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The Plight of Child Soldiers

Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict for the United Nations, Olara Otunnu. He is a former Ugandan diplomat who is now heading the effort to see that guerrilla armies do not use children as soldiers, and that children are protected in wartorn areas. Experts say that the number of children in combat is on the rise, and that as many as 300,000 children in at least 30 countries are directly involved in conflict as soldiers, porters, or slaves.


Other segments from the episode on July 9, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 9, 1998: Interview with Olara Otunnu; Interview with William Pollack; Review of the album "The Best of Paolo Conte."


Date: JULY 09, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 070901np.217
Head: Ugandan Child Soldiers
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, sitting in for Terry Gross.

In June, guerrilla soldiers abducted 19 elementary school children from a city in northern Uganda to train them for combat in the Lord's (ph) Resistance Army. These youngsters joined more than 8,000 other children under the age of 16 already fighting in Uganda's civil war.

It's estimated that worldwide, a quarter of a million children under the age of 18 are being used in armed combat. While there's a long tradition of children being used in warfare, in the past decade the number of child soldiers has dramatically increased, due to the changing nature of modern wars.

My guest Olara Otunno is the United Nations Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict. The UN recently created the office to work on initiatives to protect children from the traumas of war. I asked him what makes children such desirable soldiers.

OLARA OTUNNO, UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE ON CHILDREN AND ARMED CONFLICT: Because they're largely innocent. They are not conscious of the impact of what they are doing. And also, because they are very impressionable. They're like a vessel. You can indoctrinate them. You can fill them with whatever ideology and passion you want. And they'll do exactly what the warlords want them to do.

So, that is part of the reason why children tend to be the most fearless fighters; the most ferocious. Sometimes, they commit the worst atrocities, precisely because they are not fully conscious of what they are doing, and that's the reason why they are such a valuable commodity for the warring factions.

BOGAEV: I suppose in many of these countries, war has been going on as long as these children have been alive. In that sense, many of them probably have nothing to lose. They've probably lost their families in fighting already.

OTUNNO: Well, sometimes. I mean, there are many reasons why children end up being used in warfare. Sometimes because the entire social system has broken down. There's no social structure in place, whether in families, schools, extended family -- all that has broken down. Sometimes it is because they are looking for economic opportunities.

They are not attending schools and these groups promise them opportunities. Sometime because they are hungry and they need to be fed, and the fighting groups offer them the opportunity to be given food and to be given other amenities. Sometime, they're simply abducted and kidnapped against their will, against the will of their families, and pressed into war.

So there are many reasons. Part of the reasons are political. Part of it is economic and social. And part of it is purely military -- why young people, children especially, are pressed into hostilities.

BOGAEV: Children have been used as soldiers, I suppose, throughout -- throughout history. Why are we seeing an increase now? What's changing about the nature of war that's brought this about?

OTUNNO: Well you know, even though the experience of war is nothing new, nor the fact of the use of children in wars, we are nevertheless witnessing a qualitative shift in the nature, the conduct of warfare. For one thing, all the major conflicts in the world today are in fact internal conflicts unfolding within national boundaries. For another, we are seeing the widespread targeting of civilian populations as part of the objective of warfare. They are no longer incidental victims.

And of course within that category, those who suffer disproportionately are women and children. And, we are also seeing the complete disregard for international standards regarding the conduct of warfare, and worse a complete collapse of local value systems that, through most societies, have provided for injunctions and taboos about the conduct of warfare.

So there are many elements which have come on the scene which make it now a qualitative shift in the conduct of warfare. And then in terms of weapons, there are miniature weapons -- lightweight weapons that are easy to assemble and to be borne by children. And this of course makes it easier for children to be used. They have become, if you like, the weapon of choice.

BOGAEV: How are children used in fighting? One report I read about child soldiers in Uganda described the children as a kind of suicide mission or a kamikaze screen. They were told to run right into the gunfire, and the commanders came -- came up behind them.

