How to Raise Boys to Become Good Men with Michael Reichert, Phd

This podcast will focus on how to raise boys so that they feel connected, understood, loved and fully themselves. So many boys are made to feel that they must fit into what is referred to as “The Man Box” which strictly polices and defines what it means to be a boy and a man. The result is boys who feel that they can’t truly express themselves, connect with others and be who they truly are. Michael C. Reichert, PhD, author of How to Raise a Boy, speaks with Dr. Robyn Silverman about the power of connection and how we can best help boys to become good men who are self-aware, caring, healthy and fulfilled.

Special guest: Michael Reichert, PhD

We’ve talked quite a bit about girls on this show—and how many things are changing for girls due to the momentum of the women’s movement. But what about the boys? How do you raise boys to become great men? How do we raise boys to feel connected to himself and feel connected to others? For many of our sons, while the world of girls seems to be expanding, the world of boys seems often to be contracting—restricting who boys can be in society’s where masculinity and all its attributes, fits in one tightly guarded box—the man box. Our next guest feels that this is a loss- it’s a loss for us and it’s a loss for the boys. He asks; what can be done to ameliorate the loses of boyhood? How can we protect the boys in our care from threats built into boyhood? How can we ensure that our sons are well prepared for and well launched to manhood? The answer has to do with connection—something that our boys are losing—and at an early age. And our guest feels that we have an opportunity, right now, to change things around and help boys do boyhood right.

Michael Reichert writes, in his new book, “How to Raise a Boy” that boys are really in need of something that seems to counter the toughness and the independence touted by the man box—and that is “a relationship in which a boy can tell that he matters … A young man’s self confidence is not accidental or serendipitous but derives from experiences of being accurately understood, loved, and supported.”

Michael Reichert is an applied and research psychologist who has immersed himself in clinical, research, and consultation experiences that have afforded a deep understanding of the conditions that allow a child to flourish in natural contexts: families, schools and communities. He has created and run programs in both inner city communities and in some of the most affluent suburban communities in the world. He founded and continues to lead The Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives a research collaborative at the University of Pennsylvania and has conducted a series of global studies on effective practices in boys’ education. Since 1984, Dr. Reichert has maintained a clinical practice outside Philadelphia, PA.,  specializing in work with boys, men and their families and continues to serve as the supervising psychologist at a nearby boys’ school. He has published numerous articles and several books, including Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Lessons About What Works—and Why, I Can Learn From You: Boys as Relational Learners, and the just-released How to Raise a Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men

The podcast provides:

  • Why it’s important to talk about connection in boys and ensure that we are making an effort to connect with boys—as they need connection, a human need, just as much as girls do.
  • A discussion about “The Man Box” which delineates what it means to be a boy—providing strict guidelines, boundaries and limits that lead to shame and disconnection.
  • Why it’s important to talk about and show boys that we do not need to be confined to “The Man Box.”
  • What is in the way of connecting and talking with boys.
  • Why special time with boys is increasingly important.
  • How BOTH mothers and fathers as well as female and male teachers are integral in helping to connect with boys and get out of “The Man Box.”
  • How to #MeToo era is helping boys re-identify with who they really are and who they want to be.

Important Messages:

