Originally published May 14, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 15, 2009 at 4:19 PM

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Corrected version

Jerry Large

A recipe for growing good men

Boys and girls are different. Comedians know this. We laugh at their jokes about the differences, because on some level we get it, but we...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Boys and girls are different.

Comedians know this. We laugh at their jokes about the differences, because on some level we get it, but we don't always put what we know to use improving the way we raise and teach kids. Recently I've listened to two lecturers tell parents and teachers how gender affects the development of young people. JoAnn Deak spoke at The Northwest School, and Michael Gurian visited O'Dea High School.

Both use the latest research in brain science to tell us what, as Gurian pointed out, all of our ancestors from cultures across the planet knew about raising kids — stuff we've forgotten.

Part one: "The Purpose of Boys," which is the title of the newest book from Gurian, who is co-founder of the Gurian Institute, a family therapist and father of two girls, and who stirred up new interest in the development of boys a decade ago with "The Wonder of Boys."

He started with statistics. Schools suspend 250 boys for every 100 girls and expel 340 boys for every 100 girls. Boys are much more likely to wind up in prison. You get the point.

Brain research helps us see why and what we can do about it.

He focused on brains at the two ends of the spectrum. Girls have sharper senses, they are more verbal and the two sides of their brains communicate with each other more.

Boys are geared toward action, are less verbal, more likely to take risks.

The parts of the brain that affect focus, forethought, impulse control, judgment, empathy and insight mature later in males.

It's not a matter of superior or inferior. The two extremes have different strengths and compliment each other, at least when they aren't conflicting.

Gurian showed scans of typical male and female brains the way they'd look after a day at school or work.

The female brain was still lit up, but the male brain was mostly dark. Which is why, he said, a couple gets home and the wife wants to recharge by talking about the day and the husband wants to flop on the couch and click through channels on the TV.


In a classroom, male brains zone out easily unless teachers know how to keep them glowing. Boys need to move around; the teacher needs to be louder and more animated, for a start.

Sometimes boys try to keep their brains turned on by doing stuff that teachers may find annoying, like tapping a pencil on the desk. They do things that get them sent to the office when they're just trying to fight their biology.

One of the reasons this society put aside so much ancient gender teaching is that many cultures were and are biased against women and girls.

But the new science helps separate culturally enforced gender roles from what's biological.

Here's a small taste of Gurian's recipe for growing good men.

From birth they need love and a sense of their birthright, that they are descended from people who matter.

As they grow they need praise, but only for true accomplishments. He said we tend to praise too much and do too much for them. Trying and failing helps boys grow up.

In their late teens they need to know what they are good at, "a sense that something inside him is needed in the world."

They need education they see as relevant to their lives, otherwise they will tune out.

Older boys need mentors other than their mother and father.

And young men need something to which they can be devoted. It gives men a sense of self-worth.

All of this harnesses men's aggression and channels their quest for status into behavior beneficial to family and community.

Later, I'll share a some of Deak's advice for raising and teaching girls.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or

The information in this article, originally published May 14, 2009, was corrected. Schools suspend 250 boys for every 100 girls and expel 340 boys for every 100 girls. Jerry Large's column Thursday, about research into gender differences and brain development, incorrectly said schools suspend 250 boys for every one girl and expel 340 boys for every one girl.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays. | 206-464-3346

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