A Fine Young Man

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Michael Gurian devotes fully one quarter of his survey on raising adolescent boys to justifying the need for such a book. Essentially, he enumerates what is well known but not sufficiently acknowledged. Two-parent families have become increasingly rare. Mothers, try as they will on their own, cannot have the insight into the psyche of boys that an older man would have. Adolescent boys are often incommunicative, even in normally stable family situations. This grows worse when there are other strains within the family.

Puberty encourages guilty alienation and fear. The result is that other boys often have a good deal of influence in the lives of younger adolescent friends, for better or for worse. A number of medical conditions have become almost common among adolescent boys, at least in part because of a lack of support. These range from simple depression, to trauma, to the elaborately named attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). Experimentation with drugs and alcohol has become almost common, and these contribute to delinquency and sometimes even to suicide.

In A FINE YOUNG MAN Gurian establishes three major stages in a boy’s progress to manhood: transformation (the metabolic changes from ages nine to thirteen), determination (characterized by alternate aggression and withdrawal), and consolidation (indicated by determining and testing definitions of adult male behavior). He concludes by offering what he considers indications that the process of individuation has begun. He returns often to the worthwhile observation that what boys need at every stage of the process of maturing is consistent support from a variety of sources both within and outside of the family. It is this support that is too often lacking.