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Are our boys in crisis?

We've never had a female president, and most CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are still white men. But William Pollack says there's a ''boy crisis'' in America.

As proof, he cites several measures:

• In schools across the country, boys get the majority of Ds and Fs; girls get most of the As.

• Boys are less likely to graduate from high school and college than girls.

• And boys are more likely to commit suicide or homicide.

''I don't think there's a war or anyone's out to get them,'' said Pollack, a Harvard University psychologist. ''But compared to girls, boys are failing -


William Pollack wants his book, Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons From the Myths of Boyhood, to be a wake-up call.

1. Boys may be rough, but they are not naturally hurtful. If they're behaving that way, ''it doesn't mean they're a bad boy; it means they're a sad boy.''

2. Use ''action talk.'' Do something the boy likes to do, and initiate conversations during that activity. Don't expect long, heart-to-heart discussions, especially at first.

3. Spend as much time with boys as you can. ''The more family dinners you can have, the more likely the boy will not be a depressed delinquent.''

4. Single mothers can help their sons by bringing good male role models into their lives. It doesn't have to be boyfriends.

5. When adolescent boys say ''Leave me alone,'' don't get angry. ''Don't leave him alone . . . Give him some space. Let him know you'll always be there to return to.''

failing in life, in school, in health. They're failing to feel good about themselves and develop into healthy adult males.''

Pollack directs the Centers for Men and Young Men at McLean Hospital in Boston, and he's the author of Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood.

Two weeks ago, he spoke to parents and teachers at Trinity Episcopal School in Charlotte, N.C., to raise money for Let Me Run, a local program created to encourage boys to embrace the idea that it's OK to express their emotions and feel vulnerable.

Pollack said boys are taught from an early age not to show their feelings. It comes through in ''boy code,'' a term he coined to describe the messages boys get from society.

''We expect a 'real' boy to be tough, to hold back their tears when they're in pain, to be heroic, which means to sacrifice themselves for others and not to show vulnerability,'' Pollack said. ''We expect this from the age of 4 and 5 on.''

While research shows that boys and men like rough-and-tumble play, Pollack said there's ''nothing that shows they're biologically hard-wired to be aggressive in a negative manner.'' If boys are hurtful and mean, he said, they've been taught that behavior.

''We need to ask what has happened to this poor boy,'' he said. ''Most boys are suffering in silence. Boys are in trouble, because we have trouble seeing what they really need and giving it to them.''

What's the solution?

Pollack hopes that parents and teachers can learn to recognize the messages and change them.

Schools contribute to the ''boy code'' by failing to allow for differences in the way boys and girls learn.

Without enough time for activity, boys squirm in their seats, get sent to the principal's office and may even be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and given medication. ''Don't get me wrong,'' Pollack said. ''I believe ADD is a true disorder and medication is a reasonable treatment, but I think it's overused.''

Boys and girls also have a different ''learning tempo,'' Pollack said. On average, boys learn to read and write about a year to 16 months later than girls, and boys are a year or two behind girls in mastering penmanship. ''Yet we force it on them at the same time,'' Pollack said.

He doesn't blame educators. ''Most teachers haven't learned how boys learn.... When (boys) are not interested, they pull away, and teachers see them as problem kids. Boys are 10 times more likely to be disciplined than girls in elementary school.''

Once teachers see the research, ''they immediately come up with ideas to change the curriculum,'' Pollack said. Parents, too, can learn to relate differently to their sons, Pollack said.

Because boys have a hard time expressing themselves in words and often feel shame if they have a problem, he advises: ''Give them a little time.''

''If he comes in the door and slams it, don't go after him immediately . . . He won't say 'Mom and Dad, I want to have a heart-to-heart interpersonal discussion.' He'll say, 'Is dinner ready?'''

That's the time for what Pollack calls ''action talk.''

''See what game they like to play. Ask them where they want to go. Get a movie and sit down next to them . . . While you're there, say 'Gee, you seem quiet' or 'We haven't talked in a while.'... Just say one or two words. Then you wait.''

(Pollack quips that once, when he gave that advice to one mother, she asked: ''How many years?'')

Boys will come forward, he said. ''Maybe not as articulately at first, but they will share their feelings, especially their pain, and then you can help them.''