"Eli Newberger, M.D., a leading figure in the movement to improve the protection and care of children, is renowned for his ability to bring together good sense and science on the main issues of family life. A pediatrician and author of many influential works on child abuse, he teaches at Harvard Medical School and founded the Child Protection Team and the Family Development Program at Children’s Hospital in Boston. From his research and practice he has derived a philosophy that focuses on the strength and resilience of parent-child relationships, and a practice oriented to compassion and understanding, rather than blame and punishment. He is the author of The Men They Will Become: The Nature and Nurture of Male Character and lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with his wife Carolyn, a developmental and clinical child psychologist." www.elinewberger.com or E-Mail.

Adolescent & Gay
Adolescent Suicide
Alcohol & Drugs
Discipline and Punishment
Early Adolescence
The Key to a Man's Health - A Woman
Late Adolescence
Treating this Heavy Midlife of Men

Early Adolescence

‘Thirteen is a hard age, very hard. A lot of people say you have it easy, you're a kid, but there's a lot of pressure being thirteen-to be respected by people in your school, to be liked, always feeling like you have to be good. There's pressure to do drugs, too, so you try not to succumb to that. But you don't want to be made fun of, so you have to look cool You gotta wear the right shoes, the right clothes-if you have Jordans, then it's all right. From, like, twelve to seventeen, there are a lot of transitions going on, a lot of moving around. It's not like you know what's going to happen tomorrow. Life gets different when you get older-there's more work. And when you go to college it's hard because you're alone for the first time. But when you get out of college you start to establish yourself and who you think you are and what you're about. That's a good time.' - Carlos Quintana, New York City, 1998

'Thirteen is an all-right age, but I'd much rather be fourteen or fifteen. I hate the people in our grade-they're all so boring! People usually think we're older, and we hang out with fifteen-year-olds. They’re just so much fun. But thirteen is better than twelve; I hated being twelve, it's too young. At least thirteen has "teen" on the end.' -Andrea Minissale, Ringwood, N.J., 1998

'Everyone in our grade is so immature. Not really the girls, but all of the guys are. All of them are really short, and they act retarded. At dances they won't dance, they think they're too cool to do that. But it is annoying how everyone thinks we're so much older... I wish we looked our age.' - Deirdre Minissale (Andrea's twin sister), 1998

The poignance of early adolescence is crystallized in these fragments from an article in the New York Times. The girls, feeling with some justification more socially poised than their male classmates but not aware how unsophisticated and vulnerable they really are, look to older males for companionship (though not without a degree of apprehension over being taken for older than they are); and they often find older males, sometimes significantly older, looking for them. Their male age-mates, largely unwilling to risk inviting a relationship with a girl and being rejected, hold back, refuse to dance, tease anyone who breaks gender ranks. In their own eyes they're being "cool," but from the girl's point of view, they "act retarded.' Both genders are quick to label anything or anyone that frustrates them as "boring.”

Resetting the Thermostat

The mechanisms that set off the physical changes of puberty are not entirely understood. It may be more accurate to say that the brain inhibits puberty all during childhood than that the brain triggers puberty at a particular point as a totally new development. In infancy, a low-level set point is established for the body's sex hormones. The thermostat is set on cool. Shortly before pubertal changes make their appearance, the hormonal feedback systems change the thermostat from, say, sixty degrees to eighty degrees. Now a much higher level of sex hormones is allowed to function in the body before the hypothalamus at the center of the brain tells the pituitary gland to cool the endocrine system down enough to keep the sex hormone level from going any higher.

The pituitary gland, on command from the hypothalamus, also releases growth hormones, although the release may be delayed by factors such as stress, nutritional deficiency, illness, excessive athletic training, or diet-induced thinness. The rapidity of adolescent growth is astonishing. For boys the peak velocity averages about 4.1 inches of height per year. Not all parts of the body grow at the same time. The hands, head, and feet are the first to accelerate, followed by the arms and legs, and finally the torso and shoulders. As Tanner put it, "a boy stops growing out of his trousers (at least in length) a year before he stops growing out of his jackets"

At the peak of the growth surge, the larynx having grown prominently, a boy's voice begins to deepen gradually. For a while, the voice breaks unexpectedly between its higher childhood range and its lower adolescent range until the level of the mature voice is established late in adolescence. Since girls as a group begin their growth spurts a couple of years before boys, they are on average taller than boys from age eleven to thirteen. From age fourteen on, males have gained a height advantage that they never lose. They also develop a marked superiority in strength and muscular development. Body fat increases for both genders at puberty, but the gains are greater for girls. In late adolescence boys have average muscle to fat ratio of three to one, while girls' comparable ratio is five to four. This ratio alone accounts for much of the difference in adolescents' physical performance. At the end of adolescence, boys are stronger; they have "larger hearts and lungs relative to their size, a higher systolic blood pressure, a lower resting heart rate, a greater capacity for carrying oxygen to the blood, a greater power for neutralizing the chemical products of muscular exercise, such as lactic acid," higher blood hemoglobin, and more red blood cells.

What Is Puberty?

Symmetry would be nicely served if all five of the male developmental periods in this book could be firmly age-related. The nature of adolescence, however, necessitates a relaxation of age-relatedness in the last two periods. I've designated the fourth stage (early adolescence) as ages thirteen to fifteen, and the final stage (late adolescence) as ages sixteen to eighteen, but where a boy stands in his adolescent maturation matters more than his age. The arrival of puberty, which starts the engine of adolescence, occurs over a surprising range of time. Some boys' testes begin to enlarge as early as age nine, some as late as age thirteen. Very fine pubic hair makes a first appearance over the same range of age, changing in color (darker) and texture (coarser) a year or so after first appearance. The penis exhibits a growth spurt as early as age ten, as late as age fourteen.

Facial hair appears only after genital development is well underway, about two years after the first appearance of pubic hair-first at the corners of the upper lip, then across the upper lip, still later across the upper cheeks and in the midline below the lips, and lastly along the sides of the face and lower border of the chin. Underarm hair begins to grow about the same time as facial hair, and body hair increases in density on legs, arms, and chests.

Puberty brings changes in skin quality. The skin becomes rougher, especially around the upper arms and thighs, concurrent with the enlargement of sweat glands. These skin changes often give rise to enhanced oiliness, and to acne and other skin eruptions that can plague the self-confidence of the male adolescent as painfully as that of the female adolescent.

Pubertal changes occur in the male breast, stimulated by the body’s production of estrogens. Both estrogen and androgens (male hormones) are manufactured by glands in both sexes, but in different amounts on average. In the male teenager, the area around the nipple, the areola, increases in circumference; the nipples also become more prominent. Some boys develop gynecomastia, a breast enlargement that includes the growth of subcutaneous breast tissue. The tissue on one side of the chest may grow larger than on the other. The condition usually goes away with continued growth of the torso, but it can be observed in males of all ages, particularly among overweight males. The condition is widespread enough to provoke advertisements in many publications for surgical treatment of gynecomastia—essentially the same kind of breast reduction that some heavily breasted females elect.

While a boy's body is changing on the outside, it is also changing on the inside. As the penis grows in length and thickness, the internal sexual organs enlarge. The seminal vesicles that carry sperm from the testicles to the opening of the penis develop, and the prostate and bilbo-urethral glands begin to generate seminal fluid.

A year or so after the acceleration of growth of the penis, the first ejaculation of seminal fluid occurs. It might take the form of a spontaneous nocturnal emission, but probably more often it is the result of masturbation provoked by spontaneous erection and other genital sensations, or by the conversations of cohorts describing their own introductions to masturbation. Boys are not apt to report their very first ejaculations as much as girls report their first menstrual periods to each other, but most boys remember the occurrence. Given the extent to which the adolescent and adult male seek orgasmic pleasure through masturbation or interpersonal sexual contact, and the extent to which their sexuality is reinforced by an active fantasy life, one is tempted to say that the day of first ejaculation is the third keystone day in a male's life after his day of birth and his first day of school.

A shift in sleep and alertness patterns also occurs near this time. Some educators have been lobbying for a later beginning to the school day for adolescents. If allowed to regulate their own sleep schedules, most teenagers stay up to about 1:00 a.m. and sleep until 10:00 a.m. or later. Studies of their alertness patterns show that they are least alert between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., when classes begin in most schools, and most alert after 3:00 p.m., when the school day concludes. It seems likely that this shift in sleep and alertness patterns, combined with the demands of the classroom, would affect their moods significantly.

A number of researchers believe that adolescents are not inherently moodier than younger children, notwithstanding widely held opinions to the contrary. Stressful circumstances—such as academic problems, family conflict, or strained friendships—appear to play more substantial roles in the development of mood disturbances and depression in adolescence than do hormones. To the extent that a connection has been established between hormonal changes and behavior, the effects seem to be strongest early in puberty when the system is being “turned on.” The culprit is not the absolute increases in hormonal levels but the rapid fluctuations. Once the levels stabilize, later in puberty, problematic effects decrease. Through it all, boys show fewer adverse psychological effects from going through puberty than do girls.

What Is Adolescence?

Lawrence Steinberg has identified as many ways of defining adolescence as Howard Gardner has found varieties of intelligence. Biologically, he writes, adolescence begins with the onset of puberty and ends when a person feels ready for sexual reproduction. Emotionally, adolescence marks the beginning of self-conscious detachment from parents and ends with the attainment of a separate sense of identity. Cognitively, adolescence begins with the emergence of more advanced reasoning abilities, and ends with their consolidation in the ability to entertain hypotheses, weigh contingent possibilities, see situations from the perspectives of others, and draw inferences from available evidence. Interpersonally, to continue Steinberg's catalog, adolescence deepens a shift in interest from family relations to peer relations, culminating in a capacity for deeper intimacy with peers and commitment to a loved one. Socially, adolescence begins with training for adult work and citizen roles, and ends with full attainment of adult status and privileges. Educationally, adolescence begins with entry into junior high school and ends with a completion of formal schooling. Legally, adolescence begins with the attainment of juvenile status and ends with the attainment of majority status. Culturally, adolescence begins in some societies with training for a ceremonial rite of passage and ends with admission to adulthood upon completion of the rite.

There is pertinent information in each of these definitions, but none is sufficient by itself to define adolescence. Biologically, for example, a boy is capable of performing his role in reproduction long before we are ready to say that he has completed his adolescent tasks. Again, a boy may have quite fully shifted his frame of reference from family relations to peer intimacy as a teenager, but we might still judge him to have left other tasks of adolescence incomplete. As we know, many boys reach the age of legal majority without fulfilling all of the tasks of adolescence.

Perhaps we could define adolescence as an interrelated and overlapping set of processes. They don’t begin at exactly the same age for every boy, and they certainly don’t end at the same age. One can say of many boys in the midstream. of adolescence: 'He's fifteen years old-going on sixteen most days, on twenty some days, on ten other days.' Since there is so much individual variation in the onset and resolution of the several processes that constitute adolescence, neat formulas tied to age can't be offered for parental guidance and reassurance. What can be done is to describe the signs of each process; then each boy has to be read by his parents, teachers, and other caregivers to see where he stands day by day, month by month, year by year.

If a thirteen-year-old boy falls ill and misses school for two or three months, he is not doomed to stay behind his class for the remainder of his academic career. When they set their minds to it, boys can catch up with breathtaking speed. Their minds are prone to bursts of activity just as their bodies grow in spurts separated by periods of leveling off. On the question of overall maturation, however, the principle of quick catch-up doesn't apply. The later a boy enters puberty, the longer his adolescent maturation usually takes. This may appear to be a rather cruel caprice of nature, compounded by cultural attitudes. Early maturing boys steal the show. Their increased strength and sexuality are rewarded with approbation. Some of them become the star athletes. Everyone treats them as more grown-up.

Meanwhile, the parents of the late maturer may be worrying as much as the late maturer himself. There is often more stress attendant upon delay of male maturation than upon maturation itself. Every step is more trying for the late maturer because he knows that many of his peers have gotten there before him. The social roles available to the late maturer-the clown or the cut-up, for example-may themselves hinder more than assist maturation. In fact, studies show that late maturers are seen both by other adolescents and by adults as overly anxious and as seeking attention through immature behavior. From a cross-gender perspective, then, the late maturing male is subject to the kind of unease and self-doubt that often marks the early maturing female, who may not feel ready for the social and sexual attention early puberty has brought her.

In the New York Times, an anonymous mother described the teenage social order in a suburb of Minneapolis as a three-tier system. She didn't say so, but I infer that the system is pyramidal: far fewer kids at the top than at the bottom. Tier one consists of the trend setters. They are "the kids who stand out, are a little noisier, more noticed, have a group of kids following them. They're probably a little more risk-taking. They set the pace." Below them on tier two are the aspiring "wannabes. ' "Everyone else" is on tier three. Most of these cliques in early adolescence are limited to members of the same sex, just as they were in elementary school. Ways of speaking, dressing, and behaving are developed by a trendsetting clique to distinguish themselves from lesser-status peers and from adults. It takes a considerable amount of energy and drive—and financial investment—to be a trendsetter. But teenagers have the financial resources to support their social order. They spend $122 billion a year, including 10 percent of all supermarket sales.

Later in adolescence, same-sex cliques will partially give way to mixed-sex cliques in which boys and girls can interact without having to have intimate relations. By late adolescence, most boys and girls feel comfortable establishing relations as couples. They no longer need the mixed-sex clique, which may then dissolve.

It is important, especially with respect to issues of character development, not to fall into the trap of imagining the early adolescent boy as pulling away from the domination of his stuffy hierarchical family in order to enjoy the simple pleasures of democratic life with peer groups. Adolescent cliques often exhibit hierarchical strategies of inclusion and exclusion that are more ruthless and mean-spirited than anything an adolescent boy has experienced before.

Conflict between adolescent males is often expressed physically, and for that reason studies of adolescent aggression have frequently focused on the behavior of boys. But girls use rumor-mongering, exclusion, withdrawal of friendship, and other forms of “relational aggression” to equally painful—if not quite so dramatic—effect. One study refers tellingly to blows to the heart rather than blows to the body.

As boys move from same-sex cliques early in adolescence to mixed-sex cliques, they learn more of the techniques of relational aggression by seeing and imitating them, or suffering them. Being on the receiving end of both physical and relational aggression leads in one direction to submissive, depressive behavior, and in another direction to hostile, bitter behavior. Boys, as well as girls, can follow either path; indeed, girls today may be more prone to respond with hostility, even physical aggression, than they were, say, twenty years ago. Parents and teachers should take account of the fact that relational aggression often leaves the victim with a simmering anger that can break out with slight provocation, and that may be a roadblock to future relationships. The key to dealing with both kinds of aggression is to teach the adolescent negotiating skills so that he can assert his interests effectively without resorting to physical aggression or barely suppressed anger.

