A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

Helping Boys Become Men

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, than girls 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 raised.

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 parents 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 so.

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?

Meeker: Games 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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On the Net:
"Boys Should Be Boys": http://www.regnery.com/books/boysshouldbeboys.html
 

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