Thursday, March 07, 2013

Raising Cain

Raising Cain: Part 1
I started reading Raising Cain as the first book for my all boy series of literature.  Kindlon and Thompson argue throughout the book that boys today are not taught an emotional language in order to express their feelings accurately.  We mold boys to fit our traditional model of men: tough, emotionless, strong, and brave.  however, boys often encounter “a culture of cruelty” where they are harassed, demeaned, receive conflicting messages about their emotions, and have unbelievable pressure cast upon them from society to withstand it all.

So, what do we do about it? How do we help our boys become men that are caring, concerned, empathetic individuals?  Kindlon and Thompson use a variety of stories to showcase the work they have done with a multitude of boys ranging from abuse victims, kids that suffer from depression, anxiety, anger, etc... They even work with parents to help them navigate through the adolescent years in order to give space and a voice to their emerging young man.

Thompson and Kindlon divide up the book into sections dealing with discipline, culture definitions of boys, relationships between boys and their moms and dads, depression, drinking and drugs, anger, relationships with girls, and finally ending with a chapter discussing what boys really need. As I was reading the book, the thoughts in my head centered around my all boys class as well as my relationship with my own boys.  How can I be a better teacher, mentor and leader for these young men? How can I help to shape them into better versions of themselves so that they are empathetic, ethically responsible contributors to the world? How can I help them express their emotions in a way that is productive for them in the long run? How can I help them develop an emotional vocabulary that enables them to get through the tough times in life?

My take-aways helped me to answer some of these questions, but not with a clear concrete plan.  I appreciate the authors attempts at giving the reader tools to deal with angry boys and how to help boys develop a language to deal with the anger.  Thompson and Kindlon write, “ Our challenge as parents and teachers is to teach the lessons of emotional literacy that enable a boy to bend under emotional trials without breaking into a violent revenge:

  • Life isn’t fair. learn to deal with it
  • You can’t go around hurting people every time you get angry.
  • You need to consider how your actions affect others.
  • Don’t see threats where they don’t exist.
  • You need to know that controlling your anger does not make you a sissy” (Kindlon and Thompson 222).

I didn’t think these lessons need only to apply to girls as well. The authors, on multiple occasions, create the argument that we enable girls to have an emotional language to deal with their lives, but yet we hold boys to a much different standard, making it uncool, or sissy like to express emotions. This was totally my life growing up. I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen my father cry: after his father passed away, and when he talked to my brothers and I about what happened to him in Vietnam; he’s a Silver Star recipient if that gives you an idea.  I see this in my own life letting my daughter cry about issues that are heartfelt to her, but yet talking to my boys about toughening up when they are crying about not wanting to do something. I am not giving them the emotional language to know how to deal with their sadness or disappointment by shutting down their emotions. I think about this as a teacher as well and how many times I have had boys cry in my office or in my classroom about failures they have experienced. I have always been so shocked to see their upfront display of emotion.  But yet felt honored that they felt safe enough with me to be honest with how they were feeling.

Thompson and Kindlon leave us with seven tips: (italicized their words, normal my 2 cents)
  1. Give boys permission to have an internal life, approval for the full range and human emotions, and help in developing an emotional vocabulary so that they may better understand themselves and communicate more effectively with others.
    1. When kids see their parents, role models, teachers express emotion in authentic and meaningful ways, they know it is safe for them to do so as well. They learn from our examples- both men and women, dads and moms
  2. Recognize and accept the high activity level of boys and give them safe boy places to express it.
    1. Get those boys outside.  Boys have energy and need productive ways to manage their energy.
  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.
    1. Boys need to be involved in solving their problems. Give them choices with adults leading the way.
    2. If you listen to boys, they will listen to you.
    3. I’m still working on this one :)
  4. Teach boys that emotional courage is courage and that courage and empathy are the sources of real strength in life.
    1. Boys need to learn about real heroes not just ones in TV, in books, or in movies.  Set up real examples of courage and emotional vulnerability for them. Show them fear is ok.
    2. Show boys how to be empathetic.  Give them opportunities to care for others.
  5. Use discipline to build character and conscience, not enemies.
    1. Boys need direct and consistent discipline.  Focus on building off of love.
  6. Model a manhood of emotional attachment.
    1. Boys replicate the examples they see
    2. boys struggle with real friendships; help foster long lasting relationships
    3. Boys need times with just their dads and with men that are good role models
  7. Teach boys that there are many ways to be a man.
    1. Enough said.

And so, Thompson and Kindlon leave us with the lasting thought:

Our boys are going to grow up to be many sizes, to possess many skills and to do a wide variety of things. We must not disregard their many offerings; we must not make them feel they do not measure up, that we disdain their contributions. We have to ask a lot of them, morally and spiritually, and we have to support them in their efforts to please us. And if they try to please us, we must communicate to them that they are not a disappointment to us. The only thing that will make growing up psychologically safe for our sons is for them to know that we value them and that we love them, and that we have every confidence that they will grow naturally into good men” (Kindlon and Thompson 257-8).

I need to make my boys, both at home, in my extended family and in my classroom, know they are worth it. They are valued people in my life, blessings to all around them.

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