The Men They Will Become
Writings on Music
"Increasingly, we seem to
live in a time ravaged by the destructive acts of young males. In this
insightful book, Eli Newberger traces these senseless acts to one significant
source, the barren moral landscape in which large numbers of youth
grow to an uncertain maturity. Expert in issues of family violence,
Dr. Newberger urges the kind of consistent, firm, yet loving guidance
youth need from adults to acquire respect for self and others and a
strong character. Through examples and excellent commentary, he shows
how parents and educators, by doing this tough moral work, can give
youth the right tools to reach a positive, socially responsible adulthood."
"Eli Newberger has written
a ground-breaking book that will be of enduring interest to students
of education, social work, counseling, and to those who teach them.
The question of character development, which is the heart of this book,
has received much less attention in recent decades than that given
to cognitive development and personality development generally. The
need for such attention is daily highlighted by reports of violence
in the schools, teen-age suicide, and other tragedies in the life of
the young. Dr. Newberger's book fills this critical need. He manages
to combine a comprehensive coverage of the scientific literature with
down-to-earth advice to practitioners, and does so in a highly readable
style. It deserves a place on the bookshelf of every professional and
future professional, as well as of every parent with sons to raise."
"Eli Newberger, M.D., one of this countrys most distinguished pediatricians and experts on family development, brings decades of experience and insight to these vital questions. In riveting stories, both heartwarming and heartrending, he shows boys facing the harsh challenges that forge or break character: cheating, bullying, dealing with drugs, alcohol, and competition. The scope of his insight is broad and full of respect for the tenacity and devotion that sustain strong families.
"From birth to late adolescence, The Men They Will Become delves to the deepest roots of male character. A baby boy, says the author, has traits but no character. As he grows, particular characteristics attachment, honesty, self-control, sportsmanship, generosity, courage are either nurtured or thwarted. Intrinsic biological drives combine with styles of parenting as well as gender-polarizing forces in the culture to create either the admirable qualities we all admire or those we deplore and fear.
"Rather than looking for flaws and vulnerabilities, or trying to make boys more like girls, Newberger celebrates the differences, the wonderful qualities that make boys boys, and shows us how to nurture and encourage them. As concerns about male character and values enter nearly every discussion about private and public life, this profoundly insightful book offers important and timely guidance."
A five-year-old boy in New Hampshire finds that another boy his age has begun to punch him without provocation every time they meet at a local playground. A fifth-grade boy in a Massachusetts public school reports to his teacher that a girl in the class has been cheating on tests. The teacher ignores the evidence and treats the boy coldly. In suburban Boston, a 10th-grade wrestler tells the senior team captain that hazing younger members of the team must stop, and that he is becoming the protector of the younger boys.
These are summaries of a few of the true stories I tell in detail in The Men They Will Become (Perseus, 1999). My purpose is to help parents, teachers, and other caregivers become more competent in guiding their boys toward admirable character. I trust almost all of these adults to be well intentioned, but I believe all of us can enhance our understanding of this fundamental process.
Character, I emphasize, is very different from temperament. Every boy is born with innate temperament that can be influenced and modified to a degree from without, but will basically be his for his whole life. He may be temperamentally calm or restless, shy or gregarious, difficult or easy to soothe, and so forth.
Character is not innate or given. It develops from a continuing interplay between a particular boys distinctive wiring and his experiences. Importantly, the principal building blocks of character are laid down early. The way we judge a boys character is by assessing the choices he makes in situations that are morally challenging or tempting. Many people are dependable or predictable in their choices of action; they are disposed to act in certain ways. Yet sufficient stress will provoke almost everyone occasionally to act in uncharacteristic waysand these exceptions are part of their character, too.
Boys make some of their choices in private, but they do not make them free of all influence. Character formation is extremely interactivebetween a boy and his parents, siblings, other relatives, peers, teachers, coaches, and others he meets only in passing. Thus, if an adult wishes to influence a boy knowledgeably, it is essential that the adult understand his or her own characteristic ways of interacting with boys. To promote this process, I work from a model created by my wife, Carolyn Moore Newberger, a clinical and developmental psychologist who discovered four different levels of "parental awareness." Depending on which of these levels an adult exemplifies in a particular situation, a boys character formation will be guided in various possible directions. Teachers and other caregivers will find it easy to transpose these types of awareness into non-parental situations. In the stories I recount, the reader will usually find wise and mature adults on the scene where boys are making good choicesand adults with limited understanding where boys are going astray.
Much attention has recently been paid to the influence of peers on each others character. Much of this influence, of course, is constructive, but some of it is not. In their quest for independence, many children and adolescents do not see that their peer culture is often nastier than anything they confront at home. Parents, teachers, and coaches do not always exercise the beneficial influence open to them. The situation is not hopeless, however. Adults still have enormous influence on the formation of boys character.
As an invitation to adult readers to think deeply about their own characters and their own interactions with boys, I have reported on my upbringing by parents who had their own pressures that handicapped their capacity to be the parents they wanted to be. My story, like everyones, is a reassurance that perfection is not the standard so far as character goes. We all have our slips. What is accessible to us is an opportunity to acknowledge our slips, and then to do better. It is the open-endedness of character formation that consoles us all. For until death, there is always something ahead for a male: the man he will become.
--Eli Newberger, M.D.