Pros:Excellent, thoughtful advice often backed up with science.
Cons:A few spots could have used more elaboration.
The Bottom Line: Michael Gurian's The Wonder of Boys is a must-read for anyone with a son.
Having a son can be tons of fun, very rewarding, and incredibly challenging all at once. For parents looking for advice on bringing up their boys and helping them grow into respectable men, Michael Gurian’s The Wonder of Boys is an excellent read. From many years of experience in family counseling, Gurian has many unique perspectives on child rearing that are at times unconventional yet often grounded in common sense.
What I like best about Gurian’s philosophy on bringing up boys is that he rarely takes an extreme viewpoint. He begins by acknowledging that he was a gung-ho member of the feminist movement when he attended college in the 1970s. However, he eventually saw that so much focus on women and girls was causing us to leave our boys behind. Their emotional and psychological needs were not being met, leading to them take wrong turns in life, often at the expense of women as well as themselves.
He also takes a more moderate viewpoint in the nature vs. nurture debate. As much as he acknowledges the need to strive for gender equality in many aspects of life, he points out that biology prevents males and females from being completely identical. While many of our notions of gender roles are socially constructed, we do have physical and neurological features that make boys act differently than girls. For example, boys are naturally more aggressive. This, Gurian says, is not necessarily a problem so long as we teach boys to control and channel their aggression in positive
ways so that it doesn’t turn into violence. He believes this is a more constructive strategy than attempting to make boys more like girls, teaching them to suppress their natural urges (again, natural aggression is much different than violence, and Gurian offers ways of preventing and dealing with that problem).
The book focuses a great deal on the social needs boys have that are a result of evolutionary traits. He spends lots of time emphasizing our need for not one but three families. For a boy to grow up in a healthy environment, he needs love and attention from not only parents but also his extended family as well as his larger community. While this can often be difficult in our modern society, he stresses that we must find ways for boys to connect with older male mentors like coaches, people who can model positive behaviors and help boys learn to be good men. It’s also important for boys to feel connected to their communities so that they learn to be good citizens and feel a sense of greater purpose in their lives.
These are just some of the broader topics covered in the books. Gurian goes into much more detail about these subjects and discusses other common issues such as discipline strategies and healthy ways of discussing sex. You may not agree with everything Gurian writes, but his ideas are worth reading. While we may love our boys and girls equally, we often need different strategies when it comes to helping them grow into good adults. The Wonder of Boys offers interesting insight and solid ideas as to how best to guide our boys through the early part of their lives.
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