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The Purpose of Boys: Helping Our Sons Find Meaning, Significance, and Direction in Their Lives [Paperback]

Michael Gurian

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Book Description

10 Sep 2010
The final and conclusive book in the groundbreaking series on boys and their development In this climax to his series of landmark books about boys, Michael Gurian offers a powerful new program to help us give our sons a core purpose–a program based on building morality, character, career goals, the ability to form intimate relationships, selflessness, personal and community responsibility, and an accelerated process of developmental maturity. Gurian reveals how important purpose is for the success and happiness of boys and explains how a boy′s core personality, nature, and genetic predisposition functions to create both strengths and weaknesses in their journey towards maturity. Includes an innovative program for support and interventions according to the unique needs, weaknesses, and strengths of each individual young man. This book is the follow–up to Gurian′s bestselling The Minds of Boys Draws on the latest science and field research on how boys develop neurologically Gurian explores the unique issues boys must confront, and shows how their strategy for moral development and success in life is predicated on their nature and genetic predispositions.

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Family therapist, author and boy advocate Gurian ( The Wonder of Boys ; The Minds of Boys ) observes that many boys are struggling to find a sense of purpose, and society has not sufficiently stepped up to the plate to help. Gurian paints a grim picture of boys who have lost their footing; many are failing in school; turning to drugs, alcohol or gangs; and engaging in violent behavior. Gurian attributes this disturbing trend to a lack of purpose and urges parents to help their male offspring channel their energies into productive lives. By employing a three–family system, Gurian argues, parents can join together with other adults—leaders, mentors, coaches—and such institutions as schools and churches, to help boys refocus and get back on track. The author offers practical suggestions for helping parents address boys′ needs, tackling such issues as sexuality, work and overuse of electronic media. Particularly useful are Gurian′s boxed questions for discussion, which will help parents and educators communicate directly with boys themselves. He also includes suggestions to help boys succeed in academic settings, for example, using movement, project–driven curricula and debate. Gurian′s team approach to raising a son gives parents the tools and encouragement they need to help boys find direction and fulfillment. (Apr.) ( Publishers Weekly , March 2, 2009) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Inside Flap

From Michael Gurian, the groundbreaking author of the best–selling books The Wonder of Boys and The Minds of Boys , comes the final volume in his definitive trilogy on boys. In this remarkable work, Gurian presents a tool kit for parents who want to discover how to inspire the ultimate fulfillment of their son′s life. As he explains, purpose is vital for the success and happiness of every boy. Throughout the book, Gurian shows how parents can help boys build motivation, character, selflessness, meaningful and intimate relationships, a sense of responsibility to family and community, pride in their own good work, and mental and physical health. Based on the latest scientific research regarding how boys develop neurologically, The Purpose of Boys reveals what it takes to best support boys and address their unique needs, weaknesses, and strengths. The book offers an understanding of what is happening inside a boy′s brain as he grows up, from birth through early adulthood. The author also explores the roles of the nuclear and extended family, communities, and neighborhoods; the best schools for boys; and specific rite–of–passage experiences and how they influence a young man′s personal growth. The Purpose of Boys outlines a map parents can use to help their own sons wrestle with everyday life events and growth. And the book serves as a model to help all of our sons seek a successful future while still boys, adolescents, and young men. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read for all parents of young sons 30 April 2009
By Tony Chen - Published on
I'm so glad that I read this book while my son is still pretty young. It has changed the way I see my son, interpret his words/actions, and the way I will parent him going forward. His make-believe battles with aliens, his desire to destroy whatever block building we build is all starting to make sense now.

Michael Gurian does an excellent job explaining why our sons, especially, need a purpose. With a good mix of real parenting stories and scientific evidence (about what's going on in boys' brains and bodies as they grow up), the book provides a solid case for parenting our boys differently than girls, and how practically to do it. Boys' brains and bodies are wired up differently -- this partially explains those age-old gender stereotypes (e.g. boys are project-oriented, girls are relationship-oriented; boys can usually only focus on 1 thing at a time, girls multitask, etc). But more importantly, it requires us parents to nurture/encourage/motivate them differently than we might think.

As Gurian eludes, there is a perfect storm happening against the development of boys today. And the data looks bleak. Think about this: 85% of the world's ritalin is taken by boys in America. For every 15-19 year old girl that commits suicide, there are 5.5 boys who do so in that same age range. On whole, this generation of boys in America lack purpose, doesn't work hard, is overentertained, and is overmedicated. As a result, they're checking out of education, losing their sense of self, and not motivated to engage in anything meaningful.

Given this situation, this book proposes that the key to buck the trend is to help boys find their meaningful purpose in ways friendly to boys. There's questions and conversation-starters at the end of every chapter. There's compelling stories of "troubled" boys turned around. And there's concepts that you may already be partially doing (e.g. "team parenting" where the parents serve as team leaders for the "village" of adults as they do individual parents).

