Years ago, when Michael Reichert’s oldest son was born, he and his wife made a commitment to shield him from the “toxic pressures and cultural norms that we believed would try to steal our son’s humanity from him.”
But it turns out that parents can’t build a wall around their children, says Reichert, a clinical psychologist and author of "How to Raise a Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men." What parents and teachers can do is strengthen boys’ resilience to be themselves.
Reichert is hopeful that a new space is opening up in how we think about boys and boyhood. For generations, he says, “we have rationalized a wide range of losses and casualties” by repeating intractable myths: “Oh, that’s just the nature of boys, or boys just don’t do as well in classrooms, or boys don’t do well with emotional intimacy.”
These persistent stereotypes have influenced how we interacted with boys from infancy, says Reichert, and infiltrated our classrooms and playing fields. For example, he points to a long-term study of boys between ages 4 and 6. Researchers found that boys dramatically changed how they related to others during these years as they “absorbed norms for how they were supposed to act as boys.” They traveled from “presence to pretense,” says Reichert—from being emotionally honest in relationships with peers to using posturing and bravado as they adhered to group norms about how boys “should” behave. In molding their behavior to this standard, “it cost them their authenticity, exuberance, and confidence.”
Boys Are Relational Learners
There are troubling statistics about boys in K-12 schools. They are more likely to drop out of school than their female peers, and according to data from the Department of Education, boys account for approximately 70% of all suspensions and expulsions, a rate that is disproportionately higher for boys of color.