OTUNNO: Well, I think -- I think probably the most commonplace usage of children is simply to fight; to carry guns and to fight. Now, they tend to be put in front because they will not be afraid, and so in that sense, they serve as a kind of buffer -- the first line of attack. But they're also used sometimes as -- on suicide missions. There are special commandos in many theaters of conflict which are composed almost entirely of children.

They are used also to carry out some of the most risky operations -- the bombing of certain localities; going into areas which are very dangerous. They are used for this purpose. But they're also used as porters to carry luggage and to carry various things for the adults. And the women are used as porters. They're used as cooks. They're used as sex slaves. After their will has been broken, they are then turned into concubines for the officers who are in the fighting groups.

BOGAEV: Where are you seeing a rise in child soldiering?

OTUNNO: Well, in terms of the -- the magnitude, worldwide today in some maybe 30 conflicts, major conflicts around the world, all of which are internal conflicts unfolding within national boundaries, it is estimated that a quarter of a million persons -- young persons -- under the age of 18 are under arms. They're serving as child soldiers.

Now, this is a huge leap from anything we have known in the modern era. It represents a really qualitative shift in anything we have known in the modern era.

Now in terms of countries, as I said, it's very widespread, but certainly in Sri Lanka, in Sudan, in Uganda, in Sierra Leone, in Liberia, in Cambodia, in Afghanistan, in Angola -- all these are countries where we know that the use of children is very widespread in the ongoing conflicts.

BOGAEV: A Tamil guerrilla group in Sri Lanka recently pledged to end child soldiers as a result of the increasing international pressure; in part because of the work that your office has been doing and also other -- other nongovernmental bodies. The Tamil rebel groups have an astounding indoctrination program for young kids, ages 10 to 15. I think they call that brigade the "baby brigade."

I'd like you to tell us how they have institutionalized the recruitment of these kids and how they train these children.

OTUNNO: Well, in the civil war in Sri Lanka, unfortunately, children have been used for a very long time. And the -- the -- I mean, the zone which is controlled by the Tamil Tigers -- the insurgent group -- they control everything within that zone.

And so, children are recruited sometimes in schools. There are advertisements and there are posters and there are campaigns to entice children and to make -- to make participation in hostilities look very glamorous.

And then of course once they're recruited, they go through a training program that again provides them with a lot of political indoctrination so that they can participate in the hostilities. So this is -- this is the issue which I raised with the Tamil Tigers when I met with them in the month of May. And they made a commitment not to recruit any more children below the age of 17 into their ranks, and not to deploy into hostilities below the age of 18.

BOGAEV: You recently traveled to Sierra Leone to investigate the impact of the conflict there on children -- not only children involved in armed conflict, but also victims of civil war. What did the children there tell you about their experience of war?

OTUNNO: I remember meeting a number of children who had been demobilized. They had been child soldiers. And one group told me the only thing that we long for is to get back our education. We want to go back to school. They had realized suddenly that after two or so years in fighting, they'd lost out on their education.

Another group of children I remember very well could barely describe what they had done in the bush because they'd obviously been involved in fighting. They'd been involved in killing people. And it was something that so traumatized them, it was very difficult to get the story out of them. It was weighing heavily on their minds, on their soul.

But I also remembering meeting a group of young people who had not so much been child soldiers, but atrocities had been committed against them by the rebel groups. They had had their limbs cut off. And when I asked one of these boys: what did they tell you when they cut off your hand and your foot? And without any emotion, he simply told me: "well, they told me -- go tell President Kabbah that we are still here." That was the only reason given to him for cutting off his hand and his foot.

BOGAEV: My guest is Olara Otunno. He is the United Nations Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict. We'll talk more after the break.

This is FRESH AIR.

If you're just joining us, my guest is Olara Otunno. He's the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict at the United Nations. He heads a new office of the UN which is in part working to stop the use of children as soldiers in war.

You grew up in northern Uganda among a people called the Acholi (ph).


