Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Way of Boys Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Way of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Changing World
Author: Anthony Rao and Michelle Seaton
Genre: Nonfiction, parenting
Publication: William Morrow, August 2009
ISBN: 978-0061707827 (hardcover)
Full Retail Price: $25.99

My Rating: 5 stars out of 5 = I Love It

Summary Statement: Fantastic Book with a Hopeful Message; Title Too Vague – Should have ADD/ADHD in Subtitle

This book completely surprised me because I agreed to accept a pre-publication review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program and at the time didn’t know much about the book other than the title and subtitle. I was thrilled at what the content actually was but worry that some readers who are looking for this information may not think the book is about that topic. My interest was to read a general parenting book about raising boys in this world that is so different than twenty years ago when I was a tween. I’m the mother of two boys aged 12 and 9 and thought maybe something here could be of use for me with my homeschooled boys (who do not have ADD or ADHD).

The book is written by a psychologist in private practice who works with families and especially, boys. In a nutshell the book is about the change in tide of our culture, namely, the re-labeling of what is normal boy behavior or a developmental glitch, a bit of a delay in maturation of young boys which has led parents, school teachers and pediatricians to label it an abnormality and seek prescription medication as a first line or only approach to stopping the behavior.

To be specific, this book is about the author’s belief that too many children are being diagnosed with ADD or ADHD and that too many are on prescription medications. In his practice, Dr. Rao uses behavior modification techniques with his patients including plans with parental involvement and sometimes also the school teacher’s help to solve problems without the use of medication. The book discusses the various issues some boys may have and the root cause and the treatment plan (a behavior modification plan).

Something of interest to me is that Dr. Rao often points out that the (well-intentioned) parent often is part of or a large cause of the problem in the first place. My impression was the worst offenders are those waffling parents who seldom set limits, say one thing but do another, make threats but never follow through, change their minds or give in to their child’s pleas. Parents who set low expectations are also setting themselves up for disaster. These parents have actually trained their child to not listen to their authority. In the case studies I read over and over again of Dr. Rao raising the bar for the child’s expectations, imposing limits and consequences for the child’s negative behavior and then the behavior starts to change, often immediately, even right in that first consult!

I know the topic of whether to medicate for ADD/ADHD or not is a hot button issue for numerous people, especially those who hate any reference to not medicating being a good thing. One thing I learned by reading this book that I have never heard counter-argued by the medication-lovers is that the most common ADD/ADHD prescription drug works on any person to improve focus (even one without the diagnosis) but it does nothing to make the condition go away. Dr. Rao stated clearly in the book that if behavior modification techniques can make the behavior STOP or if the child can learn to process their emotions, boredom or whatever, in a more acceptable way and have the issues resolved why not do that? For example it seems ludicrous that if the boy’s issue is that he struggles to handle his anger, teaching him techniques to calm down, to stay in control and to not cause problems with verbal or physical outbursts can only be a good thing. If the child learns that and then everything seems resolved, how great is that?

The case studies in the book focused on boys aged 3-7. There was a great chapter at the end where college aged former patients discussed their lives today and talked about their past treatment memories with Dr. Rao. I loved the parts when the more challenging behaviors of the boys wound up being their strengths that could, for example, help them find success in certain career fields. However there was not really anything specifically about upper elementary grade boys, middle schoolers or teenagers (perhaps that will be the topic of another book). As an example of what issues were covered: preschool attendance and also social issues with early elementary grades (i.e. being labeled a bully for their behaviors). I can imagine that other issues are more pressing for the older boys and the teenagers, so if you are looking for case study information on that specific age range you won’t find it here.

Really the book is about redefining what normal behavior is and about being a bit more tolerant for boys who are late bloomers or whose development is a bit staggered and uneven. I don’t mean to imply that tolerant means ignoring the situation but making adaptations, teaching techniques or other things if necessary. Discussed is the difference between the male and female brain and the differences between developmental stages. Dr. Rao says that the girl’s mind is more geared toward the ideal classroom behavior of teachers so typical boy behavior is sometimes not accepted and other times labeled as being a problem such as a ‘disorder’ needing medication. Another interesting twist to make you think is that female teachers often want female type social interaction from both boys and girls when that is a bad and wrong expectation; boys should be allowed to be boys (meaning, not always liking to make direct eye contact, not always wanting to discuss emotions at preschool ages, being happy with playing side by side with other kids). By letting boys be boys I don’t mean allowing aggressive behavior or reckless chaotic behavior reign.

Dr. Rao made it clear that often boys will outgrow certain behaviors or stages if let alone to grow up. However interventions to seek out diagnoses, to get tested and look for fast treatment especially with a first-line drug therapy is not what Dr. Rao likes to see happen. Testing and medication options are discussed in detail in the book. It is our culture that is pushing for rapid identification and fast resolution to various negative situations, so the idea of letting a kid grow up for another six months or a year is usually not something people are willing to let happen without some professional encouragement such as from Dr. Rao.

I was impressed with the book’s content and feel this is a very important subject. Since our culture still seems to think the key to opportunity in adult life starts with one’s education, and since the current mindset to a successful academic experience is to push formal learning down to the preschool level (earlier is better! some think), I think we’re going to need to hear this message more and more.

I was unclear if Dr. Rao hopes parents will use the information in this book to custom design their own treatment plans or if the book is intended to give his opinion and some ideas to shift the perspective of the parent and then seek a counselor’s advice before putting a plan into place.

I found the book a fast, easy read. The tone was uplifting, not depressing or scary. Dr. Rao paints an optimistic outlook for the futures of even the most challenging young boys.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program. I did not receive payment from any source to write this review or to publish this on my blog. See my full disclosure statement at the top of my sidebar for more information.

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1 comment:

hopeinbrazil said...

Fascinating review. I have four boys, most of whom were late bloomers. We homeschooled partly because one of them would definitely have been put on medication if he'd gone to public school. Raising boys has been a wonderful journey.