Books to Help Steer Bully Boys to a Better Path

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(The Vancouver Sun, July 22, 2002)

Q: I’m worried about my 12-year-old son. This year at school he’s been bullied, he’s been a bully, and is always in trouble for violent behavior. I know it’s because we have been dealing with some problems at home and he is very angry. He also isn’t very confident. I want to help him with this before it gets worse, but it’s so hard to get him to talk about it. Are there any books you’d recommend for me to read?

Saleema: Yes! Parents of boys are often frustrated by the imbalance of resources for girls vs. boys, but there are actually some great boys’ empowerment books available. Here are some suggestions to get you through the summer, and good for you for recognizing that your son’s aggressive behavior needs to be addressed pronto.

Real Boys: Rescuing our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, by William Pollack (Published by Yankee Publishing, 1999, ISBN 0805061835)

Noting that many boys conceal their painful feelings, Pollack looks at how society’s contradictory messages create boys who are in crisis. Addressing topics like boys and their fathers, friends and mothers, school, sports, depression, divorce, and alcohol and drugs, he suggest ways of increasing boys’ self-esteem and encouraging them to communicate. Your son may be interested in reading Pollack’s follow-up, Real Boys’ Voices (Published by Zebra Bouquet, 2001, ISBN 0141002948). This book, Pollack talks to boys of all ages about their struggles during adolescence. The Real Boys’ Workbook (Published by Villard Books, 2001, ISBN 0375755268) is also available, and offers parents, counselors and boys themselves strategies for dealing with problems.

Angry Young Men: How Parents, Teachers and Counselors Can Help Bad Boys Become Good Men, by Aaron Kipnis (Published by Jossey-Bass, 2002, ISBN 0787960438).

Writing from personal and professional experience, Kipnis offers specific advice for adults to help at-risk boys become strong, productive, caring and compassionate men.

A Fine Young Man: What Parents, Mentors and Educators Can Do to Shape Adolescent Boys into Exceptional Men by Michael Gurian (Published by Tarcher, 1999, ISBN 0874779693).

In this book, Gurian focuses in on the challenging ages of 10-20, the critical period when males are most at risk for addiction, violence, mental illness and emotional neglect. He shows parents and other adults how to guide boys into manhood, and calls for a shirt in societal attitude. Gurian is also the author of The Wonder of Boys (Published by Tarcher, 1997, ISBN 0874778875), a book that addresses the importance of recognizing the biological and neurological differences between boys and girls when dealing with behavioral issues.

Safe Teen: Powerful Alternatives to Violence, by Anita Roberts (Published by Polestar, 2001, ISBN 1896095992).

Based on the material taught to both boys and girls in Roberts’ SafeTeen workshops, this book includes a chapter on the societal pressure boys feel to demonstrate power through violence. Roberts’ provides exercises and teaches skills that boys can use to deal with conflict effectively and assertively.

Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson, Ph.D. (Published by Ballantine, 2000, ISBN 0345434854).

The authors of this book feel that boys are often raised to be strong at the expense of their emotional strength, neglecting emotional well being. When these boys reach their teen years, they often cut themselves off from friends and family, pursue unemotional sexual encounters and use aggression and drugs as ways of coping with frustration. Raising Cain teaches parents how to provide children with the emotional education they need to grow into well-rounded adults.

This is by no means an exhaustive list—if any of you parents have come across any other good books let us know! As for empowerment programs for pre-teen boys, you may want to check out “The Unloading Zone” at Dunbar Community Centre. This program focuses on stress and anger management as well as self-esteem issues among boys.