Book Discussion: Raising Boys by Design

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Photo by jlwf
Photo by jlwf

Are you reading along?

We recently launched BuildingBoys Virtual Book Club; our first pick is Raising Boys by Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your Son Needs to Thrive, by Michael Gurian and Gregory Jantz. (Need more details about the book or why we picked it? Click here.)

I’m 3 chapters in now. I fully agree with Chapter 1: Our Sons Need a New Approach to Boyhood. As a “boy mom,” I’m well aware of the fact that society and social institutions don’t always value boys’ approach to life. When I read, “Boys as a group…need to know they are not inherently flawed or inherently defective simply by being born male,” I nodded in vigorous agreement.

The book, Chapter 1 says, “begins from the perspective that boys are designed to value and strive toward a mantle of maleness and that our culture is very hard on that maleness.” Do you agree with those statements? I do — but I think part of the reason our boys struggle is because our society hasn’t agreed on a healthy definition of “maleness.” Rosalind Wiseman wrote about the Act Like a Man Box in Masterminds & Wingmen, and for the most part, I think our societal definition of maleness is far too narrow. I think that one thing we can to improve the lot of boys is to work to expand that definition.

Chapter 1 encourages us to begin that work by looking at our own gender biases, by asking us to identify what stereotypes we have about boys. I’ll be honest: that’s something I worry about here on BuildingBoys. Sometimes I think we may overly promote the idea of boys as active, messy and disruptive. And sometimes I worry that by accepting those things as ‘boy” in my own boys,  I might be unconsciously molding them to the stereotype.

In truth, I know that boys come in all shapes and sizes and sensitivities. Boys can be interested in anything, can do anything and should be accepted and welcomed as “boy” no matter what.

Chapter 2, Boys Develop Differently Than Girls, delves into the differences between boys and girls. Were you surprised by anything you read? Did you ever find yourself nodding in agreement?

Because I’ve been learning and thinking and writing about boys for so long, most of the info in this chapter is old hat to me. And I have to say, I’ve recently decided that it really doesn’t matter if the differences we see are brain-based or nurture-based. (Some books, like Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps — And What We Can Do About It, argue that Gurian and others have made far too much of subtle and small biological brain differences.) But given that my goal is to help boys grow into healthy, whole human beings, it really doesn’t matter if the boy in front of me is acting in a particular way because his brain is wired in a certain way or because he’s been pushed in that direction by society. What matters is that a boy is acting in a certain way, and I need to interact with that boy in a way that’s respectful to him, while helping him learn and grow.

I fully agree with Gurian’s concept, “nurture the nature,” which asks us to focus on “discerning, as well as we possibly can, the natural design for our child” to give us a “focus point for nurturing the personality, character, and future success of that child.”

Chapter 3, What a Boys Learns from Mom, can make any mom’s heart sing — if divorced and single moms can get past phrases such as, “father and mother come together as one parenting unit” and “I cannot imagine bringing up my boys without LaFon.” I get what the authors are trying to say — both mom and dad are important, and relationships with both, whenever possible, go a long way toward producing healthy, happy, whole boys. But as a divorced mom, I really didn’t appreciate the fact that I had to read to the second page of the chapter before the authors told me they weren’t “trying to induce guilt or burden [me] with unnecessary worry.”

What do you think of the book so far? I have to say my feelings are mixed. I love reading books about boys. I love reading Christian and inspirational books. I’m just not all the comfortable combining the two, and here’s why: Parenting, educating or working with boys is a complex endeavor. I don’t think there’s any one “right” way to do it, so when people try to use religious scripture (of any kind) to support a particular approach, I feel a little leery.

Did you do any of the Next Steps work? I liked the one at the end of Chapter 2 that asked readers to make a list of 5 adjustments they’d like to see in their home or church to help boys thrive. I adapted it to included “school.” Here’s my 5 list of adjustments I’d like to see to help boys:

  1. Recess for all grades
  2. OK to write/draw about poop, guns, etc.
  3. Less busywork & worksheets; most project-based learning
  4. More learning in the real-world (field trips, connections with business people and experts)
  5. Incorporate outside and nature into learning

What 5 adjustments would you like to see?

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