A boy is well served by parents and teachers who discuss the advantages and disadvantages of joining cliques: pointing out the temptations to trendsetters to be arrogant and condescending; raising the question of whether the energy and anxiety devoted to becoming a trendsetter is worth it to a wannabe; pointing out alternative paths of opportunity and enjoyment to boys who are members of “everyone else.”

Fathers and Sons

In nonindustrial societies, boys in the first surge of puberty are often subjected to an intense rite of passage. The purpose of the rite is to wrest a boy from the social context of women and children where he has been living, and to initiate him into the life and company of manhood. The more anxious the society is about getting boys to make the leap, the more rigorous the preparation and ceremonies. Elders teach boys the ways of men. Feats of strength and endurance may be required. Fasting may be imposed. The boys penis may-be cut or marked to signal his change of status. Upon the conclusion of the ceremonies, the male, who was just a boy only a few weeks earlier, is regarded as a man-ready to work as an adult once he sleeps off his exhaustion, ready to marry within a few years.

Industrial societies need a much longer period to educate a boy for the various occupations of manhood. Rigorous rites of passage don't make much sense when adolescence is expected to last close to a decade for most boys, even longer for those who elect careers requiring extensive postgraduate education. The few remnants we have from such rites-notably religious "confirmations" or bar mitzvahs-have become pleasant celebrations of adolescence; no one pretends that the male recipients have really become adults, or that their social status has changed in any significant way. To a degree these early adolescent ceremonies symbolize separation from parents toward deeper association with peers rather than cohortship with adults. What happens in industrial societies is that a male adolescent goes through an extended period in which he is regarded partly as an adult, partly as a youth, and maybe still partly as a child. It can be quite confusing to him to sort out. In mid-adolescence he is given adult status as a driver. He can at the same stage acquire a paying job in which the expectations are the same for him as for adults: He is expected to arrive for work on time, perform his prescribed responsibilities satisfactorily, and, if he earns enough, pay taxes. But at school he is still confronted with a framework that hasn’t changed all that much since grade school. While he may be old enough to be drafted into military service, at home he may be treated as a child or as a teenager.

Kathleen Norris, in a wise and humorous essay on "Infallibility," caught the irony of the situation:

The mother of a fifteen-year-old boy who had recently obtained a learner's permit for driving accompanied him while he drove to a shopping mail, but as it had begun to rain heavily while they were indoors, she suggested that she drive home. Her son had never driven in the rain, which gave her pause. He insisted that he needed the experience. She acquiesced, but reluctantly, and as he drove out of the parking lot, she began to offer a steady stream of advice. The boy snapped at her to cut it out. She snapped back, “I don't know what you know, and what you don't know-I'm only trying to help!” “Mom,” he said, “just assume that I know everything.”

The onset of puberty provokes a revision of a boy's relation to his parents—to his mother, as we've just seen, but particularly to his father. The very nature of sexual maturation promotes a boy's deeper identification with his father. There is an opportunity for a father to get closer to his son, yet there are provocations that can lead fathers and sons to be more estranged than ever. It is important to keep in mind that as their sons are approaching or traversing adolescence, many fathers are experiencing what is called "midlife crisis," an awareness of their mortality and limitations, a questioning of their life goals.

The relationships between fathers and adolescent sons have been studied frequently without yielding a consistent profile, partly because the samples studied aren't the same, partly because there are many aspects to the relationship and some of them appear to be at cross-purposes. Here is a catalog of some of the findings:

The stereotype of the father as playmate for his children when he is around is borne out by research. Adolescents help their fathers less around the house than they help their mothers. Watching television together is the most common father-son activity.

Fathers typically do not talk to their adolescent sons about emotional problems and relationships; they talk about academic performance, future education, occupational plans, etc., and sports. Boys—girls, too—see their fathers as more enabling, less constraining than their mothers, but that may be because the mother is often chief administrator of home life.

Fathers are, on the whole, more likely to try to exert control over adolescent boys, and mothers to relinquish control. As still another study put it, fathers have greater needs for dominance, are less likely to be permissive than mothers. Sons in one study said their fathers knew them better than they knew their sisters, but they also felt their relationships with their fathers were less affectionate than their mothers' relationships with their sisters. Popular conceptions have adolescent boys in rebellion from their parents over broad issues such as religion and politics, but several studies indicate the major conflicts are over house rules such as curfews and how messy a boy's bedroom is.

For fathers, there's an increase of negative feelings toward their sons as they mature sexually. Teenagers do not report negative emotion toward their fathers in relation to sexual maturation. The fathers' level of moral maturity and emotional warmth during early adolescence is more predictive of their sons' behavior during adolescence than it was during childhood. Looking back from later adulthood, adults who enjoy happy marriages and plentiful friendships overwhelmingly report having had warm and loving fathers. A high level of supportive fatherly involvement in an adolescent boy's life is positively correlated with good school adjustment.

When boys regard themselves as understood sympathetically by their fathers, they rate time spent with the fathers as pleasurable; conversely, when they feel misunderstood, they see time spent with fathers as forced or unwanted and conflictual. If fathers are controlling and rigid toward adolescent sons, their sons have less masculine self-images and more passive personalities. Positive gender identity and social development are encouraged when a father allows his son to be reasonably self-assertive.

Adolescents whose fathers disappeared from their lives in early childhood have lower self-esteem than adolescents whose fathers were present throughout childhood.

As teenagers renegotiate their roles to gain more autonomy, power becomes an important issue. Younger adolescent males regard their fathers as being more powerful than older adolescent males regard them. But as adolescent boys mature physically, their fathers often counter by being more assertive toward them, and the boys tend to back off rather than challenge their fathers too openly.

The largest study of sexual orientation among the offspring of gay fathers showed that only 9 percent were gay or bisexual—a little, but not dramatically, larger segment than one would expect in a random sample of adult males. The sons' sexual orientation was unrelated to frequency of contact with their fathers or the quality of the relationship. Another study established that gay fathers are no more likely than heterosexual fathers to offend sexually against their own or other children. The findings suggest that the parental contribution to sexual orientation must be small.

Mothers and Sons

From the very beginning of puberty, there is some lessening of emotional closeness and attachment to both parents by boys, although boys still describe themselves as enjoying more self-disclosure (but selectively as to subject) and affection with mothers than with fathers. The frequency of arguments between mothers and sons increases. This pulling away may contribute to the "gnawing loneliness" Harry Stack Sullivan attributes to boys at the onset of puberty. But the separation probably saddens mothers more than fathers because mothers have usually enjoyed the closer preadolescent bonds. Sixth-grade boys describe themselves as feeling closer to their mothers than to their fathers, but by ninth grade boys see their fathers as being as dose to them as their mothers.

There are, to be sure, variations in adolescent development attributable to ethnic diversity. Chinese-American parents, for example, describe themselves as more demanding of obedience and respect from their sons than Caucasian-American parents. In Hispanic and Asian Pacific Island families, strong paternal authority is paired with unusually high maternal warmth; this combination causes most of their children to be compliant to family values and deeply loyal to immediate and extended family members.

Spouses do not operate in vacuums as parents. When there is serious conflict between them, they may try to undermine each other's parental roles. Or they may develop uncoordinated but subtly competing relationships to their adolescent son, as we shall see in more detail in the next chapter. When Mark gets into trouble as a computer hacker at school, he and his dad, Harvey, will conspire to keep his mother, Nina, in the dark for a couple of weeks-"She's too emotional about such things"-until they have thought through a strategy for dealing with the crisis.

Mothers' attitudes toward the fathering role of their spouses reflects their experiences with their own fathers. If mothers see their own fathers as having been nurturing, their husbands are more likely to be strongly involved in the children's lives. When fathers restrict themselves-or are restricted-to roles as disciplinarians, playmates, and economic providers, their participation in family life is seen more as "mother's helper" rather than as co-responsible parent. The man who sees his role principally as the breadwinner, as opposed to being an emotionally supportive caregiver, is almost certain to have a rather distant relationship with his son.

The big picture is that despite what the typical mother of an adolescent boy has lost in closeness with him as he matures physically and socially, she continues to be regarded as the superior caregiver. One piece of research that disputes conventional wisdom shows just how influential the mother remains in most families. The conventional wisdom is that sons undoubtedly learn their aggressive behaviors from their fathers, while daughters learn such behaviors from their mothers. It is true that men rank higher than women in degrees of assertiveness, argumentativeness, and verbal aggressiveness. The surprise is that mothers serve as the main model for these traits in both daughters and sons. They model assertiveness and verbal aggressiveness for all their children-perhaps simply because they spend more time with their children. Despite the rich opportunity the adolescence of a son offers the father to forge a deeper and closer relationship, the evidence suggests that many fathers do not take advantage of the opportunity.

Safe Passage versus High Risk

Joy Dryfoos formulated the notion of "safe passage" to represent what we all wish for adolescent boys: that they will not be too severely affected by the risk factors lodged in all of the opportunities they will encounter passing from childhood to adulthood. A 1995 national survey of fourteen-year-olds indicated the extent of new experience already accumulated.

Sexual Activity. Forty-one percent of fourteen-year-old boys acknowledged being sexually active, that is already introduced to sexual intercourse. Among the 41 percent, two-thirds said they used condoms to prevent pregnancy and transmission of disease. By twelfth grade, two-thirds of boys will be sexually active. African-American males have their first sexual intercourse earlier on average (41 percent before age thirteen) than white adolescent males, but by age fourteen white males have caught up.

Drugs. Thirty-two percent of fourteen-year-old boys have smoked a cigarette within the past month. Many smoked their first cigarette before age thirteen. (I a.m. treating cigarettes here as an addictive substance with serious demonstrated health implications.) Approximately 25 percent of boys said that they had smoked marijuana at least once in the past month. As the popularity of smoking has increased, and notwithstanding demonstrations of adverse effects, peer disapproval of smoking marijuana has dropped dramatically. Five percent claim that they have used heavy drugs such as cocaine.

Alcohol. Twenty-eight percent of boys have already done some heavy drinking by age fourteen. Broken down ethnically and racially, the data indicate that Hispanic mates are the heaviest drinkers, whites come next, and African-Americans trail behind. Six percent say they have drunk alcohol and 9 percent have smoked marijuana on school premises.

Academic Problems. Twenty-six percent of boys in the l995 survey were already a year behind in school; 5 percent were two years behind. Boys are much more likely than girls to be kept back. Not a few researchers of adolescence believe that the transition into ninth grade is a "make or break" time for teenagers. If intimidated by the challenge, they may take up with peers who are experimenting with high-risk activities.

Violence. Almost half of adolescent males acknowledge they've been in a fight during the previous year. Approximately 16 percent have fought on school grounds. Thirty-one percent of adolescent males report carrying weapons of one kind or another; 12 percent say they have carried a gun within the past month. There is certainly accuracy in the claim of boys that schools-to say nothing of streets and popular hangouts-are dangerous places, even if there isn't justification for their claim that the most reasonable response to the danger is to carry a weapon.

Crime. From 1988 to 1993 the number of juvenile arrests almost doubled to about 2 million—five times as many males as females and twice as many whites as African-Americans, although, because of the ratio in the population, the rate is higher for African-Americans. One in five arrested teenagers is held in secure detention. In one decade, from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, the homicide rate among teens from fourteen to seventeen years old almost tripled. The increasing availability of handguns is undoubtedly a factor. Professor James Fox of Northeastern University, a specialist on youth crime, writes:

The problem of kids with guns cannot be overstated. The fourteen-year-old armed with a gun is far more menacing than a forty-four year old with a gun. While the negative socializing forces of drugs, youth gangs and the media have become more threatening, the positive socializing forces of family, school, religion, and neighborhood have grown relatively weak and ineffective.

Risk Clusters. Many adolescent boys are trustworthily low-risk for experimenting with dangerous behaviors. Search Institute analyzed several large-scale studies to see how risk factors attract each other in predictable clusters. Unfortunately, these statistics are not broken down by gender, but we can safely assume that boys outnumber girls in all categories except eating disorders. In a national sample of ninth graders (the upper end of early adolescence), about 22 percent reported no history of substance abuse, excessive drinking, unsafe sexual activity, depression or suicide attempts, antisocial behavior or crime, unsafe driving, or eating disorders. An additional 29 percent acknowledged only one type of risk-taking. Eighteen percent acknowledged two types, 31 percent three or more. In one Michigan survey, about 40 percent of the ninth graders who acknowledged school problems also reported excessive alcohol use; this compared to 17 percent acknowledgment of school problems among those who did not report excessive drinking. About 60 percent of the adolescents with school problems testified to having had unprotected sex, compared to 30 percent of those who did not acknowledge academic failures.

Ten percent of fourteen-year-olds (again, a higher percentage of boys) could be characterized as living at very high risk. Eighty percent of this segment drank, 40 percent used illegal drugs, 90 percent were sexually active without using protection, and more than half had been arrested at least once during the year preceding the survey. Approximately 40 percent reported episodes of depression. Though only a few had dropped out of school, about 40 percent were two or more classes behind their age-mates.

Not surprisingly, the earlier any type of risk-taking begins, the greater the chance that it will increase in severity and duster with other risky behaviors. The boy who begins to consume alcohol at age ten, for example, may start sexual intercourse at age twelve. If a boy has been aggressive in preschool, the likelihood of his exhibiting worrisome aggressiveness in later childhood and adolescence is substantial.

About 40 percent of American children appear to be on an "achievement track." They live in safe neighborhoods with supportive families, attending schools that are relatively responsive to their needs. Yet every family is vulnerable to parents' unemployment, separation or divorce, and the like. There is no way to construct an impenetrable safety net around adolescent boys. Each family with boys, therefore, has to consider how to prepare them for inevitable temptations and crises.

The risk factors confronting male adolescents in the United States are found in other societies as well. But there are differences in how societies deal with these factors. The United States, for example, is distinctive in the access to firearms it grants to youth and even younger children. Although levels of adolescent sexual activity do not differ much between the United States and the societies of Western Europe, much lower rates of contraception prevail in the United States, reflecting both lack of access to contraceptives and ambivalent attitudes on the part of adolescents, their parents, and the society.

Professor Michael Rutter, a child psychiatrist in London, has studied the differences in social policy toward adolescents in the industrialized societies. It would be "unthinkable" he noted, for a teenage schoolgirl in the Netherlands to bear a child because all social institutions-family, schools, churches, media, and government-are united in the objective to provide adolescent birth control information and services to insure that adolescents' sexual activity is safe, pregnancy rare, and abortion available for the small number of unintended pregnancies. Social institutions in the United States lack this unified approach. In the absence of such consensus, each individual floats on his own. Adolescents are often blamed for their lapses and risk-taking more than they are helped to take responsibility for them, pick up the pieces, and go on with their lives.