BOGAEV: What were you taught about -- about battle and ethics in battle?

OTUNNO: Well you see, among the Acholi people of northern Uganda, there's a very strong concept -- the concept of "lapi" -- which means the cleanliness of one's claim. And before going to war, the elders would assemble. They would examine the claim being laid against the other community to be sure that that claim was well-founded; that it was a deep grievance well-founded.

And then if they were convinced that the claim was well-founded, they would declare war. But never lightly -- they had to be absolutely sure about the base -- the basis of this claim. But even when war was declared, it was so important how you prosecuted the war.

You did not touch women. You did not touch children. You didn't touch the elderly. You didn't burn crops and granary stores because to do any of those things would be to commit a taboo. And when you commit a taboo, you soiled your lapi. And therefore, you lost the blessings of the ancestors. And when you lost the blessings of the ancestors, you risk losing the war.

But worse -- worse -- the elders always anticipated -- it was always a presumption even before war was declared, that after war, there had to be coexistence between the two enemy communities. And so it was so important not to do things that would humiliate; would remove the basis for future coexistence.

So it was another reason why one was very careful not to commit certain taboos, because you did not want to remove the basis of future coexistence.

BOGAEV: Is this the kind of rich, moral framework that these children are now lacking?

OTUNNO: This is exactly what has broken down, and to paraphrase Yeats, "things have fallen apart." Nowadays, we are witnessing a situation in many societies in which anything goes. Women, children, the elderly, the sick -- all are fair game in this ferocious struggle to gain or to retain power. And where one is no longer fighting to subdue the enemy army, but one is actually fighting to humiliate the enemy community; to annihilate, not just to subdue, that community.

So we -- we're witness to a situation of total war, where there are no injunctions; there are no taboos. This is a relatively new development. we are witnessing war not as we have known it in the modern era.

BOGAEV: Historically, though, armies using child soldiers just very cynically denied the fact. How can you monitor...

OTUNNO: ... nobody...

BOGAEV: ... the pledges that these armies are giving as the world becomes more aware of the problem?

OTUNNO: No, that is easy. That is easy. I mean, but first, one has to establish the principle. One has to create a political atmosphere that makes it a taboo to recruit, to abduct, and to use children. That's where we have to begin. And then secondly, mobilize concerted pressure by the key members of the international community to say the price to be paid for this kind of conduct.

Now, in terms of how does one get the facts -- that's not very difficult. Again, because we live in a world which is so interconnected. There are very few corners of the world where you cannot get people to send out information; where humanitarian agencies are present; where journalists may be able to have access. There are various ways by which one can get the facts out.

Our difficulty at the moment is not that we don't know, it is that we don't care enough to do something concrete to reverse this trend of abomination.

BOGAEV: One proposal the UN and others have is to raise the minimum age of acceptance to an army to 18. This would be part of the International Convention on Children's Rights in War. What -- what stands in the way of this?

OTUNNO: Well, there are two things here. As we speak, there's an agreed age limit; it is agreed in the convention on the rights of the child; the agreed age limit for recruiting children is 15. That's the present age limit. And we must do -- we must not relent in bringing pressure to bear on warring factions today to observe that age limit.

Because even as we speak, in many of the theaters of conflict -- you see this on your screen on television and elsewhere -- most of the young people who are presently being used in conflict situations -- they are 12; they're 13; they're nine; they're 10 years old.

So, we must not relent on our pressure to apply existing age limit, which is 15. But secondly, I believe that our prospects for protecting more children will be increased if the age limit is raised to 18.

BOGAEV: And that's because...

OTUNNO: Because many -- well, because in many of these countries there are no records kept. There are no registration of births in these -- especially in the rural areas. So, one is really guessing the age of a young person.

I was in Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone and Liberia and Sudan, and I met a lot of young people who were either presently still being used as child soldiers or who have not been demobilized. And I asked them their age. They don't know. I was only guessing.

