A few weeks ago Chris took a copy of 21st Century Boys out of the library and I snuck it off his bedside table so that I could read it myself.
The author, Sue Palmer, paints a worrying picture of life for our ‘21st Century Boys’. At times it can be quite a depressing read (apparently British children are the unhappiest in the developed world), but thankfully Palmer offers considered words of advice and wisdom on how to move forward positively at the end of each chapter. The way she brings practical suggestions alongside science and theory helps to make the book relevant to all who come into contact with boys. Indeed, it is not written primarily for parents but for us all as a nation as we seek to raise the next generation of boys together.
The various chapters in the book cover everything from a boy’s development in the womb and early experiences after birth through to the effect their educational experiences throughout primary and secondary school can have on them. Some of the chapters had me gripped but I confess that there were others that seemed like rather a hard slog to get through for me.
Easily the most gripping chapter for me was the one entitled ‘Battery-reared boys’. Throughout her book, Palmer reinforces the message that young children need lots of love, talk, song and play. However, she also stresses the need to give young boys plenty of freedom. Palmer talks about the high levels of adult control over a boy’s leisure time. Even his extra-curricular activities are things he’s ferried back and forth to e.g. swimming and piano lessons. ‘Within a generation, the traditional freedom to roam, explore and learn from first-hand experience of their world has for many boys all but disappeared.’ Palmer points out that there has been no increase in ‘stanger danger’ crimes over the last 25 years but the media has made us all too wary of giving our children too much freedom.
As well as children being less free to go and play outside of the home without close adult supervision, Palmer also worries about the way in which some can be too quick to accuse boys of antisocial behaviour when they are out playing in the neighbourhood.
‘In the past, adults in the local community used to deal with small examples of boys’ unruly behaviour themselves – ticking off lads they saw misbehaving, and offering a word of advice or warning if they thought their play might be dangerous…Nowadays, however, people tend to avoid getting involved on a personal level, and often refer even the slightest problems on to a higher authority…There’s a terrible circularity about these changes. The more boys are locked away and denied the opportunity to play, the more they’re likely to lack social skills and emotional resilience, leading to more immature and irresponsible behaviour when they do break out of captivity.’
Palmer’s conclusions in 21st Century Boys are, in many ways, very similar to Biddulph’s Raising Boys. Both Palmer and Biddulph highlight the need, as a boy, gets older, for him to have positive mentor figures on his life. It was good to read and I’m glad I persevered even when at times it felt like a hard slog as there is a lot of food for thought in the book.