Listening To Boys' Voices
"Boys are supposed to shut up and take it, to keep it all in. It's harder for them to release or vent without feeling girly. And that can drive them to shoot themselves."
--Scotty, 13, from a small town in northern New England
IN MY TRAVELS THROUGHOUT THIS COUNTRY FROM THE inner-city neighborhoods of Boston, New York, and San Francisco to suburbs in Florida, Connecticut, and Rhode Island; from small, rural villages in New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania to the pain-filled classrooms of Littleton, Colorado - I have discovered a glaring truth: America's boys are absolutely desperate to talk about their lives. They long to talk about the things that are hurting them - their harassment from other boys, their troubled relationships with their fathers, their embarrassment around girls and confusion about sex, their disconnection from parents, the violence that haunts them at school and on the street, their constant fear that they might not be as masculine as other boys.
But this desperate coast-to-coast longing is silenced by the Boy Code - old rules that favor male stoicism and make boys feel ashamed about expressing weakness or vulnerability. Although our boys urgently want to talk about who they really are, they fear that they will be teased, bullied, humiliated, beaten up, and even murdered if they give voice to their truest feelings. Thus, our nation is home to millions of boys who feel they are navigating life alone - who on an emotional level are alone - and who are cast out to sea in separate lifeboats, and feel they are drowning in isolation, depression, loneliness, and despair.
Our sons, brothers, nephews, students are struggling. Our boyfriends are crying out to be understood. But many of them are afraid to talk. Scotty, a thirteen-year-old boy from a small town in northern New England, recently said to me, "Boys are supposed to shut up and take it, to keep it all in. It's harder for them to release or vent without feeling girly. And that can drive them to shoot themselves,"
I am particularly concerned about the intense angst I see in so many of America's young men and teenaged boys. I saw this angst as I did research for Real Boys, and then again in talking with boys for this book. Boys from all walks of life, including boys who seem to have made it -- the suburban high school football captain, the seventh-grade prep school class president, the small-town police chief's son, the inner-city student who is an outstanding cartoonist and son of a welfare mother -- all were feeling so alone that f worried that they often seemed to channel their despair into rage not only toward others but toward themselves. An ordinary boy's sadness, his everyday feelings of disappointment and shame, push him not only to dislike himself and to feel private moments of anguish or self-doubt, but also, impulsively, to assault, wound, and kill. Forced to handle life's emotional ups and downs on their own, many boys and young men - many good, honest, caring boys - are silently allowing their lives to wither away, or explode.
We still live in a society in which our boys and young men are simply not receiving the consistent attention, empathy, and support they truly need and desire. We are only listening to parts of what our sons and brothers and boyfriends are telling us. Though our intentions are good, we've developed a culture in which too often boys only feel comfortable communicating a small portion of their feelings and experiences. And through no fault of our own, frequently we don't understand what they are saying to us when they do finally talk.
Boys are acutely aware of how society constrains them. They also notice how it holds back other boys and young men, including their peers, their male teachers, and their fathers. "When bad things happen in our family," Jesse, an astute twelve-year-old boy from a large middle-class suburb of Los Angeles, recently told me, "my father gets blocked. Like if he's upset about something that happened at work, he can't say anything and we have no idea what he's thinking. He just sits in front of the television, spends time on the Internet, or just goes off on his own. You can't get through to him at all. He just gets totally blocked." Of course, Jesse is teaming to do the same. And if we don't allow, even teach boys like Jesse to express their emotion and cry tears, some will cry bullets instead.
Excerpted from Real Boys' Voices by William S. Pollack, Ph.D., with Todd Shuster Copyright© 2000 by William S. Pollack, Ph.D., with Todd Shuster. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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