Michael Gurian’s book, “The Wonder of Boys,” had been collecting dust on my bookshelf for many years, but after I gave birth to two boys, how could I not read a book with a title like that? I gave it a try, and I enjoyed it.
Though the book is full of advice and good information, I will give you the main points that I found useful.
The book is divided into three parts: Why Boys are the Way They Are, What Boys Need, and How to Raise a Boy. The first section, especially, was very enlightening.
It may be similar to some of the relationship books written about why men and women are different, but I’ve never read one of those, so it was fresh to me. Gurian explains how a boy’s brain develops differently from a girl’s brain in the womb. There are certain characteristics of boys and men that this brain development creates, such as a boy’s need to see objects moving through space. They also need more space than girls, who are generally very happy sitting in a corner for long periods of time playing with their dolls.
I can certainly attest that this is true. My son never plays in one place for very long, and he scatters his toys all over the house. His favorite thing to do is to toss his toy cars across the floor (objects moving through space). Older boys fulfill this need with sports and television. Gurian notes that T.V. and computers are both created by men, and the reason my father must click through hundreds of channels is due to the make-up of his brain. My husband, on the other hand, clicks through several websites each day and watches Hulu to get his daily dose of “objects moving through space.” Gurian’s point in all of this, of course, is to give us more knowledge about boys, which will then help us help them.
Gurian’s main message throughout the book, I believe, is that a boy needs more people than just his parents to raise him. While the mother and father are the central and most important influence on a boy, he ascertains that it is just as vital to have other mentors help raise a boy. He believes that boys in our society do not get the guidance that they need from elder men. He gives many examples of how other cultures have traditions to mark the passages of boyhood and manhood, and there is actual instruction on what it means to be a man. Boys long to be part of a family or larger group where they can both be an individual but also have a mission devoted to the group. Gurian explains that when boys do not get the good role models they need, they will find it in other ways. This is why boys attach themselves to gangs or other negative peer groups.
One piece of advice on raising a boy that I have taken to heart is the idea that a boy can grasp good behavior better if it’s presented in the form of a mission he needs to accomplish. It’s important to not just tell him what he needs to do but why he needs to do it, and I may need to paint the big picture for him. For example, I am not going to just tell my son that he needs to be nice to his little brother. I will explain that it is his job to help take care of his younger brother, just like I take care of him. We do this because we’re a family, and we all take care of each other. This could be taken a farther step by explaining to him how all families take care of each other, and when needed, people take care of other people, or animals and the earth. When presented as a mission and explained in a larger context, a boy can be better motivated to actually do the better behavior.
I don’t know how this will work when my son hits puberty, but right now he seems very proud when I tell him it’s his job to do anything, especially care for his sibling. So I will keep telling him why we do the things we do, and hope for the best.
Shelli Bond Pabis is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shelli, I read the book too, and agree, it was eye opening. It should be on the required reading list for all parents of boys (and girls). Good article, thanks, it has been awhile since I read the book, so I am glad you reminded me. I need to read it again. Michael