Eighteen percent of fourteen-year-old boys say they have had suicidal thoughts. Seven percent say they have attempted to commit suicide. The percentages are lower than for girls the same age, but boys are more effective in completing the act, killing themselves four to six times more often than girls.

William Pollack's writing on depression among young males has been especially cogent in my view. After suggesting that our culture gives many signals to boys not to exhibit sadness, and that some of the methods of diagnosis of depression were originally designed to ascertain depression in adult women and are inappropriate for young males, he argues for a broad definition of depression in boys:

If we dwell merely on the most extreme-and obvious-instances of full-blown, or 'clinical,' depression, we risk failing to help boys cope with emotional states that, though less intense on the surface, are actually very painful for them, emotional states that without appropriate intervention may very well evolve into a major depression or provoke suicidal feelings. There's also a risk that by ignoring certain related behaviors, most notably irritable conduct and the abuse of substances, we may also fail to recognize the onset of serious depression.

Pollack gives some useful suggestions for distinguishing sadness from depression (without downplaying either one). "For instance, a boy who occasionally shuts himself into his room when he's feeling down is probably just momentarily feeling sad. By contrast, a boy who frequently comes home from school, goes into his room, shuts the door, and refuses to talk to anyone is obviously exhibiting behaviors that fall squarely within the continuum of depression. Likewise, a boy who has had a bad day and doesn't feel like coming to the dinner table is clearly quite different from one who consistently refuses to eat or dine with his family." Pollack also notes that depression may be expressed as anger or irritation rather than through the clearer signals of sadness, withdrawal, or apparent hopelessness; parents and other caregivers therefore need to be alert to signs of anger or irritation to see whether they ascertain depression behind or beneath the surface. "Being sad is the same as being mad for me," said one boy quoted by Pollack.

Depression manifests itself differently in boys and girls, according to a study by Per Gjerde, and Jack and Jeanne Block. Fourteen-year-old girls who developed symptoms of depression were found to be anxious, low in self-esteem, very concerned about their bodies, and, mostly, quite intelligent. Boys who exhibited high levels of symptoms of depression, also at age fourteen, showed lack of concern for interpersonal relationships, displayed hostile and antisocial attitudes, and were below average in intellectual prowess.

Pollack gives some specific pointers for handling signs of sadness or depression in a boy:

Create a private place to talk with him, so he won't feel ashamed if he loses his composure.

Be available to talk with full attention, but don't press him to open up until he is comfortable. Invite but don't force.

Be careful not to shame him when you respond to his disclosure of sadness or depression. Don't tease, or joke, or paper over his feelings with assertions that everything will be fine. Acknowledge that you see his discomfort and are lovingly concerned. Avoid facile advice.

The signs a parent might be alert to include: intense or prolonged social withdrawal from family and friends; prolonged depletion or fatigue; increase in impulsive outbursts of anger or aggressiveness; denial of pain; sleeping and eating disorders; increasingly rigid acting out; failure to exhibit appropriate emotion; harsh self-criticism; falling below usual academic level; increased risk-taking; evidence of exposure to alcohol and drugs; change in sexual behavior; and, obviously, unusual mention of suicide, death, or dying.

A parent or other caregiver who notes unusual signs of sadness or symptoms that might be related to depression would be wise to consult a professional, both for the boy himself and to foster the adult's capacity to cope sensitively and effectively with the situation.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Somewhere between 30 and 70 percent of children, by one estimate, who were diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as children still have the disorder when they reach adolescence and adulthood, I suspect the wide range of the estimate is related both to the variations in diagnostic criteria and to the occasional misdiagnosis of normal-range temperamental variation as ADHD among children, especially boys.

Treating adolescent ADD/ADHD may be more complex than treating childhood ADD/ADHD. Adolescents may deny having the disorder, may fake taking prescribed medication, may give their medication to friends who don't have the disorder but want a chemical boost to study for an examination. Medication needs regular evaluation, including off-periods when the effect of the medication can be compared to behavior during a period of abstinence. Since metabolism is changing during adolescence, teenagers may need higher dosages. ADD/ADHD may reduce an adolescent's prudent appraisal of risk-taking, so teenagers with ADD/ADHD need special training in how they cope with driving or handling machinery. Most adolescents with ADD/ADHD benefit from a continuing relationship with a counselor whom they come to trust.

How to Get Boys to Talk

When I was in pediatric training, only a few of my class were interested in child psychiatry. A wise older psychiatrist at the Judge Baker Guidance Center across the street from Children’s Hospital in Boston, Donald Russell, offered an elective on psychiatric diagnosis. He put us immediately to work on the evaluation of boys who were referred by the Massachusetts division of youth services. Most of these kids had committed pretty serious crimes.

Not a few of these kids were, as the term is used, "hardened.' That's to say that they were familiar with therapists and jaded with people who professed interest in helping them. Getting them to talk was no small task.

Dr. Russell had a technique that he repeated often on the subject. The best way to get a teenager to talk is to take him for a ride in a car. That way, you’re not looking face-to-face, there's time to pass as you proceed to a destination, and there's always something to comment on along the way.

It became clear that boys, particularly boys in trouble, want to tell their stories to a sympathetic listener. Avoiding a posture of making judgments about them, their behavior, their backgrounds, their experiences with the juvenile justice system-and especially avoiding characterizing them as "bad kids"-was important. Being oneself, without airs, expressing interest and concern, also went a long way. But perhaps most importantly, one had honestly to play one's role, not to pretend that one wasn't a doctor in an institution assigned to evaluate them.

Any conversation of any weight with a teenager should take place in a private setting. Therapists also learn the importance of timing. One doesn’t jump in on the most sensitive material; if the child is embarrassed or ashamed, it's much better to approach the subject indirectly. If possible, wait until he introduces it.

One of the time-honored techniques of interviewing on sensitive issues is to use the word "sometimes": “Sometimes kids . . .” That takes the emphasis away from the particular situation, allows a boy to maintain some distance, and enables one to avoid embarrassing him.

An activity may help a boy to relax and confide his problems. Shooting baskets or playing catch can make a neutral, enjoyable setting for a talk.

Lastly, it's important that we not fill up all the time with words. Silence is helpful, because it lets a boy take the lead and bring up what's on his mind.

C. Quintana, “Riding the Rails,” in “Being 13”, Special Photography Issue, New York Times Magazine (May 17, 1998), 66.

L. Steinberg, Adolescence, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996), 23-60.

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L. Steinberg, “The Impact of Puberty on Family Relations: Effects of Pubertal Status and Pubertal Timing,” Developmental Psychology 23 (1987), 451-460; and "Reciprocal Relation Between Parent-Child Distance and Pubertal Maturation," Developmental Psychology 24 (1988), 122-128.

Peterson and Taylor, "The Biological Approach to Adolescence,” in Adelson, Handbook of Adolescent Psychology, 129.286-290pubertyB. Goldstein, Introduction to Human Sexuality (Belmont, Cal.: Star, 1976).

adolescent moods C. Buchanan, J. Eccles, and J. Becker, "Are Adolescents the Victims of Raging Hormones? Evidence for Activational Effects of Hormones on the Moods and Behavior at Adolescence," Psychological Bulletin 111 (I 992), 62-107.

"Being 13," New York Times Magazine, 66.

cliques N. Livson and H. Peskin, "Perspectives on Adolescence from Longitudinal Research", in Adelson, Handbook of Adolescent Psychology, 47-98.

T. G., Power and J. Shanks, "Parents As Socializers: Maternal and Paternal Views " Journal of Youth and Adolescence 18 (1989), 122-128.

J. Youniss and R. D. Ketterlinus, “Communication and Connectedness in Mother- and Father-Adolescent Relationships,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 16 (1987), 191-197.

B. Speicher-Dubin, "Relationships Between Parental Moral Judgment, Child Moral Judgment and Family Interaction: A Correlational Study," Dissertation Abstracts International, 434 (1982), 1600B.

E. M. Cummings and A. W. O'Reilly, "Fathers in Family Context: Effects of Marital Quality on Child Adjustment," in Lamb, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 49-65.

N. Radin, "Childrearing Fathers in Intact Families 1: Some Antecedents and Consequences," Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 27 (1981), 489-514.

R. W. Blanchard and H. B. Biller, "Father Availability and Academic Performance Among Third Grade Boys," Developmental Psychology 4 (1971), 301-305.

K. Norris, "Infallibility," in K. Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (New York: Penguin Putnam., 1998), 369-370.295-3

L. Steinberg, "Transformations in Family Relations At Puberty," Developmental Psychology 17 (1981), 833-840.

relations with parents R. Larson and M. Richards, Divergent Lives: The Emotional Lives of Mothers, Fathers, and Adolescents (New York: Basic Books, 1994).

C. A. Hosley and R. Montemayor, "Fathers and Adolescents," in M. P. Lamb, The Role of the Father in Child Development, 3rd ed. (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1997), 162-178.

J. Santrock, "Relation of Type and Onset of Father-Absence to Cognitive Development," Child Development 43 (1972), 455-469.

J. M. Bailey, D. Bobrow, M. Wolfe, S. Mikach, "Sexual Orientation of Sons of Gay Fathers," Developmental Psychology 31 (1995), 124-129.

S. T. Hauser, B. K. Book, J. Houlihan, S. Powers, B. Weiss-Perry, D. Follansbee, A. M., Jacobson, and G. G. Noam, "Sex Differences Within the Family: Studies of Adolescent and Parent Family Interactions," Journal of Youth and Adolescence 16 (1987), 199-220.

G. Patterson, B. DeBaryshe, and E. Ramsey, "A Developmental Perspective on Antisocial Behavior," American Psychologist 44 (1989), 329-335.

Sullivan, The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry (New York: Norton, 1953).

A. 0. Harrison, M. N. Wilson, C. J. Pine, S. Q. Chan, and R. Buriel, "Family Ecologies of Ethnic Minority Children," in G. Handel and G. G. Whitchurch, eds., The Psychosocial Interior of the Family (New York: Aldine DeGruyter, 1994),187-210.

J. Youniss and J. Smollar, Adolescent Relations with Mothers, Fathers, and Friends (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985).

E. E. Maccoby, 'Men and Women As Parents," in E. E. Maccoby, The Two Sexes: Growing Up Apart, Coming Together (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), 255-286.

J. G. Dryfoos, Safe Passage: Making It Through Adolescence in a Risky Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

United States Department of Health and Human Services, "Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 1995," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (September 17, 1996), 45:SS-4.

J. Fox, Trends in Juvenile Justice, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1996), 2.

J. Dryfoos, "The Prevalence of Problem Behaviors: Implications for Programming," in R. Weissberg, T. Gullotta, R. Hampton, B. Ryan, and G. Adams, eds., Healthy Children 2010. Enhancing Children's Wellness (Thousand Oaks, Cal.: Sage, 1997), 17-46.

J. Keith and D. Perkins, 13, Adolescents Speak: A Profile of Michigan Youth (E. Lansing, Mich.: Community Coalitions in Action, Michigan State University, 1995).

M. Rutter, "Young People Today: Some International Comparisons on Patterns of Problems, Education, and Life Circumstances," in Preparing Youth for the 21st Century (Washington: D.C.: Aspen Institute, 1996), 25.

W. Pollack, "Hamlet’s Curse: Depression and Suicide in Boys," in W. Pollack, Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood (New York: Random House, 1998), 303-337.

P. E Gjerde, J. Block, and J. H. Block, “Depressive Symptoms and Personality During Late Adolescence: Gender Differences in the Externalization and Internalization of Symptom Expression,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 97 (1988), 475-486.

R. A. Barkley, ADHD and the Nature of Self-Control, 18-19.


The father of a nine-year-old boy told me that he returned from an overseas business trip this year carrying a joint of marijuana in his luggage. One of his business hosts abroad, wanting to show the utmost hospitality—drug consumption is widespread in their industry—had put the joint in his houseguest's bedroom as an amenity, much as hotel staff might leave a chocolate treat on a pillow. Back home, the father put the joint in the top drawer of his bureau at home, and forgot about it. A week later, the drawer was open one morning as he dressed for work while his son was in the room. His son saw the joint, picked it up, and asked, "What's this, Dad?"

"It caught me off guard. I've thought a lot about drugs, and what I'll say to him when he's thirteen or fourteen. Basically, I plan to tell him honestly about my experience with drugs as a teenager, but I'm going to tell him that times have changed a lot since then, and what was okay for me at fourteen isn't okay for him at fourteen."

"What did you say to your son about the joint?" I asked. "Oh, I said it was a hand-rolled cigarette that I had been offered at a business dinner and kept as a curiosity:' He went on to tell me about other male friends of his who consumed drugs extensively as adolescents, and who intend to lie if their own children ever ask them whether they consumed drugs when they were boys.

This man obviously wanted to preserve a certain moral clout with his son when they inevitably will have to address the subject of drugs in a few years. (One could argue that the subject is timely even for nine-year-olds these days.) He said he wanted to be able to say, "I did it then, but I don't do it now, and I don't want you to do it because drugs are so much more dangerous now. They were dangerous even when I was a kid, but I was lucky. Now I know more about drugs. I want you to know what I know, because you might do what I did and not be as lucky as I was:"

Perhaps if the father hadn't been caught by surprise and wasn't in a hurry to get to work, he could have handled his son's discovery and question more truthfully, using it as an opening to the subject of drugs that all parents should begin to discuss with schoolboys. Impulsively, he evaded the subject with a partial truth. He misled his son in the service of what he saw as his responsibility to protect his son from harmful exposure to drugs. He didn't want his son to be able to justify his own possible consumption of drugs by saying: My dad does it, why shouldn't I?

Varieties of Dishonesty

Honesty, which at first glance looks like one of the simpler topics to be dealt with in character-building, is actually one of the most complex—as even this mundane father-son incident shows. Ethicists often assume that honesty is the obvious policy of choice except for extreme cases in which lying, or one of its related avoidances of the truth, might be morally justifiable—for example, should a soldier captured in battle tell his captors false information about the deployment and strategies of his own army, or should a physician tell a terminally ill and deeply depressed patient what he knows and estimates to be the patient's condition and life expectancy if the patient asks. Extreme examples, however, don't necessarily help us make wise choices in commonplace situations.

The ambiguity of dishonesty is that much of it is habitual and scarcely recognized. You could ask a copywriter for an advertising agency if he is aware that much of what he writes is, at best, distortion, and he will probably resist the characterization; he is just doing "marketing:' You can ask the preacher or speechwriter if he realizes that many of his generalizations wouldn't stand up to close factual scrutiny—though they sound appealing—and he will say that he is just conveying political or philosophical truth. So a boy grows up in a culture where there is pervasive dishonesty but yet occasions when truth-telling is, perhaps without warning, regarded as terribly important.

