We all know what boyhood should be. We carry the iconic images of Huck Finn, of boys trading baseball cards and carrying slingshots in their back pockets, of tree houses and “no girls allowed.” If we’re parents of sons we know what it’s like to see a boy with the instincts to be a leader, a protector, a provider; to be a hero and thwart the villains. Toddler boys don’t need any prompting to pick up twigs and use them as swords.
As a mother and pediatrician, I’ve seen iconic boyhood come to life both at home and in my clinical practice. But for too long, we’ve tried to kid ourselves in the name of equality that boys and girls are the same, or that we need to push girls to be more aggressive, competitive and focused on math and science. We think we need to temper boisterous boys to be more submissive, cooperative and quiet. Of course, as a woman and a doctor, I encourage girls to improve their science scores, but what is wrong, and what can be seen in too many social indicators, is social engineering that tries to change our children in to something they were never meant to be. My previous book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, discusses the challenges facing our daughters. But if anything, the challenges facing today’s boys are even greater, because we’ve been shortchanging the needs and attributes of boys.