Boys are MUCH easier to raise than girls, right? That’s the prevailing wisdom among parents: Boys are simple. They play sports or they play video games, they don’t stay mad at their friends for long, and they don’t talk much about their social lives. There’s none of the “drama” we associate with girls and their friendships. Because boys are so “easy,” parents tend to shrug their shoulders and “let boys be boys.”
And then, something like the Steubenville High School rape case happens, and we collectively wonder how our boys got to this point. Or, on an individual level, the phone rings with what author Rosalind Wiseman calls a “bad news bomb” about something your son did, and you suddenly realize that “what you thought was easiness turns out to be your own own cluelessness.”
Yes, parents are clueless about what’s going on in “Boy World,” if Wiseman’s new book is accurate. And, that cluelessness is harming our relationships with our sons and their chances of growing up into decent human beings.
Schoolyard Power Structures
Do you really want or need to know what’s really going on in the locker room or on the playground? Well, you probably don’t want to, but you do need to. Because no matter how great of a parent you are, how good your intentions are, how solid your family values or your faith, you cannot prepare your son to make good choices without an understanding of the social environment he deals with every day. Because “when a moment of conflict [such as Steubenville] arises,” Wiseman says, “boys’ power structures rise to the forefront. They will not confront each other. They are paralyzed.”
Lucky for us, Wiseman, the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes (the basis of the movie Mean Girls,) which gave us a glimpse into “Girl World,” now gives us a hall pass into the real world of boys. Masterminds & Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope With Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World is her new book, written with the input of more than 160 middle-school and high-school boys.
It’s All In There
With my son going into high school this year, I literally could not wait to get my hands on this book. So I asked for, and received, a review copy. I’d like to tell you I devoured it cover to cover, but the truth is, it’s packed with information: 370 pages worth. I skipped around and dug into the parts I was most concerned about. The book is designed to let you read the parts that apply to your son’s age and situation. Highlights include:
- The social structure of Boy World, including the different roles boys can play within that structure.
- Different parenting “profiles” and the pitfalls of each.
- Details about how being awash in a culture that bombards them with “manly” messages day in and day out affects boys.
- Advice for dealing with very specific scenarios, from finding out your son is being bullied, to “You Don’t Like the Person He’s in a Relationship With.”
- Chapters on videogames, girlfriends, sports and social networking.
- What NOT to say if you don’t want to be tuned out, as well as sample conversations that might actually get through to your son.
- A step-by-step method boys can use to speak to people that they’re having problems with.
- Update: Wiseman’s companion guide, speaking directly to teen boys, is called
The Guide: Managing Douchebags, Recruiting Wingmen, and Attracting Who You Want. It’s now available as a free download on Amazon. Click here.
Don’t Dismiss His Worldview
From a “conscious parenting” perspective, this book gives you some insight you almost certainly didn’t have before, some new vocabulary, and some great tools for talking to your son. But, you have to be willing to use them. Or, to borrow from Wiseman’s definition of listening, you have to be prepared to be changed by what you read.
Take video games, for example. A lot of parents (myself included) don’t really get the attraction. We find our sons’ obsession with video games annoying and, at times, downright disturbing. But, as Wiseman points out in the book, video games are of the ultimate importance in Boy World. They are everything. So when you tell your son “It’s just a video game,” you are belittling something he truly values. “Our kids aren’t taking us seriously about games because …they know we’re attempting to regulate something we know very little about,” she writes. Yeah. A large part of Wiseman’s message has to do with not being dismissive of our sons’ worldview—and that doesn’t come easy for many parents. “It comes down to how parents receive information from their sons,” Wiseman says. “How we communicate with our sons. Both sides shut can each other down.”
I’ve Messed Up, Is There Hope?
And what if your son has already shut you out? Is it too late? In our chat the other day, Wiseman emphasized that she does not want parents to feel bad about their parenting. “Be honest with yourself,” she says, but know there is hope. Even if your boy has shut you out, if you admit your mistakes and explain to him that you’d like to improve your relationship, he will probably respond well. “Give him some space, and don’t expect some Hallmark moment, where he tells you everything,” she says. He will come around, because “boys desperately want these relationships” with their parents.
What’s the biggest threat to boys today? What do you notice about boy culture? How do you get your son to talk to you? Do you think it’s easier to raise boys than to raise girls? Let me hear from you in the comments.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of the Masterminds & Wingmen book and participated in a Google hangout with the author. I did not receive any compensation and opinions are mine, all mine.