The corrosive effects of lies between adults are frequently celebrated in contemporary literature. A review of a recent novel says of one of the characters: "Klima (the novelist) reminds us that Hana, too, is to be considered. She has found out, by chance, that her husband has a lover, and in the goodness of her heart she truly forgives him. But she weeps because he has deceived her, and she doesn't know whether she'll ever believe him again."

Everyday life is seldom quite as clear as fictional life, but adults in real life do generally know that exposed lies between partners are going to have lasting effects. This knowledge doesn't always inhibit adults from lying to their intimates, but they rarely defend the lying itself. They will rationalize it away if they can, but they rarely say that it's really OK to lie to an intimate.

In my talks with parents, however, I've met quite a few who have no reservations about lying to their children. What about? Most often, about their own pasts, and about subjects that intrinsically make them uncomfortable. I've learned of children who do not know that one of their parents was married—and, in some cases, had children—before entering the marriage to which these children were born.

The tree of dishonesty has a number of separate branches. There is the branch of equivocation—deliberately using ambiguous or unclear expressions, intending to mislead. This is what the aforementioned father was doing. It was true that the object in the bureau was a hand-rolled cigarette; what he was falsely implying was that it contained ordinary tobacco. There is a branch called duplicity—speaking in two different and mutually contradictory ways about the same subject to different parties, intending to deceive one or both. Another branch is called distortion—willfully twisting something out of its true meaning. And there is lying—knowingly telling something one believes is false with the intent that the hearer will believe it is true. Boys are capable of doing all of these, if they choose, at quite young ages. None of these branches of dishonesty is to be confused with innocent errors. All of us say things that we believe to be true only to discover later that we were wrong. A large place has to be reserved in everyday life for unintentional errors—for misconceptions and misperceptions.

Just as dishonesty has many branches, so honesty has many limitations or qualifications that keep the subject from being one of those "night and day" simplicities. Let me mention a few.

Conflicting Perspectives

What is true—and therefore what one might try to communicate honestly or obscure dishonestly—is influenced by one's perspective. One of the most fascinating studies of perspective was done by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. None other than Albert Einstein requested the study. Einstein's theory of relativity, unlike the reigning Newtonian physics, in which velocity was defined as distance divided by time, posited that time and velocity are defined in terms of each other. Einstein wanted to know if children are born with innate notions of time and velocity, and how their first notions of one affect their learning of the other.

Piaget had four- and five-year-olds observe two toy trains running on parallel tracks. Which train, he asked each young observer, traveled faster? Which ran the longer time? Which went the longer distance? Most of the children said that the train that stopped ahead of the other train was the faster, took longer, and went the greater distance (the trains did not necessarily begin at the same point). Focusing on the stopping points, they ignored all other evidence. They could deal with only one dimension. From the perspective of children, the relations between two or more variables such as time, speed, and distance are more difficult to perceive than they are for adults.

In another experiment, Piaget seated four-year-olds around a play table on which sat a model of three mountains. The children were shown photographs of how the model looked from the perspectives of the other children ranged around the table. Could the children see differences between the photographs and what they saw from their chairs? No. For most four-year-olds, it was impossible. Preschoolers can't see the world from the perspective of others; they think theirs is the only possible viewpoint.

The answer to Einstein, delivered in five hundred pages of text, was that these concepts aren't inborn; distance, time, and velocity aren't comprehended in relation to each other until the school years, generally after the age of six.

Preschoolers are already capable of saying what they think will please the listener, whether or not what they say is true. When David Parker was five years old, and his brother, Jason, was four, their mother found a nearly empty bottle of children's liquid aspirin on the bathroom floor one Saturday morning about a year ago. She knew that both boys liked the cherry flavoring when they had tasted it in past doses to quell fevers; and she knew that the bottle had been more than three-quarters full when she last used it.

Panicked, Angela Parker confronted her sons with the empty bottle and asked who had drunk the aspirin. She had good cause to be alarmed. Overdoses of aspirin can cause major damage to the liver or heart or brain. In sufficient quantity, an overdose can be lethal.

"I didn't do it:' David said. "I didn't do it:' Jason said. "One of you had to have done it," Angela shouted. "The bottle was almost full. Now it's empty. Taking too much aspirin could make you very, very sick. Now, which one of you drank it?" The combination of her anxiety and scare tactics had no useful effect. Both boys reiterated their claims of innocence; they both began to accuse the other of having done it!

Knowing that she needed to treat promptly whichever son had drunk the aspirin, Angela made both David and Jason swallow a dose of Ipecac syrup to induce vomiting. The pink coloration from the aspirin showed up only in the contents of Jason's stomach.

The limitations that we see in preschoolers' capacity to deal with perspective and with truth is even more evident in toddlers. Stanley Cath has written up a study of how one intelligent mother, who kept a journal, dealt over a period of years with her son's absent father. The woman and her husband divorced before Jeff was born, and while the father paid a few visits to his son in his first months of life, those visits had ceased entirely before Jeff was two years old; by that age, Jeff was able to articulate his awareness that he didn't have what most of his playmates had: a daddy.

Jeff: Where is my daddy? Why doesn't he stay here the way the other daddies do?

Mother: Because we are divorced, and he lives somewhere else.

Jeff: What is 'divorced' mean?

Mother: Sometimes when two people get married, they find out that they didn't love each other and would be happier living apart or being married to someone else. The divorce was between your father and myself, and you had nothing to do with it. Your father wants you to be very happy, just as I do.

Jeff: Does he live far away from here?

Mother: Not very far away, but he lives away from here.

Jeff: Where?

Mother: In an apartment.

Jeff: Will he come to see us?

Mother: No, we both thought that since we would be happier living apart, it would be better to start again. That is why I date, so we can find a man we will love, and who will love us. You can kind of pick your own daddy, won't that be fun?

Jeff: Did Karen (his cousin) and Janie (a neighbor's child) pick out their daddies?

Mother: No, but your other friend, Louise, can pick out her daddy because her parents are divorced, too.

Jeff raised the subject endlessly in what his mother referred to as the "father question hour:' His mother is, to a degree, cloaking the indifference of Jeff's biological father to his son, and slightly exaggerating the significance of Jeff's role in her choosing a new partner, though she is clear in her mind that a new partner would have to win Jeff's confidence (she relates with humor how Jeff drove one suitor away). With his two-year-old sense of concreteness, Jeff decided his father was living on the train tracks.

Eventually Jeff asked about living with his father: Why didn't he live with him? His mother answered: "Aren't you happy living with me?" She writes:

Then, pulling my emotions together for the time being, I added to that overly sensitive, guilt-ridden question of mine, 'Also, Jeff, your father works all day and mothers usually take care of the children.' Jeff said, 'I want to live with you, all of us together, I mean.' I would venture to say this conversation was not exactly my finest hour! Inside I was screaming (to myself). Here I was, left alone with the child, to explain why he can't see his father; left to make excuses. I knew I wouldn't hurt Jeff that badly to tell him that his father just couldn't care. And yet, I couldn't be a martyr, and take all the blame my son would most understandably place on me. I had to learn that nothing I could say would be the right thing, because Jeff was not in a right or normal situation. But I could say the wrong thing! Somehow, I had to find a middle ground where I could be honest with Jeff, without deliberately hurting him or his opinion of himself. I would try to have us live together with as little resentment as possible.

Honesty here has to take account of a dilemma: Jeff knows fully of his father's indifference to him, he will be wounded. But if he doesn't know of it, he will blame his mother for his father's absence because she is present and available to play his feelings against. She is subordinating what she decides to say about Jeff's father to the greater value of minimizing resentment between herself and her son. I like her statement that she is searching for a middle ground that contains honesty but other considerations as well.

Honesty among older children and adults is deeply influenced by their various motives in the same way that the toddler or preschooler is motivated to say what he thinks will please or to avoid saying what he thinks will displease. To avoid shame, for example, adolescents or adults addicted to alcohol or drugs may resolutely deny their problems in the face even of overwhelming evidence.

Slanted Truth

The older we get, the more opportunity we have to see the subtleties of honesty and dishonesty. We come to see the difference between literal and figurative truth—to see that a phrase like "I'll do it in a minute" is probably literally untruthful but what we really meant was a metaphorical "I'll do it in a short while." Youngsters of literal mind who are impatient with our "in a minute" promises sometimes begin to count the seconds aloud.

We also come to see that many things are open to interpretation, depending on needs, interests, and perspectives. The cynical word these days is "spin" for the activity of putting forth an interpretation as much in one's self interest as possible; some people are acknowledged to be spin-masters. But cynicism aside, it's hard to deny the frequency with which we appeal for readings of events sympathetic to our own situation. An aware adult will be compelled to acknowledge the legitimacy of others' doing the same.

We all construct our own versions of reality and try to get others to adopt them or at least accommodate them. So one person's truth differs inevitably from another's. Some distortion of truth, or of what we best believe to be true, helps most of us manage to cope in the world. In her book, Lying, Sissela Bok—who makes a strong case for eliminating as much burdensome dishonesty and deception from our lives as we can—nevertheless quotes Emily Dickinson on the subject of honesty:

Unless the truth comes to us gently or obliquely, and in moderate doses, we can't always tolerate it. It blinds us like lightning. We need truth to be circuitous, on the slant.

Lessons from the Law

If truth is open to conflicting perspectives and claims, then what is left of the character trait of honesty? Has our subject dissolved in a sea of relativism?

I don't think so. For a moment, I'd like to look at the way honesty is dealt with in one of our central institutions, judicial courts. Truthfulness is so important to the courtroom that testimony is usually given after the taking of a solemn oath to be truthful; demonstrated dishonesty under oath, or perjury, is itself subject to penalties. Our judicial systems are far from up to date on their understandings of how truth is subject to perspectives and other qualifications. Cases are still put to juries to decide adversarial proceedings one way or the other "beyond a reasonable doubt." Many of us can scarcely imagine a situation that didn't contain at least one reasonable doubt. Courts also overestimate the reliability of human memory. Yet in spite of these faults, courts have a very sophisticated way of dealing with honesty.

Five separate safeguards to truth-telling in court have tremendous relevance, I believe, for other situations such as family life or school affairs. They all have as their purpose maintaining respect for every person, no matter what that person has done.

First, the law gives a person the right to remain silent rather than to testify truthfully to what might be detrimental to the person's perceived self-interest. Lots of people, including lots of children, lie or equivocate or distort because they can't bring themselves to tell the truth, and they haven't been given the option to remain silent; they have been pressured to speak up, maybe threatened with punishment for silence alone. What a difference it would make in family life if a boy could elect silence as an honorable choice rather than as an act of stubborn resistance.

Second, the burden of proof in court usually falls to the party doing the complaining—to the plaintiff in a civil action or the prosecutor in a criminal procedure. All the party in the defensive position has to do is raise a substantial enough measure of doubt about the validity of the complaint. The method in court is to look into the complaint at a rather plodding pace, sorting out the conflicting testimony and evidence in search of a verdict.

Many episodes in domestic life have the opposite dynamic: The person accused is expected to defend his complete innocence; the presumption in many family "hearings" is that the accused child or partner is guilty unless he can demonstrate otherwise. An angry child who is skilled in histrionics can often get a sibling summarily convicted and punished by unthinking adults.

Third, the law goes to considerable lengths to inform a person of what the potential consequences might be of telling the truth, especially of admitting to wrongdoing or negligence. The defendant thus knows what the potential range of punishments or sanctions is before deciding whether or not to be truthful. (Often this safeguard is realized by providing counsel, someone who can inform the defendant of the best way to defend himself. Competent counsel educates the client about the law.)

Again, this element is missing in countless domestic situations in which an annoyed or impatient or enraged caregiver is demanding that a child tell the truth without giving any indication of what the consequences of truth-telling might be if the accuser's suspicions are confirmed. This is another of the safeguards in public litigation that I would like to have applied to other social situations at home, at school, at work.

Fourth, courtroom procedures mandate careful distinction between what a witness knows from direct experience and what he knows only indirectly—from hearsay, for example. The law values fact above mere opinion. It is a distinction often missing in everyday life. All of us, I venture, occasionally confuse our meritorious opinions with the actual facts, which, often, we don't really know. In the absence of fact, opinion is often sent in to substitute.

Rewarding Honesty

The final safeguard of honesty in the law is the most profound. It is that honesty is in some way rewarded. I wish I could help every parent and teacher grasp and accept this rule, which is so often neglected. Honesty isn't its own reward. The reward has to be added. In the main, all that is needed is that honesty be praised. Toddlers should always be thanked for telling the truth, as should schoolboys and adolescents.

When honesty involves the acknowledgment of a regrettable act, the reward may be mainly in the form of a reduction of punishment for having owned up to the act. Every act of truth-telling, even if what is confessed reflects badly on the speaker, should be acknowledged as an instance of moral courage. In other words, we should distinguish between the careful establishment by others' testimony of a truth that the doer denies to the bitter end, and the honest admission of a truth that the speaker rues.

I'm not, of course, advocating that every home and school be turned into a part-time courthouse. What courts do with great formality—and great expense—can be done informally but carefully in any other venue. If the safeguards of honesty common to the courts could be more deeply incorporated into domestic or school situations, everyone would be better off. A sense of orderliness would replace what is now often impulsive and hot-tempered accusation and judgment. Relatively minor incidents would not be blown out of proportion. What I'm advocating, as I shall discuss in more detail later, is a higher level of parental consciousness about honesty in situations where honesty is undeniably an issue.


Before we leave analogies between honesty in the courtroom and in everyday life, let me note that the judicial system leans—though with some exceptions—toward sympathy for people who have been deliberately tempted by government officials to participate in unlawful activities. The process is called entrapment. Life, the courts seem to say, offers more than enough temptations without having to produce more culprits by using enticing governmental snares.

This concept of entrapment has some application to child-rearing and honesty, even at a very early age. When I asked Shannon, the mother of two toddlers, how she dealt with honesty, she said that she is careful not to provide temptations for her young sons to lie. For example, if she notices that one of the boys has a soiled diaper but is fully engaged in play, she doesn't ask him if he needs a diaper change.

"I try to make the question perfectly clear. If I ask him whether his diaper needs changing, we might have a difference of opinion rather than fact. If he says 'no,' he might be telling me that he knows his diaper is dirty, but he doesn't care because his play is too much fun to be interrupted. I also don't ask him—which is a clear question—whether he has a soiled diaper. If he's fully engaged in play, he'll then be tempted to lie.

"I say, 'L.J., I can smell your dirty diaper. Do you want me to change it now or in five minutes?' I've given him a bit of choice, I've acknowledged how important his play is to him at that moment, but I haven't surrendered my nose indefinitely to his whims, either. I find that with this kind of approach we avoid many little power struggles, and I don't encourage him to lie."

