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Raising Cain

Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys

By Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. and Michael Thompson, Ph.D.
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Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon, Ph.D. and Michael Thompson, Ph.D.

Raising Cain (1999) explains how boys have to navigate a society rife with misguided ideas about masculinity and filled with cruel classmates who are ready to pounce on any sign of weakness. Discover how these conditions can create emotionally stunted and suicidal young men, and find out what can be done to help remedy their situation before it’s too late.

Key idea 1 of 9

Society has an enduring and misguided image of masculinity that leads to bad behavior among adolescents.

You’re probably familiar with sayings like “Real men don’t cry” or theories stating that women prefer the “strong and silent” type of man over someone who shows emotion.

Ideas like these represent a traditional stereotype of masculinity that is still very dominant in our society and continues to influence boys who are growing up today.

Especially troubling are the ubiquitous images of tough, violent and emotionally detached male heroes.

These figures have been around for generations, going to back to the movies of John Wayne and James Dean. And today they can still be seen in video games like Grand Theft Auto or Hatred, or in popular action movies where the protagonist is a cold and remorseless man who solves his problems with a gun.

Parents may try to protect their children from these images, but they are hard to escape when even television commercials and ads celebrate similar male stereotypes. Everywhere on TV, the idea of a real man is someone who drives fast cars, drinks bourbon whiskey and objectifies women.

Influenced by these images, boys try to live up to the male ideal by proudly binge drinking, getting into fights, driving drunk and having casual sex.

There have even been studies that directly link such bad behavior to the pervasive image of macho masculinity.

In a National Survey of Adolescent Males conducted in 1995, heterosexual boys between the ages of 15 and 19, from all across the United States, were interviewed about their behavior.

The boys were first asked whether they agree or disagree with certain statements related to masculinity in society, such as “A guy loses respect when he talks about his problems.”

In follow-up questions, the boys were asked about their behavior in regards to sex and drugs. The results showed that the more a boy agreed with the stereotypical ideas about masculinity, the more likely he was to take drugs and coerce someone into having unprotected sex.

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