So the higher the age limit, the more children we are sure of protecting from the exploitation as child soldiers. The lower the age limit, obviously, the more can pass off for being older kids. So there's a very practical, pragmatic reason for this.

And then finally, there's also of course discussion right now in Rome about the establishment of a new court -- the International Criminal Court -- and I have advocated very strongly that in the new court, provision should be made to make the recruitment and use of children below the age of 15 a war crime, punishable with the most severe penalty; most severe punishment. And I hope that that will be accepted.

BOGAEV: Olara Otunno is the United Nations Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict.

I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest: Olara Otunno
High: Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict for the United Nations, Olara Otunno. He is a former Ugandan diplomat who is now heading the effort to see that guerrilla armies do not use children as soldiers, and that children are protected in war torn areas. Experts say that the number of children in combat is on the rise, and that as many as 300,000 children in at least 30 countries are directly involved in conflict as soldiers, porters, or slaves.
Spec: Africa; Uganda; Youth; Violence; Military
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Ugandan Child Soldiers
Date: JULY 09, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 070901np.217
Head: Raising Boys
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

New research on child development has uncovered a disturbing trend. At least by academic standards, boys are in trouble. They're now twice as likely as girls to be labeled "learning disabled." They're 10 times more likely to be more -- to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. And they're substantially more likely to have disciplinary problems, be suspended from class, or drop out of school entirely.

On the psychological front, the rate of depression and suicide among boys is also rising at an alarming rate.

William Pollack is the co-director of the Center for Men at Harvard. In his new book "Real Boys," Pollack argues that boys are suffering because of our society's contradictory ideas about true masculinity. He writes that our traditional myths about men -- that real men don't cry; that boys will be boys; that men are at the mercy of their testosterone -- are clashing with more modern concepts of the new age sensitive male, and that the mixed message we're sending to our young boys is hampering their development.

I asked William Pollack to talk about a recent study on how parents communicate with their sons.

WILLIAM POLLACK, PSYCHOLOGIST, CO-DIRECTOR, THE CENTER FOR MEN, HARVARD MEDICAL CENTER, AUTHOR, "REAL BOYS": Well, from young childhood onward, we have research that shows us that mothers and fathers both talk to girls and boys in different ways. When they talk to girls, they talk about the feelings the girls might have -- often their sad or emotional kind of sense -- and their empathic feelings for the other.

When they talk to boys, they often talk about the anger that boys have. It's the one emotion that parents both talk to boys about. They leave all the other emotions out. And they talk about injustice and doing something about it -- getting some action or activity done.

And this is unwitting. It's unconscious. They don't do this on purpose. We get this when we ask them to tell stories and record them.

So, what's going on as boys and girls are growing up is that unwittingly, we are socializing girls to be in touch with feelings; to express feelings; and to have words for feelings. And we're socializing boys to have the one common pathway for feeling, which is anger, and the one common way of handling it, which is action.

BOGAEV: It's really a pretty provocative -- provocative idea. Do you see it leading in two directions? Either to some of the statistics that point to a high rate of boys' depression? Also a high rate of suicide compared to girls? Or directly into violence?

POLLACK: I think this connects to three phenomenon. I think this connects to boys' depression because they have no way of expressing their feelings. I think it express -- it relates to boys' suicide which comes from their depression. We had a spate of suicides in South Boston a year ago which every boy a month before he tried to kill himself -- within a month said something about his sadness, but he couldn't quite say it and nobody listened. And then he went ahead and killed himself.

And it leads to violence. I've gone so far as to say, it's a little provocative but I believe it, that if we don't let boys cry tears, they'll cry bullets. And sometimes the trigger is aimed outward and sometimes the trigger is aimed inward.

BOGAEV: There's been a recent spate of school shootings, of course, in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Arkansas -- around the country. Is that what you see this leading to? Is that how you explain the failure of parents and schools to know how close these boys were to the edge?

