Photo courtesy of USA Today
In 2002, Rosalind Wiseman's groundbreaking non-fiction book Queen Bees & Wannabes introduced the world to the concept of "mean girls." Before the book even appeared, Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey bought the film rights and eventually turned a few of its key insights into the movie of the same name.
A decade later, Wiseman, who now has two young sons, has written a new book about boys. But she says she didn't write Masterminds & Wingmen because she's a mother of boys. Rather, she says, the impulse came from years of teaching her anti-violence curriculum Owning Up. "I had been teaching boys for a long time, but I felt like their problems were getting increasingly complex and my advice wasn't good enough," she says.
For the new book, she enlisted the help of more than 160 boy "editors" to share with adults what's really going on in "Boy World." Wiseman has written two books, actually: In addition to Masterminds, she also wrote a free e-book for boys, The Guide: Managing Douchebags, Recruiting Wingmen, and Attracting Who You Want.
USA TODAY'sGreg Toppo talked with Wiseman recently. Here's a portion of their conversation, edited for clarity:
Q: You say that most people's idea that "boys are easy" to raise is a misunderstanding, that what looks like "easiness" is actually our own cluelessness. What do you mean?
A: So often, even well-meaning parents contribute to boys not talking to us because we say things like, "Boys are so easy compared to girls. They just fight and it's over." We make these comments without even thinking that saying things like that doesn't give boys permission to admit to themselves and us that they have the right to be upset when they're ridiculed, dismissed or even betrayed. If they do have those feelings, they're often ashamed of themselves. If we acknowledge boys' experiences and say, "Everyone can have problems with friends, get your heart broken, be betrayed, and it can really hurt" - especially if men say those things to boys, and add, "I know you're living at a different time, but if you want to talk to me, I'm here," boys move toward people like that. They're desperate for meaningful relationships with the people who are closest to them.
Q: I was struck by this line: "In order to earn our boys' respect, we must examine our own behavior." What behaviors should we examine?
A: Boys are extraordinarily sensitive to hypocrisy. If they see adults say one thing and do another, abuse power, or don't do anything when they see an abuse of power, (such as) when the coach walks into the locker room when players are abusing other players but walks out - or if a teacher bullies a kid. When a parent says, "If you're bullied, come tell me and we'll do something about it," but the parent won't stand up to people in their own life or ... are bullies themselves, the boys won't report things like bullying, sexual assault or hazing. They're not going to speak out because they believe that if they do, their life will be worse, and based on their experience, that's a legitimate concern.
Q: Let's talk about Facebook and Twitter. You say kids sometimes use social networking to "hide in plain sight."
A: The way in which a child represents himself online is literally what they want their image to be, and I think that tells you so much about how your child sees the world and how (he's) interacting with the world. Young people are incentivized to hide in plain sight because it gives them freedom. If a boy knows that his mother is checking his Facebook or Twitter feed a lot, if he's going to go out to a concert and he wants his mother to not freak out or stop him from being able to go, he will put the name of the kid that his mother likes the most on the Twitter feed: "I'm going to the concert with Alan." But everybody knows who else he is going with.
Q: On sexting, you tell parents, "You can assume that your son at some point will get or see a picture like this." You're almost certainly going to get pushback on your advice to mothers whose sons get salacious cellphone pictures from their girlfriends. You say moms should tell their sons, "Give yourself one minute to look at it and then delete it." Why not just delete it without looking?
A: You have to be reasonable and not shame your children for being interested in a sexual picture. Let them have 30 seconds or a minute, and then tell them to delete it. More importantly, you should be 100% clear that if he receives that kind of picture from someone else, he can't forward it or join in gossiping or attacking the person.
Q: Your advice about video games is more nuanced than anything I've ever read on the topic. You reject the idea that they cause violence, but you say parents must do more than just read the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating on the box. The online interactions kids have within games, you say, can "normalize humiliation, degradation and senseless violence." Isn't that worse than violent content?
A: There are boys that I respect who play Grand Theft Auto V, and I'm in a healthy debate with them because GTA V has specific scenarios I have a problem with, and I always will. I'm much more concerned with how people are socializing, the culture of the game regardless of its content. That's what I want parents to focus on. As a parent, I don't need to have a study tell me that my children should not be surrounded by people constantly yelling at each other, "Don't be gay!" ... whenever you're perceived to have made a mistake. I don't want my sons saying nothing or joining in on harassing a girl when she speaks through her headset on an online game. I don't need an evaluation for that. It's my responsibility to teach my children that I expect and demand that they treat people with dignity in "real life" and online.