This is a very important principle. Honesty is a demanding virtue to practice. It will not be inspired in a young boy—or a boy of any age—by setting up little entrapments followed by little lectures when the test is failed. This kind of tactic can hardly help yielding a mindset in which a boy is calculating the odds each time of being caught in a lie.

I know of a father who irreparably damaged his relationship with his son by inquiring of his son every day, when he carne home from work, whether the boy had been sucking his thumb. The boy always said he hadn't; but he usually had been, and his thumb had the telltale wrinkled skin to prove it. The father then examined the thumb and delivered a reproachful look or lecture. The thumb-sucking continued until the boy was at least ten years old because the thumb was one of his main consolations for his unhappiness.

In a society like ours, boys even in childhood are regularly in situations of being alone or anonymous, with the odds of a lie being detected not transparently high—unlike those of our thumb-sucker. Detection calculations, if that is the way a boy deals with a situation, are often going to yield a decision to lie. A more effective path is to reward every instance of honesty that takes special courage or other virtue, establishing honesty as an aspect of character that every person should honor and cultivate.

When Not to Tell the Truth

Preschoolers, with their somewhat inflexible sense of rules and their developmental inability to see things from the perspectives of others, are apt to say truthful but embarrassing things in public. You may recall the preschooler I mentioned earlier who informed the police officer, over his father's protestations, that the father had been trying to steal a car.

Schoolboys, however, have begun to appreciate that the advantages of telling the truth vary from one person's perspective to another's. Parents can begin to discuss with schoolboys the kinds of situations when dishonesty in the form of what we call "white lies" is appropriate. A schoolboy asks a friend whether the schoolboy played soccer well that afternoon. The friend doesn't really think the boy did play well, but doesn't see any way to evade the question. If he tells the truth, he's going to hurt his teammate's self-confidence. Is it better to be truthful or to be reassuring? While an exaggerated compliment may backfire, no harm is done by being reassuring. The boy who reassures his pal with a white lie doesn't gain anything except the satisfaction of making his teammate feel better.

Only detailed discussion of possible situations can enable a parent and a son to refine an understanding of when and why a white lie is appropriate and when it is inappropriate or can be avoided by an effective and yet truthful strategy. These discussions will be all the more compelling to a boy if they are reciprocal—parents relating some of the situations they have confronted when white lies seemed to them the responsible thing to say.

From such discussions a boy might learn to say, "I think you're a good soccer player;' which might be true but not as true of today's game; or he might say, "I think you're a good player. You didn't have your best game today, but I'm sure you will next time," which could be both truthful and reassuring.

I had an early experience of a protective lie. Shortly after my sister was born, my mother's mother died. As if traumatized by this gain of a third child and loss of a parent, my mother fell into the first of several episodes of mental illness. Mental illness was more stigmatized then than now, and I never confided my mother's illness even to my closest friends. It's possible that some of them knew of it from other sources, but they didn't embarrass me by mentioning it. Until my junior year in high school, my mother suffered through, and recovered from, recurrent stretches of depression and other symptoms at home. Then she was hospitalized for the first time. My father instructed us children to say, if asked, that she was spending time at a dairy farm. Since mental illness was seen as shameful, a case could be made for protecting my mother—and us—from public gossip.

While my siblings were perhaps not old enough to understand, my father could have explained to me why it made sense to protect my mother's situation. Instead, his way of handling the situation within the family implied that he was ashamed of my mother's condition, and, by implication, we children should be ashamed of her, too. The lies we were instructed to tell might be regarded by some people as inconsequential white lies, but their effect on our family was significant: We lived as though we had something major to hide; we lived without the solace and perhaps the help that others might have offered us. When I think back to the nature of the community we lived in, I think that our situation would, if widely known, have generated sympathy and comfort.

Alcohol or drug abuse within a family often generates a household conspiracy to lie to cover up the situation. Sometimes the conspiracy doesn't even have to be articulated. Everyone besides the addict notices that everyone else is ashamed; tacitly, everyone agrees to be silent, or untruthful. Children of separated or divorced parents frequently get drawn into the conspiracies of one parent to hide facts known to the children from the other parent—"I'm dating Linda now, but I don't want you to tell Mommy."

Honesty and discretion get confusingly intertwined in family life at times. Parents obscure or deny certain facts about themselves or others in the family to their children; sometimes these are facts that, if known, would damage their children's idealized images of family members. At other times, information is withheld because parents don't trust the children to handle it discreetly outside the home. Their concern isn't unrealistic. Boys may be moved to brag or confess to their peers family information that their parents have very good reason to want to keep private.

The adults of each household have certain rights of privacy. One of their responsibilities is to determine what to divulge within the family about topics such as mental and physical health, family finances, marital conflict, job security or loss. In my clinical practice I have encountered situations in which parents shared more discretionary information with their children than the children could bear, creating levels of anxiety—because there was nothing the children could do to alter the situation—that impeded the children's development for years, even into adulthood. But many boys are capable, even in their school years, of handling some sensitive information if it is explained to them why it would be important not to broadcast the information outside the family.

Children also have significant rights of privacy, I believe, that bear on issues of honesty. When the appropriate privacy rights of everyone in the family are outlined and protected, incentives to dishonesty within the family cannot but decline. I still wince when I think of the story of a mother who came upon her adolescent daughter's private journal. Indefensibly heedless of her daughter's privacy, she read through the journal, finding there expressions of the sexual feelings and fantasies the daughter had experienced for her boyfriend. The mother confronted her daughter with the journal and forbade her ever to date the boy again; and I daresay the daughter learned never to trust her mother again.

"Abuse of truth ought to be as much punishment as the introduction of falsehood," said Pascal. The moral issue isn't, as one might suppose, between the always honorable truth and the always dishonorable falsehood. Truth can be used in a way that is profoundly inhumane. Falsehoods can be gently and lovingly protective without any adverse side effects.

When boys reach school age, they begin to have more complex peer relations in which many of the incentives to dishonesty already experienced at home are confronted but without as much adult guidance. Then, as we see, boys and girls begin constructing separate and intertwined social structures that by the adolescent years will be hiding as much from their parents as their parents ever hid from them.

Honesty and Parental Awareness

The four levels of parental awareness that we have seen earlier have bearing on the subject of honesty. At the first level—Me First—we see my father exhorting his children to lie if necessary to hide the fact of my mother's illness. He might have made the same suggestion based on a higher level of awareness—and therefore for different reasons—but I believe he acted most of all on the basis of his own needs. What he did, and why he did it, is more common than unusual.

The safeguards to honesty from courtroom procedures can also be related to levels of awareness. Courts handle conflicts between parties conducted on an adversarial basis. People who come to court are usually preoccupied with their own interests; they are in a Me First frame of mind. Courts work at the second level: Follow the Rules. These rules about honesty, contain sophisticated safeguards, but they are only rules, and rules can't distinguish between modest dishonesty of little consequence and lying with major consequence except by variations in punishment once people are found guilty. In other words, courts are basically concerned about whether you lied, not why you lied.

At the third and fourth levels of parental consciousness, a parent becomes aware of the needs of others and tries to act responsibly and respectfully in relation to those needs. If my father had considered our situation at Level Three, he would have been able to recognize his children's need to express our fears and fantasies about our mother's illness, our need to feel we were good children even though our mother was sick. His strategy meant that he didn't reassure us himself even as he cut us off from the possibility that others would reassure us.

Only at Levels Three and Four does a parent move past concern with whether a child lied and ask why he lied. Addressing the why usually gets to more important issues than whether. If the why can be clarified and resolved, the offending dishonesty will often cease. As I've indicated before, we all carry the lower levels of awareness with us when we act in accordance with the higher levels; we continue to feel the press of our own needs, and we continue to acknowledge the rules that we believe in; but we relate those factors to the needs of others and to the relationships we have with others.

Robert Coles, in The Moral Intelligence of Children, tells about one classroom situation in which it was hard to find a solution because there was no common agreement about application of the rules and the why question was raised in a way more to try to exonerate the alleged offender than to understand her motive. The central character of the story was a fourth grade girl, Elaine, who excelled in the classroom and in athletics, was popular and attractive, and lived in solid upper-middle class comfort. She was especially admired by her teacher, who had written a published article about Elaine's accomplishments in math and science, subjects that boys usually dominated in the teacher's classroom.

One day, a boy sitting beside her reported to the teacher that Elaine was using a crib sheet on a math test, and not for the first time. The boy had talked with his parents about Elaine's regular cheating, and they had suggested he discuss the matter with Elaine herself, but when he did so on two occasions she angrily denied cheating, accused him of jealousy, and called him a liar. The teacher acted surprised and irritated by the boy's accusation, despite the fact that he was delivering Elaine's crib sheet to her. She sent him back to his seat, gave him a look he regarded as reproving; he became upset over the rebuff and couldn't finish the test.

The boy's parents counseled him to let the matter drop, but Elaine began boastfully to tease him about the impossibility of his making his accusation stick. He felt the teacher was less friendly. He became more timid, apprehensive about the teacher's view of him. And he saw Elaine continue to cheat in other subjects.

Eventually the whole matter landed in the principal's lap because the boy's parents wisely felt they had to do something to protect his feelings and situation at school. His mother went to see the teacher, who rebuffed her for intruding on a situation the teacher felt she should handle in her own way without parental interference. When the teacher was unhelpful, both parents went to the principal. Though, as we shall see, the situation was really never resolved, the boy must have felt that his parents gave him and his honesty invaluable support at a time of confusion and self-doubt.

At least two other students in the class corroborated the boy's story that Elaine had been cheating. Before the principal, Elaine denied cheating, and suggested the boy must have a problem of his own. The teacher was angry that others were intruding on her classroom; she said Elaine was going through a stressful time—a beloved grandfather was ill, and her mother, a lawyer, had just lost a big case—and she would not acknowledge that Elaine had cheated in class, though she eventually said she had seen Elaine "fudge" a little in sports.

Coles, who was doing research at the school, was pulled into the situation as it became quasi-judicial. Gradually he felt that a problem essentially moral in nature was being psychologized away. If Elaine had cheated and lied about it—no one except a few of her classmates and the parents of one of them and Coles were willing to say that the evidence was convincing—then it must be a "psychiatric" problem rather than a moral problem.

As happens in many such situations, this one drifted out of focus rather than moved to resolution. Elaine and her parents had some family counseling on subjects other than cheating and lying. School went on. Elaine continued to excel, but she had her doubters among her peers. She had grounds for believing that she could continue to cheat, to lie about it if accused, with impunity.

This story is of particular interest because our gender stereotypes suggest it might have been the other way around: the star male student-athlete, the timid female who catches him cheating. Coles doesn't say what became of the boy who cried "Cheat." Yet in many schools today, where most of the teachers are female, boys believe that their eagerness, their competitiveness, and their sense of fair play are put down in favor of a superior feminine standard. Also, the unnamed boy in this story has done something impeccably honest yet often stigmatized because there is an informal social contract against it. The contract is to the effect that it's one thing to be caught cheating by the teacher—she has the rule on her side—but quite another to be nailed by a fellow student who is violating the understanding that it's us (students) against them (teachers).

I share Coles's judgment that it is best for everyone to confront situations such as these promptly, to prevent them from festering until they become public with attendant shame for the accused. While it may overstate the case to say that the integrity of the entire class is at stake, many students could well have taken away the wrong lesson about cheating.

The situation in Elaine's classroom does have a moral center to it, but it also has interpersonal dimensions that can't be ignored, and they have their moral implications, too. The teacher had made a star out of Elaine, and both the teacher and Elaine were living within that exaggerated expectation. The teacher exhibited some of the same impulse to protect Elaine from damaging exposure (and to stonewall or even punish someone who punctured Elaine's public reputation) that her parents did; any public shame Elaine suffered was, they appeared to fear, going to rub off on both the teacher and Elaine's family. The longer the situation played out, the more lies several people told until breaking the circle of dishonesty promised enough shame that no one had the nerve to bring it to resolution.

Coles's story raises the question of whether one aspect of the situation was that Elaine was trying to handle more than even a very bright fourth grader could. She had been built up as a star student, she was active in school sports, she was active in peer group leadership, she took riding lessons, and had extensive chores to do at home. Perhaps cheating began as a mechanism to help her cope with a too-full plate of activities. Many schoolboys and adolescents are under the same pressures: Their academics and sports and maybe a part-time job and peer group relations add up to a set of responsibilities they can't cope with. They begin to look for shortcuts.

Honesty, Trust, Intimacy

As I've tried to show in a variety of ways, honesty is a complex and subtle subject, not so much an end in itself as a means of being responsible and respectful to the needs of others and of oneself. When honesty is at issue, there is usually something about the situation that makes being honest an act of courage. It isn't easy to be honest. Often the easy way is some version of dishonesty, which is why the dishonest way is so frequently taken.

Honesty is a principal ingredient in any establishment of trust. One person can't trust another deeply without believing that the interaction between them will be carried on at a high level of honesty. Trustful relations can bear the occasional white lie to be sensitive to the feelings of others, but not habitual dishonesty. Beyond the damage it does in specific situations, the reason we all are anxious about dishonesty is that it erodes trust. What misrepresentation of the truth will the person who is known to have been dishonest next put forth? When? For what motive?

One of many places where the fragility of trust can be observed is in the scientific community. When a research scientist is accused of falsely manipulating experimental evidence, a ripple of shock runs through that branch of science. Because scientists are always building upon the work of others, it is extremely worrisome to think that some of that work might be unreliable or deliberately falsified.

In personal relationships, however, trust involves not just truth as accuracy but truth as vulnerability. And that is where many men, whatever their strengths, are apt to stumble. The exaggeration of the self, or misrepresentation of the self can be second nature to a man.

In his school years, when he begins to compare himself regularly to others, a boy's sense of himself, in some measure, exaggerates his best qualities and masks some of his deficiencies or limitations. As Robert Coles's story of Elaine showed. a teacher can contribute mightily to a student's idealized image and then conspire to protect the student from realities that might diminish that image. Parents likewise want to believe that their sons match the idealized images the parents have of them. Several teachers have told me of parents who simply couldn't accept that their sons might have done what their schools report they have done. The ideal sons in their heads couldn't be reconciled with the boys in real life.

These ideal images get intertwined with the understanding of what it is to love and to be loved. Boys may believe that they will be loved only to the extent that they live up to their idealized images, and that they can love others only to the extent that the objects of their affection, too, fulfill their idealized images. So they are tempted to lie about truths that might adversely affect the esteem in which they are held

When a parent and son build a relationship characterized by deep and dependable love, and that acknowledges the frailties as well as the strengths of each other. a boy will learn that some others can be trusted with the truth about him and that he can handle the truth about them.

P. Fitzgerald, "The Preacher's Life," New York Times, February 22,1998. Review of I. Klima, The Ultimate Intimacy, trans. A. G. Brian (New York: Grove Press, 1988).

