Monday, November 25, 2019

It's crucial for boys to embrace emotion

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. Literary agent Gail Ross recommended Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (1999) by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.

When boys cry, why do we often say "be a man" or "get over it"? Are boys truly in tune with how they actually feel? How can someone experience empathy if they do not understand their own emotions?

Raising Cain (1999) addresses these questions, and more, about boys and emotion. At an extremely young age, boys are steered away from understanding their inner world. This is called the emotional miseducation of boys.
In my own book, the topic of men's emotions is huge, but it's not like I'm an expert on the topic. Raising Cain is spot on and written by two child psychologists, who see what I also witness in the classroom. Sadly, boys' understanding of their emotions often is poor. I say it has gotten even worse in the past two decades when this book came out because those inner lives are given away to video games and adult websites.

What is explored in Raising Cain is even more important today than ever. To build emotional literacy, boys first need an emotional vocabulary that expands their ability to express themselves other than with anger. Boys need to feel emotionally connected. They need close, supportive relationships that support their emotions. Fathers, and men, must model this.

In Raising Cain, prescriptive sections meld with examples of actual boys and their situations. The book reads well, and so many parts ring true, including the male's tradition of being emotionally isolated, and how boys treat each other.
In the final chapter, the book lists seven foundations of parenting and teaching that create communities that respect and cultivate the inner lives of boys. Those seven foundations are:

1. Give boys permission to have an internal life, approval for the full range of human emotions, and help in developing an emotional vocabulary so that they may better understand themselves and communicate more effectively with others.

2. Recognize and accept the high activity level of boys and give them safe boy places to express it.

3. Talk to boys in their language — in a way that honors their pride and their masculinity. Be direct with them. Use them as consultants and problem solvers.

4. Teach boys that emotional courage is courage, and that courage and empathy are the sources of real strength in life.

5. Use discipline to build character and conscience, not enemies.

6. Model a manhood of emotional attachment.

7. Teach boys that there are many ways to be a man.

I cannot stress the importance of these seven foundations. In my book, I look at this, and more, through the lens of relationships. The question remains: How can a woman truly love a man who is emotionally illiterate?

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