POLLACK: Absolutely. I think boys are the invisible -- new invisible men. I think every one of the boys involved in the school shooting either talked about his distress or sadness, or bragged that he was going to kill someone. And we know for boys, at least in my research we found, that bragging is boys' way of masking their sense of vulnerability. And they all said it and no one did anything.

If a girl came into a classroom and held up her wrists, and said: "look, I just cut my wrists." She'd be somewhere getting some kind of help. I mean, maybe it wouldn't be the best help, but someone would be doing something.

One superintendent was quoted as saying: "well, if every boy who said 'I'm going to kill somebody' had to be talked to, I'd have to talk to 10 or 20 boys in a week." And my answer is: "that's right. You have to talk to 10, 20 boys in a week."

This is absolutely connected and we do not listen or hear the pain of boys.

BOGAEV: And why are boys not allowed to be sad? Is that just too vulnerable a position? We can't stand to see boys set themselves up that way?

POLLACK: Because we have this code of this myth that boys will be boys; that they should be aggressive; that I still have colleagues who say that it's all testosterone-based; that boys should be boys; that they have to be one kind of masculinity -- that kind of dominant John Wayne-type; and that boys are naturally aggressive and toxic.

And we just expect it. And in fact, we say "boys will be boys" often when boys are doing things we find reprehensible, but feel there's nothing that can be done about it. And we still have this warrior mentality and the boy code in which we brings boys up, which is unnecessary, painful, hurtful, and, as you can see, very dangerous.

BOGAEV: You call depression among adolescent boys also a hidden epidemic. I'm thinking that the social and I think the medical model for depression is really based on adult women. Is that part of the problem -- that the diagnostic model and tools for mental health professionals are not based on boys -- they don't expect it of boys?

POLLACK: All of our diagnostic models, particularly of depression, are based on women and of girls. And so, we ask the wrong kinds of questions and look for the wrong kinds of symptoms, and don't find them in boys.

Boys show their depression in irritability, anger, withdrawal, and disconnection from their friendships. And when you look at it that way, you see just as much depression in boys as you do in girls. I mean, we're so out of touch with depression in boys that I read a psychiatric article the other day that asked: how could it be possible that boys kill themselves so much if they're not depressed? I mean, how could you even ask the question if they're not depressed?

One study was done finally with adult men in which they sent them to their doctors with symptoms, and then they studied them. And they found afterwards that many of the men were depressed, but were under-diagnosed. Sixty-seven percent of the men who had a depression were not diagnosed as depressed.

And they asked the doctors: "well, how did you not see this?" And they said: "well, they weren't crying and they weren't asking for help. And some of them seemed upset, but I thought I'd make them feel ashamed if I asked them." And that's what goes on with boys.

BOGAEV: I'm speaking with William Pollack. He's a clinical psychologist and the co-director of the Center for Men at Harvard Medical School. His new book is Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood.

We're going to take a break now and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with psychologist William Pollack. He teaches psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He's also a founding member of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity of the American Psychological Association.

We're talking about raising sons. His new book is Real Boys.

What's the newest word on testosterone and how much of a determiner that is for boys' behavior?

POLLACK: The more modern research about testosterone tells us that it does shape boys' behavior; that is does have an effect on the nature of their mood and their learning style. But it is much less powerful in boys' behavior than the loving and nurturing that they get in the first few years of life.

In addition, we have learned that the distinction between nature and nurture is a false distinction. And because of the fact that the baby's brain is so small when it's born, the synapses -- the connections in the brain -- are developing and doubling during the first year and then again during the second year of life out of the uterus. So the holding and loving and caring that the baby gets from mother and hopefully from father not only shapes his personality, but actually shapes the nature of his biology.

So even if testosterone is having an effect, we are having an effect on the testosterone itself.

BOGAEV: Let's talk about boys in school. There's a whole slew of new reports about how boys are falling to the bottom of the class academically, especially in reading. What do the statistics truly indicate? I'm thinking, is it really the boys are failing? Or that girls are just catching up?

