Pascal was three years old. She works as a school counselor, he as a newspaper reporter. They have had two more children together. Pascal is a sophomore in high school. I asked how they manage three kids and two careers with little outside help. "It's tough," Joe said. "We pray at five o'clock in the morning, before dawn. I converted to Islam, so we all pray together as a family. That's the one time of day we are always all together: from prayers until we leave for school and work. I work very long days, but the children are in after-school programs and sports until Lani gets home to pick them up."     The relationship between Pascal and his stepfather was cemented when Pascal was five. Alex, the biological father, came to the Lehman's apartment building for a parental visit and tried to abduct Pascal again. "We were in the lobby," Pascal recalls, "and the next minute my father was walking out the door with me in his arms. And my dad (stepfather Joe) was like, `Wait a minute, where are you going?' I struggled out of my father's arms and ran back into the elevator. My father ran after me, but my dad blocked him. My dad was like, `Give me your best shot,' but my father didn't do anything. Then my mother called the police. I'll never forget that. From that day on, I knew my dad was going to protect me, so I didn't need to be scared. I used to be scared of robbers and stuff, but after that I wasn't. I was fine after that."     "I don't want to put you on the spot," I said to Pascal at one point, "but have you ever faced a situation where you saw violence or the possibility of danger, and there was a decision to be made by you with regard to what to do and whether to tell your parents?" There was such a situation, it turned out, and it concerned high school wrestling. Joe Lehman had been an enthusiastic wrestler in his youth, and he had transmitted his enthusiasm to Pascal.     "When I was a freshman wrestler," Pascal said, "the captains were great. They didn't believe in freshman initiation. They'd maybe give you a hard time once in a while, but not enough to make kids quit the team. I've never told my parents about this, but the captains this year started freshman initiation again. The juniors and seniors would beat up the freshmen, push them into lockers, turn out the lights, and start to shake the lockers. Kids were quitting the team.     "I didn't say anything during practice because I didn't feel it was my place. But after practice I went to one of the captains and said, `Our program's not so strong. I don't feel that initiation is a smart thing to do because we're losing kids. They're quitting.' The captain called me names, `pussy' and stuff like that, but he didn't do any more hazing either. But later there was another heated discussion, and I said to him, `If you want to hurt these kids, then you're going to have to hurt me first.'"     "Pascal has gifts that some other students don't have," Joe Lehman interjected. "It's a rarity, for example, for a freshman to make varsity as he did last year. We believe these gifts are given from God, because we're a religious family, and that we have to do more. It's important to take a stand like that, to show courage, to stand up when you see injustice, especially among your own. I'm glad that he does it and I don't even know about it."     "When you challenged the captain," I asked Pascal, "did you have any fallback plan in mind? Would you have told your parents or someone at the school?" "If he'd gone against me," Pascal said, "I would've told my dad and we would've gone to see the athletic director or something like that."     "Star athletes are often revered by other kids," I said, "and they have a tremendous amount of power. If they behave toward others as they did toward the freshman wrestlers, that could be dangerous. How did these athletes behave toward girls?"     "The captain couldn't stop talking about sex," Pascal said. "It's all he can think about. And, ah, he'll lie because he doesn't really have a lot of friends. I guess it's normal to have locker-room talk about girls, but he would talk about them nonstop. Some kids thought he was serious, but I didn't take him seriously."     After we had discussed the fact that the wrestling captain dropped out of school midway through his senior year, Pascal said, "I still respect his parents a lot. His mom was always nice to me; and his dad would show me how to improve some of my wrestling moves. You know, constructive criticism. He helped me a lot."     "So it must have been difficult for them when their son dropped out of school," I suggested. "Yeah," Pascal agreed. "But his parents kind of let him do what he wants. They're sort of afraid of him."     "I know what he's talking about," Joe concurred. "The wrestling captain's confused about things. The way his parents treat him is not the way we would treat our son. We would expect more of our son. His parents are in some ways too nice. We believe that most people, especially children, are basically good. We try to pay attention and encourage that goodness."     