Piaget Siegler, Children's Thinking, 33-34.

S. H. Cath, "Divorce and the Child: 'The Father Question Hour?'" in S. H. Cath, A. R. Gurwitt, and J. M. Ross, eds., Father and Child: Developmental and Clinical Perspectives (Boston: Little, Brown, 1982), 470-479. S. Bok, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (New York: Random House, 1978).

T. H. Johnson, ed., The Poems of Emily Dickinson (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1951).

Coles, The Moral Intelligence of Children, 34-51.

Discipline and Punishment

Men can lead perfectly honorable lives based on observing norms of behavior they have learned from others and that are promoted by, others - by their families or communities, or by their professions or the religions or philosophies they adhere to. But there is always a question of how men will behave in a situation beyond the direct influence of those institutions. Some individuals revert to behavior that is unworthy of their usual standards when they believe they can get away with it. Others, however, have deeper resources that enable them to remain consistent with their publicly scrutinized behavior. They have internalized values; their self-disciplined behavior doesn't depend on anyone's reminding them what the rules are.

Perhaps there is no more confused subject in childcare than the issues that swirl around discipline and punishment. In relation to character development, the word "discipline" has acquired several different meanings. As used most broadly, it connotes training, which corrects, molds, strengthens, or perfects - in other words, character formation itself, particularly as it is guided from without by a parent or mentor. ("Discipline" and "disciple" have the same root.) The word is also a synonym for punishment or chastisement - he was disciplined by being denied permission to play outside. Still another usage points to the control gained by enforcing obedience, the control implied, for example, in the phrase, "military discipline." Finally, the term can refer to rules or systems of rules that are meant to affect conduct. Except when used with the prefix "self," all of these meanings point to something that is imposed on a boy from outside and that relies heavily on rules of conduct.

Beating the Devil Out of Them

Would I be willing, an assistant attorney general in South Carolina wanted to know, to testify on behalf of a state action to close down a day-care center where children were being subjected to severe spanking? His call set off my pager a few years ago. Of course I will come, I replied, if the facts are as you allege. The facts are not in dispute, he said. It's the defense that has us perplexed. The day-care center is run by the minister of a fundamentalist church. He claims that spanking is endorsed by the Bible, and that it's essential to controlling misbehavior.

The case began in a small South Carolina town when the mother of a nine-month-old boy returned to work, entrusting him to the church day–care center several hours a day. She brought him home one afternoon during his first week at the center and found bruises on his buttocks and back when she changed his diaper. She immediately rushed the infant to the family physician, a general practitioner.

The doctor was in a quandary. The injuries were, obvious, and the mother's story was credible. The law was clear. If he suspected abuse or negligent care, he was required to inform the South Carolina child protection agency. But he knew the minister personally and many of his flock. If he offended the minister, the doctor might lose some patients. The day–care center rented space in a building he owned, so the doctor could lose rental income as well. His wife, who was also his nurse, prevailed on him to report the evidence, sparking an investigation.

The nine-month-old recovered quickly from his bruises, and his mother made other arrangements for childcare. State investigators were willing to allow the center to remain open if the minister and staff would agree in writing not to strike any of the children. "No deal," the minister said. "The Bible gives me the authority."

As an article in the Houston Law Review recently pointed out, a function of corporal punishment often stressed in evangelical Christianity is to break and conquer the will of the child. Our society as a whole, the article argued, overvalues pain as a stimulus of good character, and undervalues children.

Shortly thereafter, I flew to the state capital, conferred with child protection officials, and then rode with the attorney general for an hour and a half to the small town where the hearing was to take place. Several men in dark suits and equally dark expressions stood waiting our arrival, and followed us into the courthouse where I was sworn in by a rather young judge. The judge qualified me as an expert witness, noting that he had recently read an article a colleague and I wrote for the American Bar Association, critiquing a set of proposed standards for court practice in child abuse cases. (I understood he was both complimenting me and warning me not to assume, just because I came from a Harvard-affiliated hospital, that my opinion would automatically prevail.)

Did I have an opinion on whether the admitted spanking was abusive, the attorney general asked. It was, I replied. There was no mistaking the severity of the bruises described in the medical report. A nine-month-old infant, I testified, is not certain when his mother leaves the room whether she will ever return; he hasn't achieved what pediatricians refer to as "object constancy." When a person or object disappears, an infant doesn't understand that it continues to exist and, in the case of his mother, will come back. When his mother leaves him in a strange place, he may be terrified until he comes to trust the strangers taking care of him, and also trust that his mother will return. He will almost certainly cry, maybe for extended periods of time. He was spanked because he wouldn't stop crying. The spanking could only terrify him more, and prolong his crying. It was fortunate that he didn't suffer fractures or internal organ damage.

"Doctor Newberger," the black-suited defense attorney asked loudly, drawling out each syllable to its breaking point as he approached me, book in hand, "have you ever seen this book?" I was so amused by his play to the spectators that I almost broke into a grin; he was marking me out as a carpetbagger, probably a liberal, unreligious Jew, coming down to Carolina to tell good Christian Southern folk how to raise their children.

"Yes, I have. It's the Bible." Handing his book to me after using one of its many colored ribbons to find a passage in the Book of Proverbs, he asked me to read aloud verse 24 from chapter 13: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes:' This passage isn't exactly the traditional adage of "spare the rod, spoil the child," which was enunciated in the early sixteenth century (John Skelton: "There is nothynge that more dyspleaseth God, Than from theyr children to spare the rod.") And further popularized by Samuel Butler in the mid-seventeenth century. But it's close enough not to quibble.

"What does that passage mean to you, Doctor?" I replied that the words spoke for themselves, but ought not to be taken, so to speak, as gospel truth that justifies spanking babies. There was no way, I asserted, that this baby could be regarded as disobedient. He was miserable and frightened, '° and completely unable to understand an order to be quiet. The hearing was astonishingly polite for someone accustomed to the combativeness of many Northern courtrooms. The minister testified that the baby had disregarded a command to stop crying. He obligingly showed how he held the baby and brought his huge hand down on the baby's bare back and buttocks. His demonstration made me wince. The defense presented only one argument: If a child misbehaves, the Bible gives specific warrant to spank.

The judge eventually ruled in favor of the state. He gave the day-care center the choice of following written guidelines that forbade any kind of corporal punishment, or of closing down. Faced with this choice, the minister accepted the guidelines.

The historian Philip Greven has written a book, Spare the Child, showing the powerful connection between apocalyptic religious thought (which emphasizes a stark contrast between the forces of good and the forces of evil in the world, and anticipates a dramatic conclusion to human history in which the good will be rewarded and the evil destroyed) and the practice of corporal punishment of children. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom's aunt reflects on this long and deeply embedded view in Western culture of the value of spanking in character formation:

Hang the boy, can't I never learn anything? Ain't he played me tricks enough like that for me to be looking out for him by this time? But old fools is the biggest fools there is. Can't learn any dog new tricks, as the saying is. But, my goodness, he never plays them alike two days, and how is a body to know what's coming? He 'pears to know just how long he can torment me before I get my dander up, and he knows if he can make out to put me off for a minute or make me laugh, it's all down again, and I can't hit him a lick. I ain't doing my duty by that boy, and that's the Lord's truth, goodness knows. Spare the rod and spite the child, as the good book says. I'm a-laying up sin and suffering for us both, I know. He's full of the old scratch, but laws-a-me! he's my own dead sister's boy, poor thing, and I ain't got the heart to lash him, somehow.

One married couple I talked to have three sons, aged eleven, fifteen, and seventeen. When I asked the McCrays how they have dealt with discipline in their family, Terry spoke for herself and her husband, Tom. "We've never really agreed about it. My husband went to Catholic schools all his life. He saw lots of spanking and he believes in it. But he's six-feet-four and weighs two hundred pounds and has a temper with the boys, and even though they know he loves them, he can be frightening. Sometimes the punishments he wants are way out of whack, so I have to step in and stand up to him. We've never tried to hide our disagreements from the boys. To a degree, I've had to encourage them to stand up to him as a way of keeping him under control. With the boys, I've tried to show them when punishment is justified. `If you feel that something's unfair,' I say to them, `you can stand up for yourself, but when you're being justly punished, you need to recognize that."' "Did you ever use corporal punishment with the boys?" I asked. No. Terry said. I wouldn't allow it. My husband didn't agree, still doesn't agree, and we've argued about it, but I've said no." Countless adults like Tom McCray appear to believe that punishment is an indispensable ingredient in building good character, particularly for boys. Many traditions and laws, beginning, as we just saw, with the Bible, endorse physical punishment. The twenty-three states that still authorize teachers in public schools to paddle or spank children who have misbehaved are mostly in the Southern tier, the Bible Belt. (A 1994 U.S. Department of Education survey estimated that more than 478,000 students, some as young as age five, were punished by being hit at school that year.) Unless physical punishment of children at home is done so aggressively as to seriously injure the child, it is not considered child abuse in most legal jurisdictions.

How Violence Begins

Terry's worry that Tom might fly out of control is well taken, as I know from experience. I see enough instances of parents' losing control in my work on child abuse that I always take serious heed when a parent mentions it. When a mother uses the word "frightening," she often is referring to more than the kids. When hitting by adults goes on in a family, it typically spreads in many directions. Parents hit children. Children hit one another. Fathers hit mothers. Mothers hit fathers. Children hit parents.

The first experience many children have with violence is when they have annoyed or enraged an adult caring for them. A mother came to Children's Hospital in Boston in the middle of the night with her three-month-old son, Robert. She showed a nurse and doctor on duty in the emergency room a reddened patch on the baby's left cheek, and told what she thought had happened. The baby had awakened an hour earlier, she said, and it was her husband's turn to get up, go into the nursery adjacent to their bedroom, give the baby a bottle, and comfort him back to sleep. In her half-awake state, she thought she heard a slap, she said. She went into the nursery, saw the red mark on Robert's cheek, bundled him into the car, and drove to the hospital.

The emergency room staff admitted Robert for two reasons: for observation, because had the force necessary to create this bruise also been applied to other parts of his body that don't reveal bruising marks so quickly-the abdomen, for example-there could be serious underlying organ damage; and for protection, because it looked as though he might be in danger at home.

Early the next morning, my pager sounded. The pediatric resident from Robert‚s ward was on the line. Would I see an infant boy just admitted with a suspicious injury. An hour or so later, after reviewing the hospital records and examining Robert, I was on my way back from Robert's room to my office when I was stopped by a distinguished member of the hospital's senior pediatric staff who had just accepted Robert as a private patient.

"Eli," he said, "I knew you would be coming to consult on this case, but I have to tell you I have a problem with it." I asked him what the problem was. "Well, perhaps the problem is mostly mine, but I don't want to call this a case of child abuse. I'd rather call it an accident:

"Can you tell me about the family?" I asked. My colleague said that the father of Robert was a physician in another of Boston's teaching hospitals, a man known for his dedication to his patients, a hardworking man, a good man. The unstated but obvious implication was that public knowledge of the episode could adversely affect a colleague's career.

"Shouldn't we," I asked, "consider the downside for the doctor's career if he were to injure the baby again, with graver consequences for the baby's health? Don't we have an ethical obligation to him, as well as to his son, to protect them both against a subsequent injury? Doesn't this include putting the cards on the table, and squaring with him about what appears to have happened?" Fortunately, my argument persuaded my colleague, and we made contact with the social worker assigned to the floor to initiate the necessary interviews. Both parents were interviewed separately during the next few days. It was evident that the doctor associated the birth of his son with a profound sense of his wife's lessening her attentions to her husband. Exhausted and overworked, he was angry at the infant's interrupting his sleep.

It all ended well. Robert did not have to be separated, for safety's sake, from his father, and he was not injured again. Individual and family therapy dealt successfully with the father's sense of pressure and loss of attention, and the family was helped to avoid a dangerous cycle of frustration and violence.

To Spank or Not to Spank

Many people still believe that under certain circumstances inflicting pain is necessary to teach a child to avoid dangerous objects or situations. I've heard this notion expressed in several ways over the years. A former director of the national child abuse center in the Department of Health and Human Services told of a couple who worried that their eighteen-month-old child approached the hot stove too frequently, ignoring their warnings. They chose to teach her not to do this by holding her fingers against the hot stove until she cried. She never went near the stove again. The story was told with pride. The toddler was the director's own daughter! "Caleb's Mom," an elementary school teacher, posted the following message on an Internet bulletin board devoted to child care:

When my son was a toddler, he was very adventurous, and would often attempt to squeeze past the front door and onto our porch, where stone steps awaited his fall. Verbal reprimands and redirecting his attention elsewhere were fruitless, as he attempted time and again to get out that door when my back was turned. Rather than allow him to experience for himself the consequences of wandering too close to those steps, I swatted him smartly a couple of times on his diapered behind and placed him in his playpen for a time-out! It took two more swatting before he became convinced of the certain connection between trying to get out the front door and the painful consequences, but after that, he needed no more reminders!

I have always saved physical discipline for situations similar to this-instances where his behavior is dangerous or could lead to serious injury or worse. At the age of six, Caleb was spanked soundly on the backside of his Levi's for following two older boys who led him up to the strictly forbidden train tracks behind our home. Although he well knew the train tracks were off-limits, he apparently needed a physical reminder beyond just a verbal explanation - and I complied! He knows well that these spankings are done with great concern and love and I have never detected any resentment or fear because of them. In fact, he will tell you himself that he well deserved his spanking for breaking such a critical rule!

Caleb's Mom's main concern is enforcing the rules. She sees herself as a loving parent who rarely uses spankings to enforce sticking to the rules. She resorts to spankings only when there is something risky about her son's behavior that she wants to deter him from repeating. Otherwise, she doesn't strike or cuff her son merely because she has lost her patience with him. Her concerns that Caleb not fall down the stone front steps as a toddler, or play on or near the train tracks behind the house as a six-year-old, seem at first thought to be only reasonable.

Most parents, I believe, would think her safety concerns in these instances appropriate. The very reasonableness of her approach, however, makes it a good springboard for raising the question: Is spanking, even for the sake of loving deterrence, the only or best method of nurturing a boy's character and capacity for making wise choices? Most parents of toddlers today spank or slap their boys at least occasionally when they misbehave. The amount of home spankings of school-age boys has diminished, but it certainly hasn't disappeared.

Sociologist Murray Straus has done pioneering research on corporal punishment and summarized the research of others. As he noted recently, the subject has been plagued by a central question of causality. A correlation between suffering corporal punishment and later aggression by the boys spanked has been documented for some time. The more he has received corporal punishment, for example, the more likely it is that a boy will hit his spouse when he grows up and marries. But does this connection demonstrate that corporal punishment causes a boy to become more aggressive, or is it simply those boys who are temperamentally more aggressive and challenging as children drive their parents to use corporal punishment because nothing else works?