Like all parenting books, take what's useful and ignore what's not. For me, the most useful section was Chapter 8 on how to re-integrate this lost idea of a "rite of passage" for boys becoming men in our culture. I also was particularly challenged by the "parent-led team" concept, whereby we parents recruit, partner up, and lead (in some sense) a whole team of educators, coaches, older relatives -- all for the sake of helping our sons find their purpose. It does take a village!

I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who has a son. Many of the concepts are probably most helpful for parents with younger sons, but parents of tween and teenagers would also find this useful.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What does it mean to be a boy or a man? 15 July 2009
By Someone's Mom - Published on
This is a really excellent book which purports to address america's current "boy problem". Why is it that so many young boys are on Ritalin? why so many fewer boys end up completing college than girls of a similar socioeconomic status? why it appears that boys do less well in school from an early age?

What's interesting about Gurian's analysis is he doesn't simply engage in blaming -- he doesn't blame schools or teachers or the media. rather, he asks us to think a bit deeper, asking whether the role of boys and men as well as the meaning attached to being a man has changed as a result of our industrialized society. He yearns for a return to an earlier era where there were clearly defined roles, expectations and rites of passage for young boys. and yet, he's not sexist. he doesn't necessarily seek to reimpose outdated gender roles, but rather to help boys and men find a sense of purpose in life today. This work incorporates many practical suggestions for activities that parents can carry out with boys, as well as addressing the importance of mentors. this would be a useful read for any parent or school administrator.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Goad for Grandparents 22 May 2009
By Lawrence R. Hackett - Published on
A pat on the back...a nudge in the ribs....a kick in the pants...a 2 x 4 along the side of the head all motivated me as I read Michael Gurian's latest (and I think greatest) book about and in behalf of boys. Thank you Michael!

His reminders about the importance of the extended family, community and other guarantors brought back fond memories of my own youth and the way all these critically committed influencers contributed to helping me become a man, a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather and now grateful gad-about in the lives of many children in my community.

THE PURPOSE OF BOYS, I think, provides the essential launching pad from which one can find hope and direction in helping our challenged young males find their way. I will be using the material to do a better job in both my educational activities and volunteer relationships...not the least of which will be the seven young men in my own family!

For the past 20 years I have been pleading with my elder-peers to take seriously our role as mentors and grandfriends to the children within our arenas of activity. Much of my plea has been without evidence and context, beyond my own observation. I have worked my way through all of Michael's writing and appreciated the thoughts, experiences and teaching of his many colleagues through careful attention to footnotes and bibliographies! The last few years have seen a lot of improvement in my arguments and invitations.

I will use the clear and compelling teaching of THE PURPOSE OF BOYS as I renew my efforts to make a difference, both in the lives of the several "families" boys need as well as a personal provider to the needs of boys.

Early in my career I sat at the feet of Lakota leaders whose descriptive term for older tribal members translated to "Wisdom Keepers". It was the traditional task of these elders to be the nurturers of the young. Late in my career I now stand before urban elders whose most common refrain is that of disassociation with children, including their own grandchildren, and it's corollary terminal loneliness.

How wonderful to have this carefully considered and marvelously communicated call to action for all of us to share!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique Treatment of Boys' Quest for and Need for Purpose 28 Nov 2012
By J. Steven Svoboda - Published on
Why has Michael Gurian, author of over twenty books mostly relating to children and/or gender, devoted a book to boys and purpose? In answer to that natural question, the author lists "some of the core issues of male purposelessness", including schools not trained in caring for and motivating boys; media "attack[ing] males as defective and dangerous (and, quite often, just plain stupid) without also providing a variety of strong role models"; families lacking male role models or not understanding their critical importance; and "workplaces helping young women secure employment, but assuming young men will do just fine at landing a job, even though millions are not finding useful work." The author also tabulates Dr. Tom Mortenson's stunning statistics on the impact a lack of purpose can have on boys. As just two examples, for every 100 women between ages 20-24 who commit suicide, a shocking 624 men of the same age kill themselves, and for every 100 women aged 18-21 in correctional facilities, we put an astonishing 1,430 men behind bars. Perhaps most astonishingly to many, Judith Kleinfeld of the Boys Project observes, "Even white males of high earning college educated parents are increasingly falling behind equivalent females."

Gurian adroitly notes that a whole range of forces such as extended family members, schools, faith communities that have supplemented and reinforced parental efforts in years past are currently "in flux or breaking down." Medication of boys for behavioral issues is soaring at the same time that boys' relationships to their fathers deteriorates and more boy-friendly aspects of education such as competition, outdoor learning, apprenticeship, and coaching are on the wane.

