Saving the World One Teen at a Time - Column on Parenting Tweens and Teens

Raising Cavemen.

by Kristy Campbell


As I watch my three boys (ages 9, 5, and 1.5) in their daily routines, I observe natural behavior that is foreign to me, and it seems primal and crass. Fart jokes and nose-picking aside, I am witnessing a deeper construct that is taking hold in their development and I’m concerned.


My older son hunches over his meals and shovels food in his mouth as if he hasn’t eaten in days. I continually need to remind him to sit up, put a napkin on his lap, and use a utensil of some sort. My middle son has no awareness on any level of another person around him. He takes care of his own needs and moves through the day in a me-centric bubble. I usually have to remind him that setting the table includes more than just one place setting. And my darling, sweet almost 2-year old son has started to come up to me and kick me in the leg for no reason.


I want to raise my sons to be men I’d want my daughters to marry…strong, capable, sensitive family men. My own husband isn’t that way, but I’m determined to put three young men into the world who are different. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s possible.


I’m in my mid-40’s and most of my girlfriends agree: the most difficult part of being married is communicating with a male. Men of my generation seem to have nailed the “need to provide” and “be financially successful” tasks, but the “need to listen” and “be supportive” requirement is proving to be more of a challenge. When I ask my female friends in their 30’s about their relationship with men, it seems that men 10 years younger got the message about being more attentive to women and have acquired some emotional language. The 20-something women I know are incredibly confident and are finding that although men their age are emotionally adept, they seem conflicted about sharing power. Teenage boys are unto themselves, so using their behavior as a guide for future generational performance would be futile. Which brings me back to my brood and my huge question mark as to how to raise my sons to be men for the future.


Turns out I’m not alone in my quandary. Did you see the Superbowl ads? Or read any of the resulting commentary? I thought the Dockers ads encouraging men to wear the pants again were odd. I mentioned it a girlfriend who passed on Adam Gopnik’s commentary in the New Yorker. In his piece “Out-Peytoned,” Gopnik points out how “all of the commercials … (were) about men being “feminized” by women, and then (urging men) to rebel by buying a gadget (a car, an internet TV service).”


Oh, for everyone's sake including our sons, we need to see see how differential treatment is responsible for different behaviors in our boys and girls. There is a growing Male Crisis that will become worse over time followed by a public increasingly led to believe boys need special instruction, develop more slowly, etc. These and other wrong thoughts by educators will come out in the press as the college gap reaches around 65% to 35% in favor of Females (already 61 to 39).
When these false thoughts hit the press, your sons, my sons, and every other wonderful son, brother, and father will become laughing stocks in society and press. The false genetic beliefs are dead wrong and "a dead end" to helping our sons compete more equally academically and also in the growing imbalance in the information age.

The Male Crisis is more complex than many think. This is the reversal - In the nineteenth century, we lived in a very physical world and one that required much strength and courage for boys and later men. This created a form of treatment from a young age to create this strength. "Note, our sons are usually not given the attention and stabilizing care our daughters are and are also led by many more aggressive, less protective, environmental pressures outside the home."
1. Boy children even less than a year old were (and are) given more aggressive treatment to make them tough to compete in the big physical world.
2. Boys were (and are) not given kind, stabilizing, nurturing, mental, emotional, social, verbal, interaction and other kind, caring treatment for fear of coddling the Male child, again to make them tough.
3. Boys were (and are) by design not given love, honor, respect unless they display some form of achievement, status, image, etc. All of this was designed to make boys tough.
Girls were (and are) given more protection from that big physical world, because it was very physical and bad back then. Since girls did not have to be tough, girls could be(and are) given much kind, stabilizing, mental, emotional, social, verbal, interaction from a young age without regard to need for strength. Also since girls did not need to be strong, they were (and are) given love honor, and respect simply for being girls. This protective treatment extended (and extends today) through adulthood.
Now we are living in the information age where the need and means to make a living have been "completely reversed". The toughness, aggressive, neglectful treatment given boys is still in place even from infancy. This is creating higher average stress that impedes thinking, learning, and motivation to learn (mental reward received for mental work expended). It also creates higher activity in working class Males, less stability there – activity is used as a natural stress relief. In addition boys fall behind in writing due to higher muscle tension created by the high average stress that affect handwriting ability and motivation to write. Note, Middle/Upper class kids do not have this problem of need for higher activity nor do they have the higher muscle tension that inhibits handwriting skills and motivation to write. The lack of kind, caring mental, emotional, social, verbal interaction create a tremendous lag in mental, emotional, social, and verbal skills. In addition, this creates more wariness of social contact due to lack of accumulated skills and more aggression given to boys from a young age. This defensiveness also creates the Male Ego or defensive front boys, later men put on to help protect them from aggression they have received. This further impedes positive social interaction with significant others (teachers).
Girls on the "other hand" are now reaping a windfall of many fine information age skills. The much protection and care girls receive from infancy onward create lower average stress, ease of nature (less need for activity for stress relief), and lower muscle tension that makes handwriting easier, more neat, and more rewarding. The much kind, positive, stabilizing, verbal and other social interaction increase their mental, emotional, social, verbal, and academic skills along with a feeling of love and support as they use that instilled social knowledge in a school setting with teachers. Since girls were (and are) given love, honor, respect, (no need to be tough) simply for being girls, they have an almost assurance of good treatment in society through adulthood. This protection also allows for much more freedom of expression to both vent, gain further support, and more care. This is why girls mature faster than boys. These differences have been socially created.


