Meg Meeker, an American pediatrician, wife, and mother, has written a second book about
parenting that will be very unpopular with those devoted to the premise that there are no
natural differences between boys and girls. But for those who believe that mothers and fathers
play different, complementary and essential roles in the raising of children, Boys Should Be
Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Health Sons, is an insightful and thought-provoking look at what sons need from their parents, and how
families and our culture shortchange many young men.
Dr. Meeker’s first parenting book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, published in 2006,
discussed the importance of the father-daughter bond to young women. This time, she turns
her attention to boys, from preschool until young adulthood. Parents who have raised both will
already know some of the differences between sons and daughters. Meeker shows there is a
medical basis for a lot of these differences, stemming from differences in physiology, brain
activity and hormones. These differences can’t be wished away – nor should they be.
For example, children and teens of both sexes are heavy users of electronic media these days,
but they use technology differently. Where girls are more likely to enjoy internet chat rooms
and music, boys generally prefer interactive video games and visual content online. Boys are
more drawn to violent movies and games than girls, but they are also more vulnerable to them.
Many boys naturally become more aggressive after age two; at the same time they are less
verbal than little girls, so teaching them not to resort to blows or tantrums when frustrated or
angry is one of the major tasks of parenting. Dr. Meeker cites research that shows when boys, who are already prone to acting out, are exposed to video games and media that present violence as
acceptable, even commendable, the results can be disastrous.
More time in front of a screen means less time playing outside, traditionally a staple of
childhood. Sports, whether in a formal, competitive league or a pick-up game with
neighbourhood kids, are invaluable for boys. Besides improving fitness and health, they teach
boys how to channel their physical and emotional strength, which can otherwise seem
unmanageable, or even frightening, into something productive they can control. Organized
sports teach boys how to be part of team, and recognize their strengths and weaknesses
compared to teammates their own age.
Casual games on the playground give boys the chance to interact with older and younger
children, to learn from the more advanced players, and to teach and mentor the younger ones.
Both forms of activity are essential, and serve a far more important role than just providing
Perhaps the most valuable part is Dr. Meeker’s discussion of healthy teenage behaviour. The
physical and psychological changes of adolescence are exhausting for parents and teens alike,
and conflict over boundaries and independence, periods of moodiness, and a strong preference
for the company of friends instead of family are all normal. Often, though, stereotypes of
hostile and defiant adolescents combine with parental reluctance to act as a disciplinarian, with
the result that parents shrug off serious behaviour problems as a natural part of growing up.
Uncontrollable anger, and prolonged and severe irritability, are two symptoms that can indicate
major depression, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Dr. Meeker’s point is not to label
teenage boys, but rather to emphasize parents need not accept worrisome behaviour as
Boys Should Be Boys makes other common sense points —children don’t simply need two
parents, they need their own father and mother, because they learn different things from each.
A father is a boy’s first and most important teacher about what it means to b e a man; and,
pointing to the growing numbers of adult men who struggle to find happiness within marriage,
Dr. Meeker reminds us that boys learn to love and be loved by a woman from their mothers.
Men who have a poor relationship, or none at all, with either parent will find it much harder to
become fulfilled husbands and fathers themselves, she says. Neither is religion an optional
extra, when it comes to raising young men. As very recent research shows, faith gives children a tremendous advantage when it comes to avoiding delinquency—things like dropping out of school, arrests, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, or joining gangs, but beyond that, boys respond well to the clear boundaries and moral guidance they find at church.
Dr. Meeker’s perspective has helped her to write a book brimming with love for boys and young
men, and empathy for the mothers and fathers who raise them. Boys Should Be Boys is a
helpful resource for parents and teachers. It’s also an interesting read for anyone concerned
with how our culture—ours schools, our government, our churches—treats those with an X and
a Y chromosome—and why it matters.
Rebecca Walberg is a Winnipeg-based writer and policy analyst. This article was first published by the Institute of Marriage and Family, Canada, and is reproduced here with permission.