Excerpt from Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon, Michael Thompson Ph.D., plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Raising Cain

Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys

by Dan Kindlon, Michael Thompson Ph.D.

Raising Cain
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 1999, 298 pages
    Apr 2000, 255 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

A young man is so strong, so mad, so certain, and so lost.
He has everything and he is able to use nothing.
--Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River

Emotional Literacy: Education versus Ignorance

If you ask a boy the question "How did that make you feel?" he very often won't know how to respond. He'll talk instead about what he did or plans to do about the problem. Some boys don't even have the words for their feelings--sad or angry or ashamed, for instance. A large part of our work with boys and men is to help them understand their emotional life and develop an emotional vocabulary. We begin by helping them increase their clarity about their feelings and those of others--recognizing them, naming them, and learning where they come from. We try to teach them emotional literacy--the ability to read and understand our emotions and those of others.

This process is much like learning to read. First we must master the letters and sounds of the alphabet, then use that knowledge to decode words and sentences. As we begin to comprehend and appreciate increasingly complex thoughts, we are able to communicate more effectively with others. Eventually, reading connects us to a larger world, beyond our own, of experiences and ideas.

Similarly, learning emotional literacy involves recognizing the look and feel of our emotions, then using this skill to better understand ourselves and others. We learn to appreciate life's emotional complexity, and this enhances all our professional and personal relationships, helping us to strengthen the connections that enrich our lives.

We build emotional literacy, first, by being able to identify and name our emotions; second, by recognizing the emotional content of voice and facial expression, or body language; and third, by understanding the situations or reactions that produce emotional states.1 By this we mean becoming aware of the link between loss and sadness, between frustration and anger, or threats to pride or self-esteem and fear. In our experience with families, we find that most girls get lots of encouragement from an early age to be emotionally literate--to be reflective and expressive of their own feelings and to be responsive to the feelings of others. Many boys do not receive this kind of encouragement, and their emotional illiteracy shows, at a young age, when they act with careless disregard for the feelings of others at home, at school, or on the playground. Mothers are often shocked by the ferocity of anger displayed by little boys, their sons of four or five who shout in their faces, or call them names, or even try to hit them. One of the most common complaints about boys is that they are aggressive and "seem not to care." We have heard the same complaint from veteran teachers who are stunned by the power of boy anger and disruption in their classes. Too often, adults excuse this behavior as harmless "immaturity," as if maturity will arrive someday--like puberty--to transform a boy's emotional life. But we do boys no favor by ignoring the underlying absence of awareness. Boys' emotional ignorance clearly imposes on others, but it costs them dearly, too. Lacking an emotional education, a boy meets the pressures of adolescence and that singularly cruel peer culture with the only responses he has learned and practiced--and that he knows are socially acceptable--the typically "manly" responses of anger, aggression, and emotional withdrawal.

When we first began working with and speaking about boys, a large part of our task was to convince skeptical parents and educators of a truth we knew from our years of experience as therapists: that boys suffer deeply as a result of the destructive emotional training our culture imposes upon them, that many of them are in crisis, and that all of them need help. Perhaps because men enjoy so much power and prestige in society, there is a tendency to view boys as shoo-ins for future success and to diminish the importance of any problems they might experience in childhood. There is a tendency to presume that a boy is self-reliant, confident, and successful, not emotional and needy. People often see in boys signs of strength where there are none, and they ignore often mountainous evidence that they are hurting.

Excerpted from Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson. Copyright© 1999 by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine, 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.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Crossing the Horizon
    Crossing the Horizon
    by Laurie Notaro
    In Crossing the Horizon, Laurie Notaro takes us back to a time when flying was a rare and risky ...
  • Book Jacket
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Les Parisiennes
    by Anne Sebba

    How the women of Paris lived, loved, and died under Nazi occupation.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.