Most American parents, Straus has found, do believe that corporal punishment works, that it produces compliant behavior and a boy of stronger character. Recent studies, however, offer strong support for the view that corporal punishment is a factor linked causally to later antisocial behavior by boys. When corporal punishment was employed at home with boys in one study, five years later they engaged in more fighting at school than boys who hadn't been spanked or slapped. Another study showed that 28 percent of 1,000 boys interviewed (average age fifteen) reported having been slapped by their parents during the preceding year, but 11 percent of these boys reported also hitting a parent during the same period. Slapping by parents, rather than decreasing the chances of being hit by an adolescent boy, increased the probability parents they would be assaulted by their own sons.

Other studies have shown that the more a child is hit as part of discipline, the more likely he will suffer depression in later years. Except in those unfortunately numerous cases where a boy is beaten so severely that he is injured physically, the consequences for millions of kids who are hit for punishment appears to be psychological damage and various forms of aggressive and antisocial behavior in later stages of their lives.

A study conducted by Straus himself offers an additional fascinating insight into corporal punishment. His study was prompted by the research of others showing that talking to children (including children who hadn't begun to talk themselves yet) is associated with an increase in neural connections in the brain and in cognitive performance. Talking to them, in short, fires up their brains more.

Straus theorized that when parents avoid corporal punishment, they must use verbal methods of behavior control (including the inductive techniques I shall discuss later), and the increased verbal interaction should enhance the child's cognitive ability. His research on almost 1000 children age one to four when he first tested them, followed by cognative ability tests four years later, showed that the children who were not hit increased in cognitive ability and the children who were hit fell behind the cognitive development of the others in proportion to how much corporal punishment they experienced. Straus writes, "I am convinced that if parents knew the benefits of not hitting their children and the risk they were exposing them to when they spank, millions would stop.... These benefits are not limited to enhanced mental ability. Studies in my book, Beating the Devil Out of Them, indicate that the benefits of ending corporal punishment are likely to also include less adult violence, less masochistic sex, a greater probability of completing higher education, higher income, and lower rates of depression and alcohol abuse."

Parents who hit their children are often unaware of effective alternatives. They may have uncritically accepted the advice of others that hurting is a necessary part of discipline. Spanking may be their default position, the method they unthinkingly resort to when they are aggravated by a child's behavior, and lose their self-control.

Straus mentions the 1979 law in Sweden that sets a national goal of eliminating corporal punishment. It says in part: "Children are entitled to care, security and a good upbringing. Children are to be treated with respect for their person and individuality, and may not be subjected to corporal punishment or any other humiliating treatment." The Swedes didn't stop there. They mounted a large public education campaign, emphasizing the objectives of discipline, including family harmony and a more civil society. Twenty years later, there is wide public acceptance of the policy, although at the outset there was controversy about the extent to which the government should involve itself in family life. A significant part of the law is that it is no punitive in its approach; no one is to be criminalized for corporal punishment that does not seriously injure a child. Instead, the methods to be used after known violations of the law are educational and therapeutic. To date, eight other countries have followed Sweden's lead. I think the United States should join them. Straus's passing reference to sexual masochism merits brief elaboration, for many other professionals, including myself, have been aware that spanking a boy's buttocks can lead to a confusion between sexual pleasure and corporal punishment pain. There are, as we know, men whose most intense sexual pleasure as adults is evoked by being spanked. But in a more diffuse way, many men's capacity for sexual tenderness is compromised to a degree by their mental association of sexual stimulation with the pain and shame they felt when they were spanked.

There are several alternatives to spanking as ways of punishing boys who have misbehaved. Some, which have their drawbacks, are verbal expressions of disappointment or condemnation; loss of privileges, including "grounding"; and "time-outs" when a boy is made to spend time by himself after misbehavior. For the most part, these are better methods than spanking, but they also have their limitations.

Timing, first of all, is important. Although parents will say that they have to punish whenever they learn about certain situations-for example, that a son ran impulsively onto a busy street several hours earlier–the most effective time to deal with acts that are dangerous or misconceived is immediately prior to their occurrence or just as they begin. Punishment often has no useful lingering effect when there is a substantial time break between behavior and response.

Verbal punishment usually consists of an attempt to shame a boy. It is a method that is hard to control-to make a certain point, without causing more than the desired effect. The adult who is doing it is often too overwrought to be able to choose words carefully. Shaming done with very general language-"You're no good:' "I wish you hadn't been born."-can be accepted and internalized by a boy so that it makes him feel bad about himself rather than about the misbehavior that provoked the shaming. Many times, a boy will feel that the shaming is excessive. It makes him feel mad, not sorry, especially when he reviews the experience in his mind later. Excessive shaming is associated with a propensity to violence, according to my psychiatric colleague James Gilligan, who theorizes that most violent behavior is a compensation for feelings of shame.

Time-outs-removing boys from the setting by sending them to their rooms, or to designated time-out places in the household-may be helpful when a young boy has lost self-control, and no other discipline is available. In many cases, the parent has lost patience, too. The time-out allows everyone to calm down. But when used indiscriminately, the frequency and length of the time-outs can easily become excessive. Also, time-outs may get linked to the threat of spanking: "If you don't stay in your room quietly, you're going to get a spanking!" Extended isolation of the boy may cut off opportunities to have a calm and helpful discussion with him of how the misbehavior happened and how he might avert it another time. By the time the time-out is over, life is moving on, and everyone may be hesitant to revisit the experience.

Loss of privileges, such as television, dessert, or games suffers from the same drawback as time-outs; the connection is gradually lost between the misbehavior and the punishment. I suspect that in many cases the loss of privileges isn't fully carried out; everyone decides to ignore it after a while. The method of withdrawing privileges is essentially negative: I can't communicate with you, and so I'll hurt you if you don't mind me. The positive counterpoint is: We all make mistakes, and you can trust me to help you do better in the future.

The Cycle of Hostility

Punishments achieve intended results better when they are not harsher than necessary to achieve compliance. Boys are punished more severely than are girls all through childhood. If punishments are much more severe than a boy believes is reasonable, compliance may be accompanied by fear and resentment that, in turn, might prevent a boy from adopting, for its own sake, the rule that is involved.

Children of highly punitive parents have been found to be particularly defiant and aggressive outside their homes. Harsh punishment's adverse effects include giving children adult models of aggression instead of adult models of restraint and kindness. Boys will tend to avoid, and of course to mistrust, adults who punish them severely, reducing the opportunities for friendly interaction with those adults. Harshness may work in the short term, and relieve an adult's feelings, but it often begets long-term failure.

Observations of boys who are aggressive at home have helped to identify how cycles of punishment and resistance to it grow. As a parent criticizes a boy for misbehavior and threatens punishment, the boy whines and refuses to comply. The boy's resistance is all the more predictable if his parents are unpredictable and inconsistent: Sometimes they follow through on their threats to punish, sometimes they don't. This reinforces in the boy's mind the possibility that if he keeps up his resistance long enough, his parents will give in and stop the threatening-and stop the punishing. A confrontation between them may end in a draw. Parent and child withdraw, feeling relief that the confrontation is over, but resentful that nothing has been resolved. Eventually a new misbehavior triggers a response of greater threats and greater resistance. Other members of the family may get drawn in, as everyone feels forced to take sides.

Boys who experience frequent confrontations with their parents over discipline may favor friendships with peers who are similarly resentful of their treatment at home-and so the circle of hostility moves beyond the home to the surrounding community. From these cycles, boys develop outlooks toward the world as being mean and hostile. They may begin to see hostile intentions even where they do not exist-for example, something truly accidental occurs, or friends are trying to be helpful and their attempts are misread. These unhappy boys may fall into a pattern of provoking and attacking others, stimulating further retribution. Boys as young as four years of age have exhibited bleak outlooks; when these boys enter kindergarten, they display much higher levels of aggression than their peers.

Dangers of Shaking

To stop babies from crying, parents or other caregivers sometimes shake them, holding their torsos and making their heads whip uncontrollably back and forth. It happens more frequently than most people think. The baby's neck musculature is relatively undeveloped, and his head is disproportionately large and heavy compared to the rest of his body, so the baby has little capacity to arrest the to-and-fro motions of his head.

The effects of shaking or striking the head are both immediate and long term. But unfortunately too many adults are unaware of the risks. The baby's brain is softer, and thus more susceptible to injury. Shaking actually causes the infant brain to bounce around inside the skull. Blood leaks out of its vessels and pools around the brain tissue. The brain cells swell, also increasing the pressure inside the skull. In extreme cases, blindness and neurological damage can result. All parents should be aware of the grave dangers of shaking a baby.

What Is Discipline For?

Enforcing acceptable behavior in boys is not enough, although I think most of us would settle for that once in a while. If our objective is to foster self-discipline and character in boys and the men they will become, then it would be well to consider how best to help boys-and men, too, for that matter--to internalize a sense of responsibility and obligation to treat others considerately; to get them to be mindful of how their interests, desires, and impulses affect others; to guide them into being men who care and who want to do right by others. It is no small challenge, this task of promoting moral understanding.

How does the capacity for moral understanding develop in a boy? One study has shown that when parents of one- to three-year-olds applied a discipline that communicated with kindness how the parents wanted their sons to behave, and the parents bestowed abundant praise when the boys succeeded, they reinforced the boys' desire to please and faced fewer behavioral problems when the boys were five.

In another study, children close to their third birthdays were shown a picture of a child stealing a playmate's apple (a moral violation) and a picture of a child eating ice cream with his fingers (a violation of social rule); the children were able to signal that stealing the apple was wrong in any circumstances. By forty-two months, children indicated that stealing the apple would be wrong even if the act weren't witnessed by an adult and the child hadn't been warned that stealing it could be wrong.

Studies by Turiel and others suggest that children don't depend entirely on parental instruction to derive a sense of what is right and what wrong. They have emotional reactions when they observe actions such as stealing. They somehow feel it is wrong before they have been instructed it is wrong. Parents and other care-giving adults can build on this intuitive sense.

Notions of "distributive justice"-how to divide things fairly-develop in the preschool years, with four-year-olds understanding the importance of sharing in curious, and in some respects contradictory, and self-serving, ways. Asked why he shared toys with a playmate, a four-year-old boy may reply, "I shared because if I didn't, he wouldn't play with me:" Fairness, at first, means the same amount for everyone. By age six or seven, fairness is seen by many boys as connected to deserving-for example, that some should get more because they've worked harder. Already, boys' conceptions of what is fair are being influenced significantly by the views of their peers.

Beginning at age four, boys' instrumental aggression (trying to get something, grabbing the toys of others, for example) begins to decline, but hostile aggression (trying to injure another person or hurt his feelings) is on the upswing. When boys fight each other, they are less likely to be labeled as aggressive by their parents than girls are when they fight each other. School-aged boys expect less parental disapproval for aggression than girls, and they feel less guilty about being aggressive than girls do. Even at age two, girls' aggressiveness is beginning to decline while boys' aggressiveness is staying constant, and parents are beginning to apply harsher punishment to boys than to girls.

Inductive Discipline: The Alternative to Punishment The attractive alternative to discipline by punishment is the employment of strategies that, as one authority on moral development put it, "lead children to focus on the actual standards that their parents are trying to communicate rather than on the disciplinary means by which the parents enforce these standards." In an influential 1994 article, Joan Grusec and Jacqueline Goodnow identified two steps in a child's processing of parental messages about the child's conduct. The first step is „understanding". If parents explain their reasons as they evaluate a child‚s behavior, the child will eventually comprehend the principles underpinning the messages. Such an approach is "inductive" because it begins with concrete events and moves from the concrete to the general. Events are discussed with a child as an exploration of what was wrong from the parents' point of view. The wrongness is explained in terms of the effect the misbehavior has had on others and/or on the child rather than only in terms of whether an established rule has been broken. Rules are discussed, but they aren't invoked as the beginning and the end of the discussions.

The opposite, or deductive, method is to establish a rule and then punish a child when he breaks it. In this method, it doesn't matter as much whether the child understands the reasons for the rule, while in the inductive method it is crucial. For the inductive method to work, there has to be consistent and informative communication between parent and child.

The second component of the inductive method is that the child has to accept the parents' views; how and whether he can accept them is affected by whether he believes that his parents' appraisal of his behavior is commensurate with his own. If a parent treats a boy's messy bedroom and a fight between siblings as being of equal gravity, a boy's agreement with that parent's judgment might justifiably be impaired.

Inductive discipline has to be centered in the basic relationship between the parent or other caregiver and the child. It doesn't begin with a problem. It begins with your love for your child, and his attachment to you and respect for you. Above all, you don't want to react to behavioral problems in a way that threatens that relationship. You want to protect the relationship steadfastly, even fiercely. You want your son to see that you are above all protective of him, and happy with him. From that central conviction, you praise his every achievement and reward his good behavior with approbation.

Even when the parent-child relationship is deeply rooted and loving, there will be episodes-perhaps even repetitive types of episodes-when your son's behavior is a problem. He may become oppositional as he tests his own wish for autonomy. He may play too aggressively with other children. He may disregard your suggestions in a way that embarrasses you publicly. The problems may be very trying (to him as well as you) at times.

Practicing the inductive method involves distinguishing feelings from behavior, beginning very early in a boy's life. Children's feelings are always recognized and responded to empathically in this method. "I know it's hard to share Mommy's attention with your baby brother." "I know you are angry when Ben refuses to share his toys." The behavior, the acting out of feelings, is what is subject to the setting of me, too." "But you can't take away his truck just because you want to play with it. Would you like to build a tower of blocks with me?"

Sensitive adults will remove their children from situations where other children have lost control, when that seems the best way to calm the situation. A mother of four-year-old twin boys who share their toys with each other so equably that they have a sense of fierce possessiveness only toward their special blankets and teddy bears, took them for a play date where the host child went into meltdown, crawled into his bed, and sucked his thumb for solace when the visiting children casually commandeered some of his favorite toys. She calmly put the twins' jackets on them and took them out for an ice cream treat and then home.

Employing the inductive method doesn't mean that you have to be passive or spineless. It is inevitable that you will have to set reasonable limits and to make a certain number of rules. But you will take care to acknowledge and deal respectfully with feelings when abiding by the rules is frustrating. One of the fathers I've talked to in the past year recalled his own boyhood in South Africa. "I was out with a bunch of kids during a holiday night," Nicholas Kriek said, "and we were running around the neighborhood doing crazy things. I must have been around twelve years old. We were throwing stones onto roofs, and when they bounced down we would run away.

"One of the other boys misjudged a throw, and his stone went through the front window of a house. Naturally, that wasn't funny. The family called the police. We boys all scattered in different directions. I managed to get home, but my father was there and had heard by telephone that the police were trying to find out who was in the group. He sat me down and said to me, `I'm going to make something very clear to you. If you ever do something you shouldn't, and get in trouble, I'm not going to rescue you. You have to pay the price for your own behavior.'

