Arts and Entertainment

Oh, boy – this one gets inside the mind of the teen

The Bookworm

“The Secret Lives of Boys: Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens” by Malina Saval, c. 2009, Basic Books, $25.95, 257 pages, includes index.

Once upon a time, your son was a cuddly little boy who loved bedtime stories.

He was bright-eyed then, always pulling up a chair to “help” you in the kitchen or the workshop. He brought you his problems and his dreams, and it was a joy to spend time with him.

Now he’s a teenager. You barely know him.

He slinks around the house, speaking in one-syllable words. He no longer shares his life with you. You wonder where your little boy went.

According to author Malina Saval, that boy has a lot on his mind: love, life, the world, his future, you. In the new book “The Secret Lives of Boys,” what you can learn about your teenage son may surprise you.

Over the past few years, much has been written about the emotional and social lives and empowerment of girls.

“Girls,” Saval says, “get most of the press.”

Perhaps because of female-slanted best-sellers, it’s a relatively common myth that boys are emotionless unknowns, in crisis, ADD-suffering, on the verge of “apocalyptic self-destruction.” The truth is, as Saval discovered, teenage boys are much different than their parents and pop-culture believe them to be.

To write this book, Saval interviewed high school teachers, psychologists and other experts on adolescent males. More importantly, she spent time with ten teenage boys, getting to know them, their lives and their concerns.

Boys are passionate about many things, Saval found. They are “politically interested” if not politically active. They’re romantic – often more so than girls – but their idea of what is and isn’t “sex” may distress their parents. Bullying is a bigger deal than most school officials realize and even boys who have been raised to “be a man” can be frightened about it. Speaking of school, many teens Saval interviewed were overloaded with schoolwork, often to the point of having to pick and choose which assignments to complete.

The good news is, teens “lead the way” when it comes to tolerance. Teenage dads are increasingly stepping up to the plate and accepting responsibility for their children (even though they can’t stress enough that waiting for fatherhood would’ve been preferable). Boys do learn from positive influences that surround them. They have strong morals. They’re willing to talk, if we’re willing to listen.

“The Secret Lives of Boys” is one of those books all adults should read, whether they have a teenage boy or not, because it busts the myths we tend to form after reading the news or hearing the latest teen-gone-bad story. For parents, Saval offers hard data they can cling to, advice, and a mega-dose of hope:

“These boys are emotional and expressive… affectionate and compassionate… They are lovely and messy, loving and lovable.”

Be aware that there are some hard things to read inside here, guaranteed to make grown-ups cringe. Still, if you’re the parent of a male teen or a teen-to-be (or if you want to know more about the guy your daughter is dating), oh, boy, this is a good book to have.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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