  • It used to be that relationships dominance and submission were the norm- it’s now changing. Questioning. 
  • Males dominate in the 15-30 age category in the 15 top causes of preventable death.
  • Notion- biology is destiny. Don’t think we are willing to do that any longer.
  • The Man Box: Metaphor of masculine norms. Behaviors- prescribed. Stray from norms- get policed back into the box. Peers police other kids—but 60% of the young men in one survey said they learned these norms from their parents.
  • The boys/men that subscribe most to the masculine norms are the ones who are most likely to be depressed, anxious, harass others, bully, be bullied, feel suicidal. Loss to be self. If you are hiding who you are in man box- unable to tell people who you are and express self- feel alone. Not enjoying the uplift that comes with being connected. Human beings are not built to be disconnected- we don’t tolerate that well.
  • We want to educated men about being male- but prior generation inadvertently passing on prejudices that we are simply unaware of
  • So important to listen to boys—as a starting point.
  • Expression of emotion- teach boys “feeling rules”—shouldn’t be sad or scared—as boys. (Instead of letting a child get the feeling out so he can cope with it). Says to boys; “we don’t want to know what you’re really experiencing. We only want you to conform to our ideal of what it means to be a man.”
  • Study: 4 year old boys (under Carol Gilligan). A huge change over 4 years of being studied. Learned how to put on a mask and play the part. Less direct, less articulate, less authentic, less expressive.
  • Strategies- (1) Listening (2) Special time.
  • We must pay attention to boys—but so many ideas of how boys should behave and it gets in our way.
  • Want good learning for boys? Primary factor, according to the global study Reichert conducted, was feeling connected to the teacher. Teachers forget this. When a child seems checked out—teacher reverts to force, scolding, etc—instead of connection. Child loses motivation to learn. For whom the boy will learn that matters.
  • We are wired to be connected—we need to be connected- but stick boys in man box, when upset or frightened, we don’t respond in a relational way- we respond out of upsets of our own.
  • In that moment, during misbehavior, we want our sons to self regulate- assume sons are inherently good and cooperative. We assume that our relationship is strong so we can influence them- except when emotions are hijacking them. They can signal that they need help- so they act out. Needs limit setting.
  • Listen Limit Listen. Not to make them fear them. Yelling and forcing and shaming- thought that was useful for self regulation. But it’s not. We just need to set the limit. “You know Johnny, it seems that you are unable to do what you’ve been asked to do right now- and it seems like something is going on. How about I put my hand here on your chest to make sure you don’t hurt your sister. I’m going to stay right here with you. How about you tell me what’s going on?” Listen—because there’s something driving them off course- this is not who he really is. Pay off- not conformity- it’s the outpouring of what’s driving him off course.
  • Boy wants us to know- “know and love me.”
  • Boys act out when they haven’t expressed a feeling in words- if they think the parent will become annoyed or they know that this is not how “a boy is supposed to act”—they act out instead. They are doing this instead of saying; “Can I tell you how scared I am of going up those stairs?” Boys need access.
  • Our sons don’t require us to be perfect. What they require is that we remember that they depend upon the relational connection in order to flourish (and that it’s our responsibility as adults to be relationship managers). When behavior is poor, assume that the relationship has gone poorly in some way.
  • Often we blame the other in relationship breakdown. I’m going to wait until the other fixes the problem. Our sons are at the outer edges of the vulnerability. They are intimidated by our power. Boys- afraid if they level with their parents, they ‘ll be punished more. The gap grows. Apologize for your part in the breakdown.
  • Special time- not about doing things we want to do- but to do something they want to do and we’ll join them. Sit down with them and do whatever they are doing. That communicated that they are important and you want to spend time with them.
  • Special time- predictable and dependable- that our sons can count on for us to be with him.
  • Friendship: Boys likely to form their closest friendships with other boys. They can be a salvation. Strengthens a boy= resist peer pressure. Empowers a boy- they have a friend or ally- that enables a boy to resist a whole host of lower common denominator pressures. Life changing and life lasting. Yet- pressures that drive boys away from other boys (homophobia) and instead, a relationship with a female.
  • Parents can help to orchestrate ways for their sons to meet other boys. We want our sons to articulate that they want a friend- allow him to join teams etc where they can meet other boys.
  • Deep belief- something special about being a man and only another man know the secrets of that. Message affects mothers and fathers negatively. Says to moms that she can’t help and that they can create mama’s boys. Untrue.
  • Moms can teach boys how to be good men just as father’s can.
  • Fathers: Not our job to teach boys about masculinity- our job is to know them demythologize what it means to be a man by exhibiting our own humanity. We need to help boys feel that they can be themselves- and fight for the right to be the unique selves that they are.
  • Gender equality is good for boys and for girls. Frees boys from “performing” masculinity in ways that do great harm. They don’t “perform” masculinity for girls but for boys. Hyper-masculitive performative theme. #MeToo—that’s not who the women are and it’s not who you—the men- are. Seeking closeness- be who you really are. Boys want this too.
  • Study: 52% boys felt regret after a casual sexual relationship. Want closeness.

Notable Quotables:

  • “There’s never been a better time in human history to raise a boy. We are actually getting serious about the science of male development and considering with new eyes and new rigor the kind of outcomes we have normalized for generations. Routine casualities and losses are an inconvenient truth about the boyhood we’ve designed and that we’ve managed for boys—the losses of virtue, the losses of educational opportunity, the losses of emotional expressiveness, losses of health and well-being and most seriously, losses of life.”
  • “We pass the ideas of what it means to be a male onto children almost beginning at the point that they are conceived.”
  • “We project onto the concept of ‘boy’ all these inherited ideas which really have very little to do with boys’ actual natures and we gender them. We police boys into conformity in a way that robs them of really important developmental conditions and assets—the most fundamental of which is freedom to be themselves.”
  • “So many of us in charge of boyhood—parents, teachers, coaches, youth leaders- we want to educate boys are being men and being male. The problem with that is that those of us who are in the prior generation wind up inadvertently passing on prejudices that we are simply unaware of and that we take for granted.”
  • “It’s less important what we say to boys about masculinity than what we are able to create in terms of opportunities to talk to us.”
  • “If we can create conditions that let them open up to us and be honest with us about what their experience is—if we can create a space within our relationship with us where they can open up to us spontaneously, they’re going to tell us about their life as boys and we’re going to receive the raw data of their experience. As they do that, they’ll strengthen their ability to resist the cultural norms that threaten to take them away from who they are.”
  • “It’s not the experience of emotion that distinguishes boys and girls—it’s the expression of it.”
  • “The greatest gift we can give our sons is to pay attention to them.”
  • “Bad behavior is not who are boys are. They are behaviors that are driven by some kind of emotion that they have not found an opportunity to put into words and express.”
  • “What matters is not that our relationships remain connected at all times, that’s unreasonable, what matters is that we keep reconnecting so that our sons have that vital life-force of relationship.”
  • “What we want our sons to know in their hearts as well as in their minds, is that they are delightful and interesting people to us and that we’re going to make a space in our family life where we’re going to simply be with them, wherever they are.”
  • “It doesn’t take a man to raise a boy. It takes a good relationship with a person who knows and loves him.”
  • “To fathers; our job isn’t to teach boys about masculinity- our job is to know them and demythologize what it means to be a man by exhibiting our own humanity. The role model isn’t really about how to be tough or strong or how to fight for yourself—these are not the end all of what we have to convey to our sons—what we need to help them with is how to be themselves and fight for the right to be the unique and wonderful person that they are.”
  • “If we want our sons to hold onto themselves, we have to hold onto them, ourselves.”


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