Joe's way of expressing the Lehman family's structure of conduct and discipline occasionally sounds slightly authoritarian. But that is a misleading impression. It was Pascal who caught the dynamic balance of his family by stating two things:     First, his parents have given him considerable responsibility for his own behavior. "My parents have taught me how to make my own decisions about what's right and what's wrong. They haven't tried to tell me exactly what to do and what not to do in every situation." This significant degree of moral autonomy is balanced, secondly, with a close relationship between Pascal and his mother and stepfather. "I'm actually lucky because my parents are there for me. Some of my friends' parents aren't there for them, so they actually tell me their stuff, and I feel really bad. Their parents aren't there because they're working or because there isn't a relationship or connection between them and their kids. They let things go. It's tough. I feel bad for them. Most of my friends are in that predicament. Some of the parents that are around just don't care. The kids will smoke dope in the house and stuff like that. One kid says his parents don't even know when he does it; if he does get caught, he gets grounded for a week, and that's it."     My friend and fellow pediatrician, Peter Gorski, stated the interdependence of Pascal's two points in a conversation we had about the strengths, or "virtues," one hopes parents will bring to their child-rearing--a subject I take up at the end of this chapter. In speaking about love and trust he pointed out that "Many children feel loved but not trusted--I mean, not trusted to be reasonable, competent, and resilient. They grow up with a hole at their center, a basic distrust of themselves. This loss imposes limitations on their own abilities to feel faith and hope, to take initiatives, to value intimacy, and to be generous toward others."     Joe and Lani Lehman, coming from profoundly different cultures--Joe from an American family in which his parents were largely inattentive, giving him little parental guidance, Lani from a very authoritarian Asian family with rigid roles for everyone--nevertheless exhibit a fusion of love and trust toward their children. They love their kids extravagantly; they also trust them to an increasing degree, as they grow up, to work things out for themselves.     In a later chapter in the book, I shall describe a particularly challenging behavioral crisis that the headmaster of our local high school had to handle while I was writing this book. I went to see him to learn more about the crisis, but I also asked him for some general comments on nurturing character in boys. What did he think I should keep in mind?     "Three things," Bob Weintraub said. Point number one was not to underestimate the power of popular culture in kids' heads. "They have a whole language that circulates through the music and television and movies they listen to and watch. The language of their media pays about equal attention to sex and to disrespect for adults. I like to say that once upon a time Ozzie Nelson was the role model for Dad, and now Homer Simpson is."     The second factor Bob cited is the diminished adult presence in many kids' homes. "Whether it's because both parents are working, or because there's only one parent in the household, there's not a lot of nights when dinner is cooked and everyone sits down at the table together to eat and talk. There's a loss of adult influence in boys' lives. That's huge. It's not because parents are bad people, it's just what's happening. It's reality. Adults are stretched, they're stressed. Just as Friends is reality and Homer Simpson is reality, the loss of the adult presence and voice is reality.     "And then,"--Bob moved into his third point--"going along with that is the nature of the adolescent boy. He's seeking his identity. He's trying to figure out what's okay and what's not okay. Right now I strongly believe that peer influence is much stronger than adult influence. The adults aren't there for a variety of reasons that cut across class lines, cut across everything.     "Parents want to raise thoughtful, successful, respectful kids, right? I don't think anybody wants not to do that. And teachers want to do the same thing: raise thoughtful, successful, respectful kids. I don't know if it's simplistic or not, but in the face of the things I mentioned--popular culture, and the demands and reality of adult life today--there's just not a strong and unified adult voice. There's a great line from James Comer, a psychiatrist at Yale. He said, `When I grew up, there was a conspiracy of adults to make me a responsible person.' And there is not that conspiracy today, or at least it's weakened. So kid's decisions are based on the influences of popular culture and peer influences more than they are on the adult voice."     Despite the challenging circumstances of our time, a great many boys are growing up to superb manhood. There are Pascals everywhere. The success stories are not defined by social class, race, ethnicity, or religion. Nor are they defined by the composition of the household. Married couples, single parents, gay couples--all types, as I shall show--are raising fine young men.     The fact also remains that some boys from all walks of life and all manner of households crash. There is no such thing as perfect childhood. Everyone stumbles along the way. The stumbles often serve a profound, positive purpose, enabling boys to integrate their achievements and their failures into a personality with a balance of confidence and humility. Often, in the midst of disappointments over their own efforts, boys learn that they are loved for themselves and their character, not just for their achievements. Temperament But what leverage, parents may justifiably ask, do we actually have? How much of our son is the personality he was born to be, and what part can we influence?     