|Interview With Author Meg Meeker
By Carrie Gress
TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan, 11 SEPT. 2008 (ZENIT)
Boys who never feel they have been accepted and affirmed by a male
authority figure may spend the rest of their lives proving to themselves
and others that they are worthy of approval, says author and teen-health
expert Dr. Meg Meeker.
Meeker, who has practiced pediatric and adolescent medicine, as well
as teen counseling, is the author of "Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to
Raising Healthy Sons," from Regnery Publishing. She also wrote "Strong
Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know."
In this interview with ZENIT, Meeker talks about the important roles
of mother, fathers, play and faith in raising healthy sons.
Q: What made you write this book and for whom is it written?
Meeker: After the release of "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters," I
was overwhelmed by many men's response to the positive nature of the
book. In short, many wrote and said, "Thank you for saying something
positive about us." I realized that there was a strong anti-male
sentiment in America, but I didn't realize the depth and breadth of it.
I also realized that if men felt such negativity directed toward
them, that this very negativity must have trickled down into the lives
of younger men and boys. I wanted to find out. So, I began research on
boys, and lo and behold, I realized some alarming things that are
happening to them.
For instance, I found that a lower percentage of boys graduate from high
school and college than girls. They are also seven times more likely to
be diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder than girls
and are much more frequently labeled as learning disabled, or troubled,
— particularly in the early elementary school years.
I wrote this book to parents, educators, grandparents and anyone who
loves boys, in order to sound the alarm that we need to be paying closer
attention to how our boys are being influenced, spoken to, educated and
We have too long championed girls' successes in academics and
athletics and boys have been neglected. In fact, they have become
casualties of the war, if you will, to further the cause of girls and
women and have been losing out for a good 20 years now.
Q: In the book, you say that it takes a real man to raise a real man.
What do you mean by this?
Meeker: During the early elementary school years and up until
puberty, boys bond more closely with their mothers. They receive
emotional support, encouragement and spend more time with their mothers
than their fathers, typically. This is normal and quite healthy.
When a boy enters puberty, his sexuality begins to flourish, his
masculinity becomes better defined and he begins to carve out his
identity as a man in a keener way. Because of this process, he separates
himself from his mother; the great Bruno Bettelheim used to say that a
boy "kills off" his mother emotionally, because he needs to assert his
independence as a man. This transition is painful for mothers because
boys often act surly and angry toward them
not because they no longer love their mothers, but because they need to
loosen their dependence on a female figure.
But because boys are still young, they need an authority figure to whom
they can attach. Boys look to men for emotional attachment and
intellectual and behavioral emulation. They need to see what it looks
like to behave like a man, love like a man and work like a man. Boys are
visual creatures and they need to see certain masculine behaviors with
their own eyes in order to internalize those behaviors.
Boys also need affirmation from a father in order to feel good about
their own masculinity. Affirmation regarding their manhood that comes
from a mother just doesn't cut it in their eyes. This occurs in part
because fathers carry an authority in their sons' eyes that mothers
don't. This doesn't mean that mothers are less important, but they
provide different things to sons and carry out different roles.
Q: What is the idea of a "blessing" that a son needs from his father?
Meeker: Every boy needs to receive a "blessing," as Gary Smalley
writes, from his father. He needs to hear with his ears, see with his
eyes and believe in his heart, that the person who he is, is good enough
in his father's eyes. Every boy wants his father to give him a sense of
male acceptance, affirmation and affection.
Boys who don't receive this from their fathers will spend decades
trying to prove to themselves and to others that their actions,
accomplishments and their characters are worthy of their father's
approval. Hundreds of thousands of men live desperately trying to prove
to themselves that they are worthy of the blessing because their fathers
never dispensed it.
Q: What is the balancing role mothers play in their son's lives?
Meeker: Mothers provide a sense of emotional safety to boys, whereas
fathers provide clear moral boundaries and rules. Boys tend to feel that
they have to work harder to please fathers than mothers. But it is also
important to realize that boys need approval and affirmation from both
these just mean different things to boys.
Mothers also help boys learn an emotional language, if you will. Since
mothers are usually more verbose and comfortable talking about feelings,
many mothers help boys learn to identify and express their feelings
better than fathers do.
Where a father may teach a young man to "buck up and be a man," a
mother will encourage the same son to talk things out. She will often
provide a safety net wherein a boy can cry, be angry, laugh or be
frustrated, while the boy's father may openly discourage him from
expressing any emotion at all, insinuating that he is weak if he does
Q: You encourage boys to play "war" and competitive types of sports,
including chess. What is it about these types of games that are
important for a boy to become a strong man?
excluding electronic games
provide tremendous outlets for boys. During outdoor play, boys can work
our their fears, aggressions and frustrations, and even answer questions
they have about themselves and life. For instance, in war games, a boy
can become the aggressor or the victim. He can pretend to be the
smartest general, outwitting all other leaders and show his "opponents"
that he is not to be messed with. He can see what it feels like to be a
variety of different people and thus transfer any fears he may harbor
onto those characters and work them out. This helps him build character.
The key to games like outdoor pretend games, indoor board games,
athletic games, etc., is the element of participation. Electronic games
do not provide the opportunity for boys to participate to the same
degree because they are passive forms of entertainment. Also, video
games demand less imagination and require little, if any, team
cooperation. Nothing substitutes real-life games for boys.
As boys mature, they need to understand a sense of mastery. Each boy
must figure out what he is good at and have a sense that he can
accomplish goals and be better than his peers at some things. He cannot
figure this out through entertainment, only through physical
participation in games and sport.
Every man must have a sense of accomplishment and aptitude at something
because work, career and accomplishments in a man's life comprise a
large part of a man's identity, more so than they do in a woman's life.
Competition helps boys figure out their aptitudes.
Q: What role do you think belief in God plays for boys? How is this
different from girls or adults?
Meeker: Many believe that boys are less sensitive than girls, simply
because they use far fewer words to express themselves than girls do. I
find this belief to be false. In fact, in my experience, many
high-school boys are more sensitive than their female peers. When it
comes to spiritual issues, boys are regarded in a similar vein as
emotional issues. Some perceive that boys are less open to learning
about God than girls are. Again, I find this not to be the case.
God plays an enormous part in the lives of boys who are believers. For
instance, God, science shows, is "good" for boys. Boys who have faith
are much less likely to take drugs, have sex, drink alcohol and suffer
from depression than those boys who don't. When we think about the
mindset of boys, this makes a lot of sense. Boys tend to be more
problem-oriented, pragmatic thinkers than girls. Thus, boys respond well
to a God who has a specific plan for them and who identifies a clear
moral code of behavior.
In addition, boys identify more strongly than girls with the male figure
of Jesus and to the image of God as father. Since they are male, boys
can attach to them. This is extremely important for all boys, but
particularly for boys who grow up without a father around. The life of
Christ and the understanding of God as father, gives boys a tangible
male role model to emulate.
More importantly, belief in God allows boys to receive male love that
they may never have gotten from their own fathers. Boys fare very poorly
without this male influence because they need to know that another male,
whom they love and admire, values them and loves them. Since girls don't
identify with the masculinity of God, they don't feel that they need to
emulate him the same way that boys do. Of course we all want to follow
Christ, but boys and girls do it differently.
I have literally sat with young boys who state that they cannot
identify any man in their lives who loves them. For those boys, God and
Christ many times are the only influence of male love that they receive.
And without any experience of male love, boys suffer deeply while their
identity, sexuality, ability to have healthy self-esteem and to love
others are greatly affected.
God provides boys a perfect male love when very often, none other can
be found, changing the course of a boy's life.
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