POLLACK: Well, girls are catching up in math and science. When I wrote the book and it came out, I said they were within one or two percentage points. We now think they're absolutely caught up; that they're very close. But it isn't the -- that way with reading and writing. It isn't that girls are catching up, it's that boys are falling behind. Girls were always doing well. Boys are 13 points behind girls on the average in third, fifth, and eighth grade when tests are taken.

And U.S. Commissioner Riley (ph) last year, without using the B-word -- without mentioning gender or boys -- said that kids who are that far behind are going to fail in school, fail at work, and fail at life. And yet, we don't seem to recognize it or just barely recognize it, and we hardly do anything about it.

I have said that co-educational early education and middle school are the most boy-unfriendly places in the country.

BOGAEV: And what is boy-unfriendly about them? And do boys have a characteristic learning style that schools aren't -- aren't addressing?

POLLACK: Yes, what's boy-unfriendly is both the attitude toward boys and the nature of the teaching of boys. Boys have a different tempo of learning from girls. They learn reading and writing at a different age and stage of development.

They tend to learn faster and better with hands-on, kind of manipulatable kind of learning -- computers and things in their hands, rather than visual learning. They tend to be able to tolerate taking information in if they can move around more in a larger space. They need more periods of recess and play; for shorter bursts of time.

And what most elementary and most schools have is visual learning, sitting still, being told not to wriggle in your seat, and having one large recess. So, it's not surprising that many boys spend a lot of their time on their way to the bench in front of the principal's office or on their way to the psychiatrist's office to get medicated.

BOGAEV: What's a healthier model?

POLLACK: A healthier model consists of several things. One is: trying to integrate the tempo and the voice of boys into the curriculum from the beginning in the same way we've been trying to do for the last 10 years for girls. I mean, we have brought in specialists with research about how girls learn; how to listen to their voices; the kinds of skills and special capacities they tend to be interested in. And we integrated them into the curriculum. We need to do the same thing for boys.

A second part of the model is that we may need to teach boys at different rates different skills. In other words, writing and reading may be taught at a later time or in a different way to boys -- some boys, than girls. I mean, you know, there's variation here, but I think we need to take that into account; that gender has to be part of it.

And for some boys, although this is still debatable, there are some boys for whom, just like for some girls, some form of single-sex classroom or education may be more useful than coeducational.

BOGAEV: Really, the trend now is to think perhaps in neutral gender terms. And what you're talking about really goes against that. I bet a lot of people listening...

POLLACK: Right, but...

BOGAEV: ... to you are saying: oh, he's making such distinctions between boys and girls. It really doesn't have to be that way. We should treat them all the same.

POLLACK: Right. We should treat them all the same in the sense of giving them all the love we can possibly give them; giving them all the connection and empathy that's available; and giving them all of the equal opportunity that they deserve. But we should treat them specifically based on what they're more likely to be like; how they react; what their voices are like; and what their needs are.

And just as the proponents for girls have rightly said that girls have a particular and special voice, so do boys. It's not a way to stereotype. It's not a way to make things unequal. It's a way to recognize the individuality and meaningfulness that may come and be affected by gender.

BOGAEV: You've studied attention deficit disorder in boys, and you cite that the ratio of boys to girls in newly diagnosed cases is 10 to one.


BOGAEV: It's such a huge -- a huge difference. Now, ADD is said to be widely misdiagnosed. Does your research show a biological link between boys and ADD? Or do you think that doctors are mistaking -- are mistaking healthy boy behavior for attention deficit? Or what you call, you know, "boys will be boys"?

POLLACK: Both. There is no doubt that there is some biological link in attention deficit disorder and certain neurological disorders in boys. There are more neurological disorders in birth of boys, and boys probably will have, even in real attention deficit disorder -- and as a psychologist I want to say there is real attention deficit disorder that responds very nicely to therapy and medication.

