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'90s FAMILY | REAL LIFE

They're Made of Snakes and Snails and . . .

September 29, 1996|LYNN SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Should boys be raised differently from girls?

Absolutely, according to the author of a controversial new book, "The Wonder of Boys" (G.P. Putnam's Sons).

Michael Gurian, a Spokane therapist, rests his case largely on biological and anthropological evidence that supports what many parents report--that their sons seem to have come from the planet Testosterone. Who hasn't seen girls pick up sticks and dress them in Barbie clothes, while boys use them to play Gulf War?

There are so many exceptions that sometimes Gurian adds quotes around the word "boys," but he insists that on average, boys, as a group, have a definite nature marked by needs to express aggression and independence and to bond in groups.

In our necessary move away from a patriarchal society, we have ignored boys' needs to their and our peril, he suggests. "We forgot that boys are authoritarian creatures and hierarchical creatures. We've forgotten what a boy is made of."

Emotionally disturbed boys outnumber girls 4 to 1, learning disabled boys 2 to 1. By the age of 9, most boys have learned to repress all primary feelings except anger, and for many rage becomes the way to show pain, fear or hurt. They are twice as likely as girls to be victims of physical abuse, three times as likely to be victims of violence. They continue to fill jails and impregnate girls.

But rather than try to change boys, Gurian says parents and teachers need to work with their nature, providing discipline and direction to help them expand their skills and use them for good. While girls essentially need safe spaces in which to relate, "The essence of a boy is that he wants a safe space in which to perform," Gurian says.

He also contends that when verbal discipline methods fail, adults need to speak louder and more firmly with boys or even get physical. "Boys are so experiential, they're not processing feelings in their heads. . . . I teach spank in order to get attention and regain authority and diffuse the immediate crisis," Gurian says. "Don't spank to hurt."

By puberty, boys are processing five to seven surges of testosterone per day. Gurian says adults need to have constant conversations with them about sexuality, including masturbation as a natural human function, and respect for women.

Contact sports and spending time in the wilderness are activities they need. And because they don't trust women the way they did as babies, they now need male leadership.

But the things that often work with boys--heavy authoritarianism, for instance--frighten some mothers who fear more of the same patterns that brought them domestic violence, war and football widowhood. Recently, one woman listening to Gurian speak left in anger, saying, "I've spent 25 years as a feminist fighting men like you."

Gurian says women fear male culture. In his experience, the vast majority of men will be adequate role models for boys. Female culture, he contends, needs to reassess its standard of dangerous men.

* Lynn Smith's column appears on Sundays. Readers may write to her at the Los Angeles Times, Life & Style, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053 or via e-mail at lynn.smith@latimes.com. Please include a telephone number.

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