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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

Here's Why One Researcher Says We Should Rethink The Way We Raise Boys

In this July 26, 2018 photo, a four-year-old boy is shown playing in a Spiderman mask, who is being cared for by Evelyn Zepeda at her home in Austin, Texas.
Associated Press
In this July 26, 2018 photo, a four-year-old boy is shown playing in a Spiderman mask, who is being cared for by Evelyn Zepeda at her home in Austin, Texas.

For decades, the traditional approach to raising boys into men has emphasized toughness and stoicism.

Today, there are updated ways to bring up boys that draw on new insights into psychology and neuroscience.

"It's sort of an ... unemotional model in which we believe that the boy is essentially a feral creature who needs to be permitted to be wild and is only sort of domesticated or tamed at the expense of his real sort of masculine heart," says says Michael Reichert, founding director of the Center for the Study of Boys' and Girls' Lives at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Lots of parenting of boys falls victim to these kinds of myths."

Reichert talked with Think guest host Courtney Collins about his new book, “How to Raise a Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men.” 

Swagger can lead to isolation

Reichert's book references the "boy code," which he explains as "cultural norms that encourage boys to swagger and act tough, perform risk-taking behaviors ... as a way of demonstrating how cool or how tough they are."

He says these social norms can cause boys to disengage and become isolated, which may lead to other harmful behaviors and acting out.

"It's not daring to show vulnerability emotionally, not showing that you're scared, not showing that you're sad," he says. "I believe that we are in a position to reimagine boyhood and to redesign it more in accordance with what we know human children need fundamentally, and for boys, for girls, for all human beings, that really is about connection."

"Momma's boy" is a myth

Reichert also takes on what he calls the "momma's boy myth." He says mothers may fear eroding their son's masculinity by being overly involved and nurturing. He advises parents maintain close relationships with their sons in order to counteract problematic behaviors. 

"What parents can do is they can make sure they are the relational anchor for that boy, the one whose influence really, really, stays alive and robust in the child's mind, and therefore, to whom he's accountable," Reichert says.

"Children who carry their parents in their hearts and minds are less vulnerable to being pulled by the peer group into those kind of hyper-masculine behaviors and displays."

Syeda Hasan is the Elections Editor and Reporter at KERA. Before moving into that role, she covered mental health at the station. A Houston native, her journalism career has taken her to public radio newsrooms around Texas.