Raising Boys

Child Psychologist Steve Biddulph’s hugely successful book, Raising Boys, has been re-released.

In this third edition, Biddulph adds to his existing wealth of information on raising boys, by presenting results from the latest studies into ADHD, the need for 12 months of maternity/paternity leave, the connection between binge drinking and road deaths, and society’s neglect of teenage boys and young men.

KidsLife spoke with Steve Biddulph about some of the challenges many parents face in raising boys in today’s society.

When you first published Raising Boys in 1997, could you have predicted this book would be an international success?

When we published Raising Boys, I had already had sales of about two million books around the world, but these sales had occurred over a 20-year period. This book was the first to be a number one bestseller, straight away, and of course we were delighted.

The real delight though, was that parents found it helpful, and everywhere I go people still stop me to say thank you, and that the book really helped. What helped parents especially, were the three stages of boyhood, the importance of dads, the need of boys to start school less early than girls, and of course the need of boys for rough and tumble, and a chance to run about; that they aren’t being bad, but just need a chance to use their bodies a lot. 

Raising Boys presents practical information in bite-sized grabs. In our rushed and hurried society, is the format for information as important as the information itself?

My books tend to use stories, and ways of looking at kids, rather than rapid-fire advice. I dislike advice books that sound so glib. Parents are smart, and they need good maps, then they can make their own decisions.  

What sorts of challenges face boys, compared with girls of today?

Safety is absolutely number one – violence, car accidents, suicide and work injuries kill boys at three times the rate of girls.

School success is the other big one. We need more teachers and schools to be more boy friendly. We talk in the book about how to find a boy-friendly school, and the kind of teachers they need.

Girls have unique dangers that are just as important. It’s important that parents minimise kids’ exposure to commercial TV, dumbed down media like fashion and so-called girls magazines that are all about make-up and clothes, and that boys are the centre of life. Girls don’t need encouraging in this! And they don’t need it when they are seven. Body image, depression, self harm, unhappy sex, are all girl dangers we can help to avoid.

Is it the case that parents from differing cultural backgrounds face similar challenges in raising boys?

Raising Boys was a bestseller in Germany, Brazil, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Those are all urban cultures, modern cultures. I think boys are happier in the Pacific, in India and Africa, where they have more extended families and comfortable multiple role models.

Modern cultures tend to leave teenagers to themselves too much, and so of course, they can get into trouble. Teenagers need activity and fun with adults who are there by choice (not paid); other people who love and care about them. They need long term extended community connections and interests as simple as tennis, drama, fixing cars, fishing or computers, as long as caring adults teach, help, and watch out for them.

What five tips could you give to today’s parents and carers to help meet boys’ needs?

In our talks, given around the world, and now also on DVD, we have five tips –

  • spend time
  • play rough and tumble
  • teach your boy to respect women
  • honour their tender feelings
  • teach them to do housework!

You advocate 12 months maternity/paternity leave. Is this to help protect the mental health of parents, as well as safeguard a child’s emotional wellbeing?

Yes. 12 months is a minimum. That much society should guarantee.

But in the spirit of self help, most parents would opt to spend longer, at their own expense, making sacrifices to make this possible. I think this is fair.

Do boys learn differently to girls, and if so, are schools today accommodating boys?

That’s a huge question. Schools are improving and I consult to schools all over the world. The best thing is a teacher that likes boys, their energy and their honesty.

A cold, harsh and authoritarian school, or one that is weak and unconnected, brings out the worst in boys. They need a school that is friendly, fun, firm, and focussed.

What do you hope parents, carers and educators will get from this book?

To not be afraid of boys. My wife Shaaron says that when you have a child, write down the three qualities you want them to have at 21. The things people will say about them, such as ‘he is kind, he has a backbone, he isn’t one of the crowd…he cooks a great meal!’

Be proactive, and head in that direction.

Don’t be woozy about raising a boy. Be deliberate, good humoured and direct.

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