Every boy is born with an innate temperament and other inherited characteristics that will be his for a lifetime, and that influence the way he behaves in any situation. Winifred Gallagher put it this way: While we may be born equal, we're not born the same, and can be very broadly distinguished by our expression of a few basic traits, or abiding behavioral tendencies. According to our capacities for anxiety, aggression, and involvement in the world, some of us fear the challenges that thrill others; some of us look for the fights that others duck; some of us are the life of the party that others observe.     Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas, two child psychiatrists, contributed significantly to our understanding of temperament in their writings from the 1980s: It was clear from the parents' descriptions that babies did differ in many ways, even in the first few months of life. Some infants cried softly while others tended to cry loudly. Some fussed or cried a great deal, others only a little. Some babies developed regular sleep and feeding schedules quickly and easily; others got hungry and sleepy at different times from day to day. Some moved their arms and legs and twisted their necks and bodies actively; others moved much less and lay quietly most of the time.     Two child psychologists I've worked with are each the mother of fraternal male twins. Both mothers are professionally trained to be observant of behavior. Both were conscious of intending to treat their twins exactly the same after birth. Both were astonished by how quickly they were aware of the strikingly different temperaments of their twin boys. One of the mothers had a difficult pregnancy that was closely monitored. She discovered, for example, that one of the fetuses was much more active than the other, a difference that held up after the twin boys were born.     Some elements of a boy's temperament are pretty impervious to outside influence; they are referred to as the "hardwired" part. Other elements are more malleable; they are the "softwired" part. Specialists in neuroscience and child development have many disagreements about distinguishing the two parts, so the best resolution is to say that both elements are involved more or less equally in what we call temperament.     As soon as a boy is born, his innate temperament begins to interact with the outside environment, human and otherwise. His parents have temperaments, too! In fact, pediatricians report that parents frequently complain about their children's temperaments even in the absence of behavioral problems: their sons are shyer or more intense or more stubborn or more frequently tearful than their parents wish they were.     A core of temperament in every person, said Chess and Thomas, holds up over time: Two children may dress and feed themselves equally well, ride a bicycle with the same skill, and have the same motives for engaging in these activities. Two adolescents may have similar academic interests, learn equally quickly, and have similar ambitions. Two adults may have the same technical expertise and motivation on their jobs. Yet these two children, adolescents, or adults may differ markedly in the quickness with which they move, the ease with which they approach a new physical environment, social situation, or task, the intensity and character of their mood expression, and the effort it takes to distract them when they are absorbed in an activity.     Just as assessments of character may (usually misguidedly) stress a single virtue or fault--he's a liar--assessments of temperament may (equally misguidedly) stress a single trait--he's shy, or he's hyperactive. Chess and Thomas concluded that temperament has nine irreducible components. I list them, cast in masculine terms, to encourage readers to look at temperament broadly: 1. Activity Level. How intense is his activity, and what is the proportion of active to inactive periods in his day? 2. Regularity. How predictable or unpredictable is he in the timing of basic biological functions such as eating and sleeping? 3. Approach or Withdrawal. How does he react initially to new situations? 4. Adaptability. How does he respond over time to new or altered situations? 5. Sensory Threshold. How much stimulus does he need before he responds? 6. Mood. How pleasant and friendly, or unfriendly, is he? 7. Intensity of Reaction. How energetic is his response, positively or negatively? 8. Distractibility. How easily does a new stimulus interfere with ongoing activity? 9. Persistence and Attention Span. Does he continue activities in the face of obstacles? How long will he pursue an activity before abandoning it?     Chess and Thomas went on to describe three clusters of temperament traits that many pediatricians and child psychologists still use as a rough guide to evaluating temperament: the "easy" child (gregarious, cooperative, focused--everyone wants one of these); the "difficult" child; and the "slow-to-warm-up" child. There has been much theorizing and research on temperament since Chess and Thomas did their pioneering work. Stanley Greenspan, for example, has profiled five distinguishable types of "difficult" or "challenging" children: the highly sensitive child, the self-absorbed child, the defiant child, the inattentive child, and the active/aggressive child. These profiles appear to cover in an expanded way the "difficult" and the "slow-to-warm-up" categories of Chess and Thomas. But I'm not sure that the five profiles rebut the criticism of William Carey and some other writers on child development--directed at the three profiles of Chess and Thomas--that such profiles can lead to hasty and unhelpful typing and labeling of children, particularly by people untrained in the disciplined observation of behavior.     