"I don't remember exactly what my response was," Nick continued, "but I think I was taken aback. Usually, boys think that their parents are going to rescue them no matter what. In some respects I've tried to be that kind of parent with my own boys. I show them that I love them unconditionally, and I try to provide every opportunity for them that I can, but I also tell them: If you misbehave and get in trouble with others, you have to deal with the consequences yourself."

I'll tell more later in the book about how this father's philosophy worked out with his boys, but here I just want to emphasize that the father's love for his son didn't prevent him from refusing to cover up any of his son's public misbehavior; their relationship of mutual love and respect was not damaged by this stand. Nick grasped the reasons for his father's position, and internalized them as his own: He, and eventually sons, must accept responsibility and the consequences for public misbehavior.

When actions, not just words, provide inspiration, one might call this inductive by example. One father put it this way: "When I was growing up, my mother stressed to me the importance of learning how to cook, wash, iron, sew. I became very self-sufficient. Now I do most of the cooking. I look after the children. I take care of my family, and I'm teaching Andrew all these things. He sees it. It might be annoying for him at times, but it's important that he make his bed every day and learn how to do the laundry. If I model it for him, eventually it will become natural for him. Later on, he will appreciate it." Andrew's dad reminds us here that discipline doesn't have to be limited to a set of mostly negative rules. Discipline is just as much a positive way of life.

The mother of eleven-year-old Brad Jefferson voiced to me another important aspect of inductive parenting. In deductive methods of parenting, there is enormous emphasis on keeping to the rules, whatever they are. The parent is supposed to win all the time. But in inductive parenting, where the preservation of love and respect is at the heart of the parent–child relationship, it doesn't seem so important for the parent to win every disagreement over behavior. "Brad is involved in student government, and one of their issues this fall was that the principal said no one could wear a hat in school. You know, no baseball caps worn backward, that sort of thing. The kids talked it over among themselves, and decided they would make a pitch for a change in the rule. Brad asked me my opinion. I said, `you already know what I think. I wouldn't vote for it. In the end the student council won one day when anyone could wear a hat. So I said to Brad, `You'd better be careful that this doesn't go too much further, or I might have to go down to the school and ask why the standards have loosened up, 'Really, this is just an example of where he clearly knows our opinion, and he thinks something different. We've all talked about it a lot, and we've agreed to disagree. For me, that's been a nice experience."


One of the readers of this book in its early stages was a school principal who said she was troubled by the very first story I told. You may recall that I recounted how my cousin, Sam, decided to sabotage the new housing development that was destroying a lovely forest next to his parents' theretofore pleasantly secluded home. Who paid for the damage, the principal wanted to know. Did I really want to begin my book with a story in which there was no restitution? Well, I did. One of the things I wanted to convey at the outset is that character isn't about perfection. We all do things we later regret, and that we believe were not typical of the choices we usually make. Sam was the acknowledged star of our extended family in my generation, the envy of everyone. And he went on to a distinguished career in public service that could only have been achieved by a person who had adopted very sound moral principles during his childhood and adolescence.

But the principal has a point. At the time, Sam and his family were preoccupied with the event as something that might lead to punishment and a damaged reputation. Where punishment orientations prevail, restitution is sometimes required, but as part of the punishment. When people switch from a punishment philosophy of discipline to inductive discipline, restitution becomes a much more prominent aspect of the situation. Now the emphasis is: whom and what have I harmed, and how may I make amends? This outward capacity to make amends requires an inner development of self-discipline-the capacity to ask: What are my responsibilities to others?

The goal of inductive discipline is to bring everyone involved back to a good relationship, having learned something about responsibility; that will be all the harder if the person who has caused harm isn't interested in restitution. Restitution of damage to property is important, but the restoration of relationships-often left in tatters when punishment has been administered-is even more critical.

I wish I had a better term for inductive discipline. The phrase sounds too cold or abstract for the humane purpose the phrase is meant to convey. But I hope I've shown what I mean by it. It involves both parent and child. The parent establishes a foundation for communication and trust. He, she, or they love, guide, teach, remind, set limits for behavior-and make mistakes; every parent-child relationship is strengthened when a parent acknowledges mistakes to his child, and makes amends. The boy learns the parents' values, takes them in, makes them his own, makes mistakes, begins to make amends for his mistakes, and begins to take responsibility for his own behavior. Eventually the boy's discipline will come as much from within as without.

The Key to a Man's Health - A Woman

Every physician remembers a few experiences where a patient’s recovery, a new treatment, or a startling insight from research challenges and changes the shape of the medical world. In pediatrics, for example, the amazing ability of many babies to restore themselves to health after devastating illness or injury gives doctors hope for the treatment of every infant. And more generally in medicine, the profound insights of modern science into the genetic origins of disease and the molecular physiology of illness have altered our very notion of longevity, not to say of the value of our work in elevating the quality of our patients’ lives.

For a pediatrician like me in an academic institution where children with grave and chronic conditions are brought for care, there is also the privilege of keeping one’s eyes open, not just in the office and at the bedside but in the elevator and in the waiting room. On my way to my sixth-floor clinic over the course of thirty years, stopping at the floors for the orthopedics, ophthalmology, ear, nose, and throat, and cardiac clinics, I observed holding close to nearly every child, no matter how awkward the gait, crossed the eyes, disfigured the face, or blue the skin, a mother whose touch, gaze, and voice gave comfort and the assurance of protection in that strange place. Certainly there were fathers in the environment, and not a few were engaged with their kids. More often, however, they too were being held by the hand and gave every impression of expecting similar love and consolation even as they, too, were being steered to the right office.

The lessons here, of the power of a mother’s love and how children can capture our hearts from the moment they appear in our lives, were powerful for me, the more so because my responsibility, once I alighted on the sixth floor, was to preside over a clinic where children, and their parents, were referred by other doctors, family service agencies, and courts for evaluations of concerns about child abuse and domestic violence. Here things had gone terribly awry, these loving relationships rent apart by excesses of power, impulse, and rage, with males doing most of the damage. And not just to their loved ones, to themselves as well. Sometimes, their lifelines to partners and offspring nearly completely severed, they became even more dangerous, to the children’s mothers especially. We started a battered women’s advocacy program in this clinic in 1986 when for the first time we appreciated the risks. It was in this setting that I was inspired to write my own book about boys and men, one that has never been written, despite its memorable title: “Bad Men – And How to Avoid Them.” Perhaps it is just as well.

We males are curious creatures. From infancy, we are preoccupied with locating ourselves in the pecking order. Our rough and tumble play, risk-taking, and passionate pursuit of winning the game of life set us up for injury, rejection, and isolation. The poet Anais Nin asked in The Four-Chambered Heart, “Why do men live on shoals?” As we grow up, our struggle to find and define ourselves pitches us in and out of jobs, relationships, and marriages. It’s hard for us to stay the course; far more of those fathers in the elevator on the way to the sixth floor seek divorce, for example, than fathers of children in good health. We men live shorter lives, not least because we don’t take care of ourselves. With reason, it is said that few of us really ever grow up.

Recently, a manuscript came across my desk that provoked a burst of insight and reshaped my doctor’s world in a way that compared to any clinical experience in my 38 year career. A physician-journalist for the CBS television network, Emily Senay, discovered, from her unique perspective as a discerning connoisseur of medical science, as well as daughter, spouse, and mother, that not only do most men remain boys at heart, but that the keys to their health and survival are held by women. In one volume, From Boys to Men, Dr. Senay assembled a compendium of information that turns on its head all previous notions of where the real power resides and who conducts the most important interventions to advance the health of boys and men.

Surely it is time that these women -- mothers, sisters, partners, daughters -- are given the respect they deserve, serious attention to their questions and concerns and focused transmissions of the knowledge they need. In pediatrics, one of the lessons learned from the American experience with malpractice suits, is that when you don’t attend carefully to a mother’s observations and concerns, your patient – and you – may be in for serious trouble.

More generally in medicine, I believe, we can enlarge our perspective, and include our male patients’ life-giving female connections as we address the recent and past medical history and design their programs of treatment,

The aphorism attributed to Victor Hugo, “Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time as come,” bears mention here. Were we doctors to embrace the women in boys’ and men’s lives as partners in our efforts to prevent and treat the illnesses of men, we would magnify our, and their, salutary power. For it is they, not we, who are the key to a man’s health.


Senay, E. From Boys to Men: A Woman’s Guide to the Health of Husbands, Partners, Sons, Brothers, and Fathers. New York, Chares Scribner’s Sons, 2004

Treating this Heavy Midlife of Men

“How heavy this life, the life of men. Is it true they cannot raise one eyebrow without the other? So weighted with their work, eagerly curving their shoulders to the contours of the yoke. A world dry to tears and bleached of color. One never hears the wind chimes or the music of jewelry. In the mornings they brush away their dreams like flies. There is no carpet and no grass over the rough brown boards of their existence. Perhaps, never owning more than two pairs of shoes, the richness of life has escaped them.”

When Anais Nin uttered this delicious send-up of the constrictions of male experience in her book, “The Four-Chambered Heart” (1950), she presaged current discussions on male development. It served me well when I was looking for an introductory epigram to a discussion of male identity at the threshold of adulthood (Newberger, 1999). I think it applies even better here.

Nin asserts that the life of men is heavy, and I think she’s correct, starting with how we are wired. Male readers of this article have all had the unsettling experience of walking into a room full of people, eyeing the other guys, and wondering, “Can I take those guys?” or “Am I going to be a victim?”

Where does this come from? All behavior, and the ways we make meaning of experience, derive from both nature and nurture. Beasts that we are, we also have a capacity for conscious reflection, and for making behavioral choices. In my view, character is that it is all about choice, especially in the face of moral challenge, when you have to reconcile your own desires, needs, and impulses against the needs and rights of others.

But many generations of evolutionary adaptation are woven into our bodies’ cells, and scripted into how we respond to the hormones that course through our veins. We males have a particular, built-in need to locate ourselves in a dominance hierarchy, or pecking order, in every relational situation. I think therapists too often neglect this biologically determined aspect of our nature. In midlife, our genetic heritage affects the major challenges men must face: sustaining life-giving relationships; maintaining a sense of personal potency; finding fulfillment within and outside the workplace; and coming realistically to terms with the limits of one’s capacities.

Deriving from my research on male development, I believe that there are five essential elements in earlier life experience that make for strong, admirable male character. I will list them and give some thoughts on how this foundation applies to the treatment of men at midlife.

First, and most important, a male in childhood needs at least one adult in his life who is crazy about him, who through love and sustained involvement will assure him of his worth, and who will always respect him and give priority to his needs and views, and who will advocate for him when needed. This person (or even better, persons) need not be a biological kinsman. A committed therapist can play this role for the man for whom midlife is an experience of work and sensory and relational isolation.

Second, on this relational core, beginning in earliest childhood, males need to learn words with which to characterize, sense, and express a full range of feelings. In my work on domestic violence, I have been constantly struck by the extraordinary absence of affective sensibility in abusive men, most of whom would not recognize a feeling if they ran into it on the sidewalk. Why should violent men not sense emotion? Because it has been forbidden to them, both by how they were brought up, and because of the rage, anxiety, and, most of all, the powerlessness associated with witnessing their mothers being emotionally and physically assaulted. In search of mastery and a sense of personal power, they seek dominance in relationships and invulnerability to having their nurturing needs cut off.

Selma Fraiberg (1959) coined the concept of “word magic.” Just as we can show babies and toddlers picture books of kids expressing emotions, we can help men “get in touch with their feelings” by, quite literally, insisting that they talk about them and attach words to them. I also believe, from my own experiences as a musician, that performing and listening to music, and engaging in other aesthetic pursuits, can build one’s sensory vocabulary, if not create a harmonious balance in one’s heavy life (Newberger, 1999).

Third, boys – and men – need to be protected from exposures to violence. It’s a mean, cruel world out there for many, if not most, males. Longitudinal research suggests that aggression as about is stable a developmental quality as is intelligence, and it can start as early as two years old (Cairns & Cairns, 1994). These are the boys who, as you walk with them by a movie marquee, have to be pulled away from the violent posters. They become the men who, in midlife, continue to see the world as a hostile place, and who often misconstrue every social relationship as carrying a portent of threat.

Fourth, children and adults can have their lives transformed by the experience of giving back. Not a few of us go into human service because of our solicitude for our ill loved ones when we were growing up. Robert Coles (1997) cites Dorothy Day, the visionary Catholic advocate for the poor, who spoke of the revelatory moment when college-aged volunteers came to see that the helpless help the helpers more than the helpers help them . For the men who seek our care for life’s dissatisfactions, I propose that here are great opportunities to find meaning in life.

Fifth, and finally, males need to learn self-control, and “inductive discipline” (Grusek & Goodnow, 1994) is the best approach to foster it. There’s a widespread misbelief that it is manly to “do what you have to do,” even if it hurts someone. Men may feel regret afterwards if this happens, and may be moved to apologies. But they may never come to see that behavior actually involve choices. Nor may they arrive at a point of internalizing a sense of responsibility to others, arguably the most important attribute of admirable character. The task is continually to reflect on one’s behavior toward others, and to make amends if one offends. Too many therapists foster a sense of entitlement, if not narcissism, in men, by focusing only on their individual unfulfilled needs and expectations.

Walter Lipman, in his 1929 book, “A Preface to Morals,” noted: “In all the great moral philosophies from Aristotle to Bernard Shaw, it is taught that one of the conditions of happiness is to renounce some of the satisfactions which men normally crave.” Add to this the positive notes suggested by Anais Nin, and I believe you have a prescription for a fuller, if not a lighter, life of men.


Cairns, R.B., & Cairns, B.D. (1994). Lifelines and Risks: Pathways of Youth in our Time. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Coles, R. (1997). The Moral Intelligence of Children. New York: Random House, 191-196.

Fraiberg, S.H.(1959) The Magic Years: Understanding and Handling the Problems of Early Childhood. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Grusek, J.E. & Goodnow, J.J. (1994). Impact of parental discipline methods on the child’s internalization of values: A reconceptualization of current points of view. Developmental Psychology 30, 4-19.

Lippman, W.(1929). A Preface to Morals. New York: Macmillan, 156.

Newberger, E.H. (1999). The Men They Will Become: The Nature and Nurture of Male Character. Cambridge: Perseus Publishing.

Newberger, E.H. (1999). Medicine of the Tuba, in Doctors Afield. New Haven, Yale University Press, 67-74.

Nin, A. (1950). The Four-Chambered Heart, cited in Goethals, G.W., & Klos, D.S.(1986) Experiencing Youth: First-Person Accounts, 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 340.

©2007 Eli Newberger

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