The Boy Crisis

Posted on in Healthy Living by Warren Farrell

The Benefits of Dad-Style Loving

In my 20 years of dating before I met the woman who would become my wife—some 25 years ago—most of the women I dated were single moms. Each was devoted and hard-working. The word I heard most often was “overwhelmed.”

In the process of doing 14 years of research for The Boy Crisis, their feelings of overwhelm altered my consciousness like syrup in a pancake. As I began to see that the boy crisis resides where dads do not reside, I saw that the lack of dad involvement created three problems:

  1. Overwhelmed moms
  2. Dads who felt unneeded, undervalued,
    and without purpose
  3. Children who were underperforming in
    about 70 areas—with boys doing considerably
    worse than their sisters

Among the children who had little or no contact with their dad—or what I came to call “dad-deprived children”—were children who were more likely to suffer from ADHD and obesity; from depression and alienation; from addiction to alcohol, drugs, video games, and porn; were more likely to drop out of high school, be unemployed, commit suicide, or be living with their parents into their thirties.

While both dad-deprived boys and girls experience these problems, the boys experience them with much greater intensity. Unlike the boys, the girls have both a role model of the same sex and more social and emotional skills. For example, girls who feel suicidal are more likely to seek the help of friend or therapist. But their male peers in their twenties are five times as likely to actually commit suicide. So I wondered, if boys with involved dads are doing so much better, exactly why is that?

Dad and son having fun outdoors.
Dad and son having fun outdoors.

I discovered that moms and dads have at least seven important differences between “mom-style parenting” and “dad-style parenting.” Or what might be called “mom-style loving” and “dad-style loving.” Of course, sometimes the styles are reversed, but as a rule, dad-style loving has a much greater tendency toward roughhousing, game playing, risk-taking, less boundary setting but more boundary enforcement, coaching, and prodding children beyond their comfort zone—even if by playful teasing.

Children parented with both mom and dad styles—with “checks-and-balances parenting”—do the best. The problem is that neither dads nor moms know the value of dad-style loving. And moms can’t hear what dads don’t say.

Take roughhousing. Many moms see a roughhousing dad as “one more child I have to monitor”—fearing that sooner or later, one of the children will end up crying or hurt. Well, she’s only about 99% likely to be right! Here’s what she’s watching…

Johnny, younger brother Jimmy, and younger sister Jane are play-wrestling with dad. Dad throws them on the couch, and their job is to pin down Dad before Dad pins all three of them. In his desire to be the #1 pinner-downer of Dad, Johnny sticks an elbow in Jane’s face. Jane starts crying.

Mom is beside herself. Now mom is feeling guilty for not fulfilling her responsibility of proactively protecting the children. Still feeling that guilt, Mom is appalled as Dad—instead of learning his lesson—returns to roughhousing as if nothing had happened.

What is happening that dads don’t say?

The Dad-created excitement creates a bond with the children. And now Dad can use the leverage of that bond to lessen resentment and rebellion when he tells Johnny and Jimmy that if they continue to push their brother or sister aside so hard, the wrestling will stop. With that warning, they continue wrestling.

But then, excitement returning, Jimmy pushes his sister aside again. Dad says, “Okay, Jimmy. I warned you. No more wrestling tonight.

If Dad had not returned to roughhousing after the warning, he wouldn’t have given the kids the experience of knowing what “too hard” or “too much” means. To dad, crying, lightly hitting their head, etc., helps the kids experience when going too far is too far—something a lecture, or words, could not make clear.

Few dads explain to Mom that what the research shows is that roughhousing increases children’s empathy—Dad requires each child to think of their brother or sister’s feelings even in the midst of wanting to push them out of the way to “win.” It teaches them what psychologists call “emotional intelligence under fire.” Studies I document in The Boy Crisis show that the more time spent with Dad, the more empathetic children are likely to be. Roughhousing combined with Dad enforcing boundaries are two reasons why.

Kids who roughhouse with parents are also more assertive and less aggressive. They learn by experience-with-consequences the distinction between assertive leverage vs. aggressive shoving.

Let’s go deeper with boundary setting vs. boundary enforcement. Once Dad warns the kids, he knows that if he were to just repeat the warning, the children would ignore him in the future—because when they’re caught up in the excitement, the price of giving up pushing and shoving to “win” is much greater than the price of hearing a parent repeat a warning they know they can ignore. So when the kids’ excitement leads them to ignore the warning, and Dad enforces the boundary by stopping the roughhousing, the kids absorb that the price of ignoring Dad is the loss of roughhousing.

Mom is disconcerted that Dad has to say things only once and the kids obey, whereas she has to repeat. In fact, dads who do not enforce boundaries also have to repeat.

Dad-Style Loving and Postponed Gratification

By requiring children to focus on what they need to do—be sensitive to their brother and sister—to get what they want (more roughhousing), dads are helping the children develop postponed gratification.

Postponed gratification is the single biggest predictor of success. A boy without the discipline of postponed gratification often slides down a slippery slope into the boy crisis:

» Instead of finishing homework, or rehearsing for a sport or a play, he gets too distracted by incoming texts; thus

» He fails in both grades and school activities, and feels less respect from his teachers, his peers, and his parents;

» He feels ashamed of himself, depressed; he escapes at the end of a needle, or by addiction to video games or porn; he hurts;

» Boys who hurt, hurt us. In worst case scenarios, he commits suicide, or, angry at being invisible and unappreciated at school, shoots the people at school, wanting them to regret that they had ignored him.

We’re all in the same family boat. Dads can help moms to not feel overwhelmed. Dads can experience being valued for their “dad-style loving”: dad-enriched children with “checks-and-balances parenting” can become mentally healthy adults; and dad-enriched boys can become men who are worthy of our daughters’ love.

Dr. Warren Farrell, formerly on the board of N.O.W. in N.Y.C., is the author of the justpublished The Boy Crisis (with co-author John Gray). Chosen by the Financial Times as one of the world’s top 100 thought leaders, he has written two award-winning best-sellers, Why Men Are the Way They Are plus The Myth of Male Power, as well as several others. His books are published in more than 50 countries and in 19 languages. Dr. Farrell has two daughters, and lives with his wife in Mill Valley, CA

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