Greenspan, whose work I admire, acknowledges that his five personality patterns "appear in different proportions in many individuals.... Some of us are combinations, so we fall into more than one of these five profiles." Thus we should all the more resist using the profiles as labels to justify unsympathetic caregiving. Their usefulness lies in promoting behavior by parents and other caregivers that takes these personality patterns into account: "For each characteristic, certain ways that parents behave enhance the flexibility, creativity, and potential of a child showing that pattern of behavior. Others are almost certain to compound the problems presented by a given characteristic."     In the end, I think, the three-part classification by Chess and Thomas is too simple, too easily misused, and the five-part system of Greenspan is more helpful as a list of themes to be aware of than as a classification system. Five-part systems will probably always lose out to three-part systems if only for utility purposes. For describing a child's temperament, I find myself returning to something like the Chess and Thomas list of nine irreducible components.     But we are all indebted to Greenspan for a very clear statement on the relationship between nature and nurture: Whenever you hear that a child's temperament or traits may be fixed, remember that not only are these traits not fixed, the personality characteristics we are most concerned with are `bigger' than any one trait. The capacity to love, to empathize with others, to be confident and assertive, and to think creatively are complex products of many of our traits; indeed, they are the result of our relationships and experience over many years.... A child's personality, therefore, is not simply a product of both `nature' and `nurture,' or even a product of how nature adjusts to nurture. It is a product of the unique and continuous interplay between nature and nurture.... In the last ten years, we have learned a real deal more about this interplay. It operates a little like a lock and key. Finding the right key creates new patterns of interaction. Out of this new relationship, a child can often develop the warmth and confidence he or she needs.     Jerome Kagan has also refined the subject of temperament in significant ways. He pointed out that the nine irreducible categories of Chess and Thomas, abstract and universal as they may sound, were not drawn from a value-free investigation. They were extracted from interviews with urban, middle-class parents and reflected those parents' predominant concerns with their infants' "fussiness, ease of feeding, regularity of sleep, fearfulness, and reciprocity with others." This insight doesn't invalidate the work of Chess and Thomas; it simply reminds us to notice what presuppositions a scientist brings to his or her interests, methods, and findings. "All such temperamental qualities can be changed by experience," Kagan noted, "and all require certain experiences in order to be actualized."     Kagan paid particular attention to the difference between timid or inhibited children and outgoing, comparatively fearless children. About 10 percent of two-year-olds, he reported, display pronounced inhibition toward unthreatening but unfamiliar situations; one longitudinal study has shown this temperamental quality enduring stably through childhood and adolescence and on into adulthood.     Parents, at least initially, may be pleased to have shy or inhibited children--although American parents in general prefer a bold to a timid child--because they tend to be obedient, display caution about rushing into dangerous situations, and may be more attentive to academic mastery than some outgoing kids. The inhibited children often get along better with parents and other adults than with peers. However, even this temperamental quality can be deeply influenced by a parent who wants a different kind of child than he or she got genetically.     Kagan tells of a mother who wanted a bold, fearless son. Just before he turned two, her child fit the description of an inhibited youngster. By age four he appeared to be an uninhibited child. He was playful and sociable and laughed heartily. Yet there were little signs to suggest that the transformation was far from complete. When the boy was observed being assertive, he seemed more mean-spirited than playful. Put into a play situation with an unfamiliar boy, he seemed hostile rather than relaxed, and quickly scurried to his mother's side when his playmate became dominating. This little boy seems mainly to have been encouraged to be outgoing, and the tension between his natural inhibition and his parentally influenced style showed in the edge of anger in his sociability. If an inhibited child is born to parents who feel deeply threatened by this characteristic and react to it with hostility, they might drive him into being an aggressively disobedient child. Thus may nurture create a very different surface appearance than nature intended for a child. Copyright © 1999 Eli H. Newberger, M.D.. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
1 What Is Character?p. 1
2 The Roots of Characterp. 20
3 Infants and Toddlersp. 40
4 Male Connection and Emotionp. 55
5 Word Magicp. 65
6 Discipline and Punishmentp. 73
7 Preschoolersp. 90
8 Sharingp. 104
9 Curiosityp. 117
10 Schoolboysp. 129
11 Honestyp. 142
12 Self-controlp. 159
13 Teasing and Bullyingp. 179
14 Early Adolescencep. 203
15 Identity and Friendshipp. 221
16 Alcohol and Drugsp. 238
17 Late Adolescencep. 254
18 Enablingp. 269
19 Cheatingp. 285
20 Play and Sportsp. 300
21 Giving Backp. 319
Notesp. 333
Bibliographyp. 355
Indexp. 361
About the Authorp. 372