Volume XIII | Issue 2 | Fall 2013
Social philosopher Michael Gurian has made a career of studying boys and their development.

A tough time to be a boy

Author offers a road map to help our sons find meaning, direction

It’s a tough time to be a boy. In the not-so-distant past, gender roles in society were well defined: Men were expected to be the decision-makers, the breadwinners, and the leaders. Society has undergone a seismic shift since then, with gender roles, expectations and responsibilities in constant flux as the X, Y, and Millennial generations entered the world.

Social philosopher Michael Gurian has made a career of studying boys and their development. In his newest book, The Purpose of Boys, Gurian offers parents a powerful program designed to give them what he says they lack in today’s world: a core purpose.

Boys are currently not being directed toward joyful roles

It’s this sense of purpose that is essential in building the success and happiness of boys today, Gurian says. His program is based on building morality, character, career goals, developing the capacity for intimate relationships and personal and community responsibility. Sounds daunting? It can be done.

And more importantly, it must be done. Boys are currently not being directed toward joyful roles and positive purposes, Gurian says, and that is a serious problem for society as a whole. Consider this: Boys in America take 85% of the world’s Ritalin. For every 15-19 year-old girl that commits suicide, there are 5.5 boys who do so in that same age range. The list goes on.

Gurian divides the book into two main sections. The first looks at the situation from research and science perspectives, and offers fascinating insights about what’s going on with boys — inside their heads and bodies, in biology and in culture. 

Advances in biological sciences have revealed new information about boy biology and its “hardwiring” toward the development of purpose. Boys have fewer verbal-emotive centers in their brains, for example, and that is why even when little, boys will often try to do something rather than talk about it. “Because of brain-blood flow differences,” Gurian goes on to explain, “ boys are also more likely than girls to spend larger parts of their day ‘zoning out.’” 

Tools to help boys grow

But the book is not just about science and theory. Its overriding purpose is to provide readers with tools to help boys grow up, as well as the step-by-step road map that makes those tools work. 

To that end, the second half of the book offers insight, practical strategies and a host of social and emotional tools. Particularly useful are the chapter-enders, questions and conversation-starters intended to aid communication, as well as inspirational anecdotes of boys who were turned around. 

There’s instruction for parents on how to develop and lead a team of adults (educators, coaches, older relatives) to help guide a boy. 

And there’s even a chapter on the benefits of a rite of passage — a ceremony or event that helps usher the boy through adolescence and formally acknowledges his changing relationship with the world and with himself. 

“The time has come to reinvent boyhood in our culture, and to celebrate manhood as a servant of the greater good of our new millennium,” Gurian writes.  


The Purpose of Boys is available free to residents of Oregon and Sisikiyou County, Calif., through Select Books.

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