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Volume 15, Number 5
September/October 1999

Don’t Believe the Troubled-Boy Hype


The big news these days is that our boys are in trouble. A number of psychologists are warning us that young males in contemporary America are increasingly violent, undisciplined, depressed, isolated, fragile, and alarmingly low in self-esteem. The problem, we are told, is epidemic, even among youngsters who appear to us and to themselves to be normal and happy.

The idea is not supported by the facts. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which reports the percentage of children and adults exhibiting various emotional disorders, reveals that adjustment problems are uncommon in youngsters of both sexes. The proportion of children displaying behavioral and emotional difficulties typically range from 1 percent to 4 percent. The numbers increase for adolescents, but even here, we are talking about a small minority of young people. And adolescent behavioral and emotional disruptions are hardly a contemporary anomaly. Anna Freud observed over 50 years ago that adolescents behave in ways that, if exhibited by adults, would be classified as pathological. So, rather than pointing to the fragility of boys, the statistics dramatize the resilience of our children.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


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