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Interview with Michael Gurian, Author, The Purpose of Boys

Michael Gurian is a family therapist and educator as well as being a New York Times best selling author of 25 books including The Minds of Boys, The Wonder of Boys, The Wonder of Girls and the book that I will be talking to him about today, The Purpose of Boys.  Michael is also the co-founder of the Gurian Institute which provides families, communities and business with an understanding of the brain based gender issues with the aim of supporting girls and boys in reaching their full potential.  

Michael has a special interest in gender-related neurobiology and refers to himself as both a philosopher and a researcher.  He explained to me that some of his interest in gender has been inspired by observations he made in childhood and as a young adult. His parents were professors who joined the foreign service and so the family moved around often. Michael felt that he often was not the right ‘fit’ for his schools; he later reflected that some of the stress and issues that arose were related to his gender-specific educational and environmental needs.

Yvette Vignando: Two chapters in The Purpose of Boys are called, “How Little Boys Develop their Sense of Purpose,” and “How Adolescent Boys seek their Purpose in Life”. You write that boys and girls need purpose differently. Why do you see this sense of purpose as so important in the life of a young man?

Michael Gurian: There are certain biological elements, and of course cultural...   that I think compel males to need extra help from us in directing themselves and their sense of purpose.  One is that girls at a certain point in life, whenever they start to menstruate, are immediately filled with a sense of purpose and boys have nothing like that.  So even though a girl may never have a child later in life, she is reminded every month (and I have, by the way, two daughters) that there is something inside of her, that is very sacred and very possible- so no matter what happens in her life, she may find purpose through that.  

A second biological factor would be the way brains grow.  Girls’ brains develop centres like the frontal lobe, the prefrontal lobe, much more quickly than boys.  These are parts of the brain that help with character development and moral development.  And in boys, these parts of the brain in adolescence grow slower and so the boys tend to be more high risk and they may drift or stray or not know what to do with all their energy.  And some of them will do bad things… and cultures have always said, we have these boys, they have got all this energy but they don’t seem to wake up at 13 and say, “I should be responsible.”

So we need to help them be responsible, we have to direct their energy towards sacred things, towards processes and service of humanity. But our modern culture has drifted away from that.  

A third biological element is testosterone itself, the source of a lot of this male energy.  It's a high risk chemical, it's a very adventurous and energetic chemical. At about 10 or 11 years old, boys start spiking between about 7 and 10 high points or spikes of this hormone per day and boys have 10 to 20 times more of this hormone than girls do.  

So there is a lot of high energy and it needs direction. Those are just three biological reasons that I would say that boys are hungry in a way for patterns and process development and for everyone to direct them and guide them through adolescence so that they end up with purpose

The Purpose of Boys offers ideas for parents about different kinds of processes and different kinds of mentor situations that parents can put their children in.  Could you give us a broad idea of the kinds of experiences or people that our sons should ideally be exposed to in the process of helping our sons realise their sense of purpose or direction in life?