But the majority of the cases that are being "diagnosed," are not being diagnosed by specialists; are not being diagnosed thoughtfully; they're overworked teachers; overworked social workers; general practitioners who see a boy before them and -- who's in trouble; who's squirming around in his seat; who can't get along. And they want to get him to get along and they medicate him, and it stops him from engaging in that boy-like behavior.

If you look at the nine criteria in the diagnostic manual, three and four of them consists of wriggling in your seat, not listening to directions, not being able to pay attention when told to -- I mean, how many boys out there are there like that? There are so many, pretty soon we're going to have every boy and man on ritalin.

So, we really have to be careful about how we diagnose attention deficit disorder.

BOGAEV: You know, one approach that parents want to avoid -- this gender strait-jacketing that you describe, is that they try to raise a child gender -- as gender-neutrally as possible. Or they go in the opposite direction. They don't give dolls to girls or don't give guns to boys.

And then I think you end up in these situations where you hear these jokes that a little girl never got a doll, so the parents find her tucking her hammer into bed at night.


What -- what are your conclusions about that approach?

POLLACK: I think that a little girl having a doll and being nurturing won't stop her from being a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And a little boy who has a toy gun or a water pistol won't make him an unloving, un-nurturing father and caring man.

I think we have to be careful not to get our adult assumptions about power and control confused with children's proclivities for play. I've said before that although it may still be a man's world and there's a lot of rightful anger about men's power and control -- it's not a boys world. So, a boy playing with a gun doesn't mean that he's going to become a bank robber or a misogynist.

And I think we have to be careful not to try to push our children into these kinds of straitjackets.

One mother told me -- I've spoken to a lot of mothers around the country -- that she had divorced, and her husband had been a very aggressive guy. And her boys were aggressive and she tried to diminish the aggressiveness, and some of that was very positive.

She was able to get them to play games as I talked about, and share their feelings. But often, they would be a little bit more rambunctious than she would like. And for one or two years, she kept trying to suppress this.

And then she realized that her suppression of it was making them angrier, and making them hate her. And when she finally realized that this was part of who they were, she joined in the play with them, in this action play with them; in this fun kind of play that was a little more rough. And all of a sudden, there was more loving; they were more loving; and it became less aggressive.

So I think it's very, important not to push and stereotype children into something that doesn't fit for them.

BOGAEV: This whole idea of letting boys be boys gets really confusing as I listen to you talk. On one hand we should celebrate the differences between boys and girls. There is a place for roughhousing. It's an important part of a boy's development.

On the other hand, just as you said, there's this double-standard. We're trying to create these -- these new-age sensitive, sensitive guys.

POLLACK: I think we need to move toward the middle, and this gives me a chance to comment on fathers' roles for example, which we haven't said much about. I mean, there's an interesting piece of research that shows, you know, fathers engage in the kind of play that my colleague Jim Herzog calls "kamikaze" play -- the kind of thing that drives mothers up a wall with a little boy. You know, right before he's about to go to bed or have dinner, they jazz him up. And mother says: "oh no, don't do that. It's horrible -- roughhousing."

Well research shows that if a father engages in that kind of very stimulating kind of play for boys, which they love, boys love, but don't go too far, and can interact with the boy in a positive way without getting angry, and then calm the boy down -- that actually teaches boys a way to tame aggressive instinct and to manage their temper. And those boys have fewer temper outbursts and better temper management over time.

So there are ways of both letting boys be boys, but teaching them a loving kind of connectedness at the same time. And I'd add the other piece: if you then have mother teaching the mother tongue -- talking about her feelings to the boy and the father supporting it, then all of a sudden what you're doing is, you're recognizing some natural differences or societal differences, but you're moving toward the center.

So when the little boy cries and he feels miserable and runs to mommy, daddy should support that and say: get that support. And when the little boy is roughhousing and wants to play with dad, mom should support that and say: go to your father -- that's a form of love, too.

BOGAEV: Is there a case to be made for switching parental roles? I'm thinking mothers are always the disciplinarian and fathers come in and they're the -- a cross between, I don't know, a tiger and a clown or something.