Um, wow. I am a bit overwhelmed by some of the comments here...especially that by polkadotworld. Good grief, men "unevolved", narcissistic (the most narcissistic people I know are both women), "lower life forms"? I hope that, if you have daughters, my son never, ever encounters them. I am one year older than you, and I "judge" humans as individuals...not by gender. Talk about unevolved.
My husband is incredibly intelligent, one of the most reliable, trustworthy people I have ever known, and is absolutely fascinating. Like me, he has never stopped learning, is interested in the entire world around him, has a vast array of interests, reads widely, is capable of holding a conversation on almost any topic, and loves me and respects me deeply. My 12 year old son, who is in middle school, is loving, compassionate, defends his friends, male AND female, has adored the same girl for years (she is brilliant, loves history and riding horses and reading, and is hardly your typical girly-girl...and I just found out recently that she adores him too, and has for years), has wanted to be a paleontologist since he was three, has been eating with utensils and using a napkin since he was about 18 months old (we didn't have to fuss much, he liked being a big boy), has a delightful sense of humor and the absurd, has his own collection of over 200 books, already has an eclectic taste in music (no death metal, no gangsta rap)...o, and is brilliant and gets straight A's in school and isn't all that interested in organized sports. My husband and son are the antithesis of narcissistic...both love to give, both deeply care about other people's feelings (my son still gets out of the car, gives me a kiss and says "I love you" when I drop him off at school), and neither are violent or aggressive.
O, yes, there are farts and belches...but never in polite company, never in public, and usually accompanied by an "excuse me" or a ridiculous giggle. And, my dears, women do it too, and not always so discreetly ("o, you bad dog!"). Yes, there were soldiers, trucks and "guys"...and I was on the floor, making up silly songs and playing right along side them. In fact, as a child (oldest of three girls, and a largely absent father, due to his job), I preferred trucks, and soldiers, and dearly wanted an articulated, full scale GI Joe with OUTFITS that I could change. Didn't get one, though, got an expensive Italian fashion doll that I put on a shelf instead.

