In his telling novel, Real Boys, William S. Pollack spends much of the work making a strong social commentary on some of the issues and problems associated with growing up. For the author, growing up is something that has gotten more and more difficult over the years and certain problems must be handled by society. The book succinctly discusses the various roles that educators, parents, friends, and society plays in raising a child to be a man. It discusses what can be done on both an individual level and a parental level, while addressing how children respond to different motivations from the outside.
The impressiveness of raising these important social questions is bested only by this book’s ability to answer those questions. The most important aspect of young male development to the author is the context in which a boy is raised. By this, it means that a boy in North America has a hard time coming to a firm understanding of both who he is and who he is supposed to become. The book talks at length about the many “codes” by which a boy is required to live in the United States. Instead of being able to find himself within the context of his life, a boy must adhere to a double set of social standards.
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In addition to adhering to new age principles, boys must do their best to uphold the long standing male tradition of being “tough” and being “manly”. As Pollack shows with his real life examples, this type of pressure does not allow a boy to realize the proper context. This is important because it eventually stunts development and, according to the author, can lead to some very serious consequences. Among those are drug use, violence, learning disabilities, and psychological disorders. The author makes the point to state some solutions for these problems, instead of focusing solely on the problems.
That is one of the important and interesting aspects of the book. One of the solutions has to do with a likely source in a boy’s development. According to the author, parents have to play a pivotal role in a child’s development if that child is going to become a success in society. This is where the idea of parental gatekeeping comes into play. Parents must not only do what they can to raise a child financially and physically, but they must also make a commitment to raising the child’s psyche. This does not mean that parents are always supposed to be the child’s biggest fan, nor are they to be his biggest detractor.
In order for a boy to eventually grow into a man, the parents have to be something of a middle man in this. They must let enough good in to encourage the boy in his development, while keeping him grounded enough to stay on the right track. This is a slippery slope, but one that parents must tread down if they want to raise a boy properly. Another neat thing in the book is that the author takes the time to not only address widespread developmental issues in regards to boys, but also to address specific problems that stand in the way in today’s society.
Among those are some touchy topics that most parents and all schools have trouble dealing with. Though it might seem like a small thing on the surface, the author makes sure to mention that one of the biggest developmental problems facing boys in American society is friendlessness. Though it is not something that affects all children, it has an impact on a significant number of individuals. As such, there are lots of boys who grow up through elementary and middle school without knowing what it is like to have a friend.
This affects boys in a couple of different ways. For one, they struggle with confidence issues as all of the individuals around them thrive. In addition, they miss out on learning some of the important things that go along with friendship. They do not learn how to handle their emotions or work with other human beings to figure out interpersonal problems. These things might seem minor to some, but to the author, they are huge stumbling blocks that society has failed to take down. In the book, the author does not speak in pure generalities.
Though he makes several general points that can be applied to boys across the board, his primary objective is to identify specific problems that have specific solutions. When addressing the problems of boys, he spends a great deal of time and energy breaking down the problems that exist in schools when it comes to development of boys. Above all of the other parties responsible for raising boys to be men, he feels that schools have the great influence and thus, are doing the worst job at this point. In the book, he mentions some specific ways that parents must feel that their kids are being wronged.
In his book, Pollack makes mention of some of the questions that parents must ask when he writes (1999), “Do the school’s teachers and administrators know about the boy code? Do they understand the mask? Are they sympathetic to boys? Does the school teach subject matters and use classroom materials that interest my boy? ” (p. 231). The author goes on to discuss that the answer to these questions is, all too often, no. The author places a significant amount of focus on the job that teachers and administrators are doing within the schools.
In addition to not being well equipped to handle the emotional rigors that boys go through during their developmental years, schools are having a hard time zeroing in on the academic problems that boys are facing. The author specifically mentions the subjects of reading and writing as weak areas for boys, and goes on to talk about how school administrators are not doing enough to catch these problems and work to improve them. Because schools are not noticing academic issues at the beginning, boys are being allowed to struggle their way through school.
This is one of the primary reasons why boys struggle on the outside of school. With their self-esteem shot and their confidence destroyed by problems within school, they are forced to then face their own development in a world that is becoming tougher and tougher on people their age. Fundamental problems, according to the author, are causing even great consequences on the outside of schools. All in all, the book is an excellent commentary on the many problems that young men face in a changing world. Getting from boyhood to manhood used to be easy, but now it is more of a challenge.
Unfortunately, the world has not accommodated for the extra challenge, so boys are expected to handle their issues with the greatest of ease and the greatest of strength. That, in effect, is the message of the book. According to Pollack, parents, teachers, school administrators, and society at large is failing the young male population in North America. Until more is done to correct the problem, more and more young boys will find drugs, violence, and a handful of other issues to fill their plate in lieu of their overriding issues. References Pollack, W. (1999). Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood. Owl Books.
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