The author scatters throughout the book suggested sets of questions for parents to ask their sons. These questions usually seem a bit unrealistic to actually ask one's son though they are thought-provoking: "When does a boy become a man?" "Is your school a good place for you as a growing boy?" Gurian usefully recaps material in several of his other books when he reviews brain differences and biochemical differences between boys and girls.

Gurian unapologetically states that often boys need to feel like heroes to their family members and friends. He outlines ways we can support this quest. Later the author originally parses the letters of the word heroic as standing for the following six qualities: Honorable, Enterprising, Responsible, Original, Intimate, and Creative. The author also shows us that boys, particularly the more aggressive ones, absolutely depend for their proper development on firm, hierarchical supervision. High-testosterone males in particular "need intense authoritative structure, supervision, and discipline in order to change their behavior from primitive to civilized. They need authoritative males who have clearly gained respect and status already to `take them under their wing' and show the young male how to seek real status, real power, real purpose, and real worth."

Gurian delves into the reasons why the male brain tends to pursue "large, project-driven groups (such as Boy Scouts...) that potentially hone their skills and teach them right and wrong via maps of purpose and paths of seeking truth, justice, and self-worth." Boys are often searching for ways to gain respect and will take huge risks and reject structures such as schools when they feel disrespected in the school.

The repeatedly referenced Biblical story of Joseph and the dreamcoat isn't really sturdy enough to bear all the weight the author tries to place on it. While I appreciate Gurian's emphasis on support outside the nuclear family, I find pretentious his claims to having "introduced this [three-family system] concept twelve years ago in [his book] The Wonder of Boys and refined it in [his books] A Fine Young Man and The Minds of Boys." He somewhat pretentiously and self-servingly labels his statements in the books as "insights" and describes them as offering "wisdom."

Gurian largely avoids providing specific notes for many of his particular points, such as a citation of a study showing that even in Jordan, "many boys are growing uplacking college or life skills" and Jordanian women are "marrying down." His similarly unsupported statement that 40 percent of boys are now overweight or obese would be more meaningful if he had included the corresponding figure for girls.

On the positive side, Gurian is to be commended for delving headlong into the often controversial topic of values, going so far as to suggest ten specific values that three-family systems should consider aiming to teach to boys: the values of legacy, give and take, failure, independence, identity, self-reflection, ethical action, self-discipline, self-doubt, and faith. Regarding the value of self-reflection, the author notes that recent brain science is just now confirming that "many of the parts of the brain that are involved with self-reflection also control ethical and moral decision making."

Gurian strongly supports having boys work outside the home for a wage as soon as they can, emphasizing that after-school activities do not substitute for the experience of earning money in employment for which showing up properly groomed and on time is a requirement. The author pointedly observes that "a lot of the time boys used to spend doing... values development, work, and moral learning... from extended families and institutions--is now spent in `media time.'" Moreover, "[m]edia use is beginning to affect boys' abilities to become fully functional men." Sometimes, parents are discovering, all that is needed to start a marked improvement in their sons' behavior and school performance is to disconnect the television and video games.

The author surveys educational innovations in Finland that are substantially improving boys' success in school, including often delaying the beginning of instruction until age seven, two years after kindergarten begins here. Test scores show that "Finnish children catch up to and pass children in other countries, such as the United States, that pressure young children to read, write, and do other multitasking, fine motor skills, and other cognitive tasks that might not be a fit for millions of young brains in their school system." Even such simple steps as re-labeling educational tasks in a more boy-friendly way can make a difference. For example, one teacher named Mrs. Travis has a sign on her desk reading, "Travel with Mrs. Travis Down Language Arts Boulevard" and students physically move and walk between her lesson stations. Another sign on her desk says, "Travis Automotives: Specializing in Complete Car Care for all Makes and Models." The opportunity for physical movement during learning is often critical to the male brain. Other key tools for promoting male success: mentors, project-driven curricula, opportunities for debate, use of graphics, and promoting parental help with homework.

The author eloquently, succinctly summarizes the benefits for a rite of passage to help usher the boy through adolescence and formally acknowledge his changing relationship with the world and with himself.

In conclusion, if the book's continual and undeniably annoying advertisements for Michael Gurian, Inc. can be overlooked, there is much excellent material to be gleaned from this unique treatment of boys' quest for and need for purpose in life.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read and Reference 14 Aug 2009
By Zing Om - Published on
This truly is one awesome book.

If you bought a very expensive car you would not dream of driving it before reading its manual.
Well if you have a priceless soul in a male body and mind, this is the book that should come in the box.
Id highly recommend this for single moms who love their sons but are rather clueless about young male hardware and software.
People working in institutions such as schools and group homes
and anyone who gives a damn about the young males in their lives.
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