My son is the boy I'd want my daughter to marry. If your sons are acting like troglodytes, maybe you should take a good, hard look at how they are being raised. I've known too many men who are smart, interesting (and I've known plenty of women who were in the lower double digits of the IQ spectrum, and dull as dish water as well), kind, trustworthy, totally honest, mannerly, clean, and all around decent humans to believe that it's a simple matter of gender-based inferiority (if a man said that about women, wouldn't that make him a "chauvinist pig?" Is that oinking I hear?). Maybe your expectations are too low, or your parenting techniques lack...a certain degree of "me parent, you listen or there will be consequences". Yikes, I know, primeval, the concept of a parent taking charge and instructing the children...and well, consequences being issued for inappropriate behavior (I did not say punishment, or, gods forbid, discipline, or spanking, or even harsh language, you'll notice). If your nine year old has to be reminded to use his utensils, your five year old sets the table for only himself, and the almost two year old has taken to kicking you in the leg at random times (actually, not that unusual at that age, a lot of young toddlers test limits like that. However, it is up to YOU to provide and firmly set those limits, no questions), then I suggest that it is more than their male-ness that is causing the problems. Something is deeply amiss. Your kids are not hearing you, much less listening to you. You say your husband is not a "strong, capable, family man". Does that mean he's not helping with the raising and boundary setting for the children? If not, why not? Is your husband acting as a father to your children, as a meaningful, active presence in their lives? And is he acting as a partner for you, which to me means a friend, a lover, a person who supports, respects, listens to and actually acts to enrich and improve your life? Or is he just a vague lumpish presence with to real attachment to, interest in, or influence on the family unit? If the latter is the case, then you are, unfortunately, the responsible one with the big decisions to make, regarding your own life and survival and that of your children.
In the interest of the "gender" issue: if the three children were girls, and the eldest was insisting on wearing make-up, refusing to eat, asking for provocative clothing (and they DO make such things for the tweener set...with trashy comments splashed across the seats of the pants and the chest on the tops), and the middle and youngest were engaging in IDENTICAL either bubble-centric or aggressive behavior...would you be referring to them as "cave-women", and relegating their behavior to the dubious realm of stereotypical gender related issues? I think not. I suspect you, and everyone else, would be much more sympathetic, and understanding, despite the obvious inappropriateness of the behaviors.
In the end, men and women are hard-wired completely differently, a biological, sociological and evoloutionary necessity. Sometimes I think women do more to perpetuate the cause of gender typing, bias and prejudice, and the destruction and havoc it creates, then men do.


While I have 2 girls [pre-school and toddler], I think that leading by example is probably still the best route. I understand that my tough years are the teenage ones. Hang in there!


Oh how this strikes a chord with me. I was raised in a liberal, feminist household in the 70s. Bachelors from a well known north eastern women's college. Focused on my professional career first, children in my late 30s. I always kind of assumed I'd have girls - then had 2 rambunctious and rowdy boyz - whom I love more than life itself. But, everything *is* a gun... and I'm fighting an uphill battle against fart noises. So I insist they at least say "excuse me" and I do my best to teach them the rules of civility - and civilization. I pray that they will grow up with some sensitivity and an appreciation for art and music!


I agree with polkadot. If you want to be with someone who is just like you and your personality, then marry a female.


I have two sons, 11yrs old and 7 yrs old---our oldest son IS the boy you'd want your daughter to marry---it's strange how things work out---as he approaches middle school, "something" is changing...he's still very empathetic and still a great student, but is less focused on getting things done and his room...forgettah about it! There's a shift going on and I have to tell you, I'm not 100% sure how to approach it--I've read the "boy" books and "how to parent boys", but honestly, I think you have to let it be---not all men are insensitive jerks--I have faith that we can raise boys to care.
Our youngest son on the other hand, came out burping and farting and has an ease about him that is truly amazing. He's not that interested in how you're feeling at all. He's not rude, but the "me" world you were talking about..yeah, I got one, too!! Now, HE will be another story watching as he grows up, because he's already where my middle schooler is and he's in First Grade!

As for the commericials--what was that??? I thought I was the only one who thought they were skewed! My husband looked at me like I had three heads when I said it---he couldn't see it at all?? Say whaaat?? I'm convinced some men just don't get it---they don't speak the same language as women but if they're worth it, then we need to try and speak a little of theirs...right?? ;)


I commend you on wanting to raise a son that you'd like to see your daughter walking down the aisle with. I have always said likewise about my 9 year old, that he wasn't going to be a guy like all the "other guys". As my son grows, I could totally relate to you and I think all we can do is keep reinforcing that which they already know and should have learned. Hoping for the best and praying that they defy the odds and don't become one of "those guys". Thanks for a great post, I'm going to pass it along!


I will be fifty this year and from about the age of fifteen I have been of the impression that (god bless their basic souls) men are simply not as capable, intelligent, trustworthy/reliable or interesting as women are. There is no one who has ever been able to convince me otherwise.

In sum the vast majority of them are self serving, oblivious, narcissistic and ruled by their overwhelmingly outdated hormones. They are, in very blunt terms, a lower life form (even the evolved ones. I have one of those for a husband). The sooner women embrace the fact that men do not wish to be our girlfriends, the better off we will all be. Our frustration is not really with men, our frustration is with our lack of acceptance of their great (and fine with them!) difference. We realize all that we are capable of and expect them to mirror that! Well, no truer words have ever been spoken than: "all men are infinitely alike and all women are infinitely different".