POLLACK: Well, no...

BOGAEV: They're the big play-thing. How do you help -- how do you advise parents to -- to switch those gender stereotypes?

POLLACK: Well, in a more traditional family where there's co-parenting, there's mothers and fathers, I think parents want to take turns to learn the other's approach. In other words, mothers want to watch fathers do their kind of action love, and learn to do it with the boys. And fathers want to learn from mothers the kind of talking vocabulary of love.

When I studied fathers in my other work, I learned that many of them who didn't get a kind of nurturance in childhood, said that they learned how to be nurturant from their wives. So in a family that functions optimally, over time mothers and fathers become a little more like each other; never exactly the same, but they learn from each other and that also models to the boy how he can be a different kind of person; a more diverse kind of person than just a stereotype.

BOGAEV: I want to thank you so much for talking today. It really was interesting.

POLLACK: Thank you.

BOGAEV: William Pollack is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, where he co-directs their Center for Men. His new book is Real Boys.

Coming up, a review of the new CD from Italy's Paolo Conte.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest: William Pollack
High: William Pollack is a psychologist and co-director of the Center for Men at Harvard Medical Center. His new book "Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood" is about how the stereotypes about masculinity are hurting young boys. Pollack contends that boys are in crisis, that they are given conflicting messages about what's expected of them, and that research shows that boys are doing less well in school than before, many of them have fragile self-esteem, and that rates of depression and suicide in boys is on the rise.
Spec: Health and Medicine; Boys; Education; Culture; Media
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Raising Boys
Date: JULY 09, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 070901np.217
Head: Best of Paolo Conte
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:55

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: There's a style of musicians that critic Milo Miles likes to call "jaded guys who crack lies at the piano." Mose Allison (ph), Leonard Cohen, and Dave Frischberg (ph) fit into this category.

Now, says Milo, there is an international addition. He's Italy's Paolo Conte, who's just released his first American album.



MILO MILES, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Paolo Conte is a no-longer-young man who makes a living as a lawyer, among other things. But when he sits down at the piano with his small combo in tow, he puts on exotic masks through his songs. Here, he's an old street tough. There, he's the cosmopolitan lady-killer musician.

His favorite disguise, though, is the pseudo-worldly bohemian dude from the sticks. This guy muses endlessly about his multiple love affairs and his indifference to middle class propriety. But he whimpers and retreats to the safety of his local cafe if any real adventure threatens to disrupt his routine.


CONTE, SINGING: Ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, da dum
Ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, da
And now here we just
I whisper all of you
I whisper all of you


MILES: This persona allows Conte to spout about jazz, hipness, and Hemingway without ever seeming like a simple dilletante. He's actually a subversive provincial. And the slightly sleazy accordions, guitars, saxophones, and orchestras that accompany him help the mood.

Another twist is that, like all the jaded guys who crack wise at the piano, he slyly lets the audience know he's more self-aware than his characters. As he says addressing the type of song he's playing: "you'll have me green malonga (ph), because you were written for me; for my sensitivity; my polished shoes; my timing; for my taste; for all my tiredness; and my ham acting."



MILES: Yes, words are important with Paolo Conte. At first, it seems too much of this "best of" collection will be lost if you don't know Italian. And no matter what, at least one read-through of his translated lyrics is required, if only to savor lines like these from his description of lovers in a jazz nightclub: "it was an adult world; any mistakes were those made by a professional."

Conte does growl bits of English now and again, but his chunky boogie-woogie figures and his insistent strong structures speak for him. Then once you get used to him -- Conte's cracked ennui, his loopy skat singing, and joshing lechery take over until he entertains and amazes beyond words.

BOGAEV: Milo Miles is music editor at The Best of Paolo Conte is on the Nonesuch label.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
High: Critic Milo Miles reviews a new CD by Paolo Conte, an Italian piano player and singer, "The Best of Paolo Conte."
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Best of Paolo Conte
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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