Book Review: RAISING BOYS by Steve Biddulph

From my archives: Boys visiting a farm

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on February 29, 2012. You can read the online version by clicking here.

Last week I finished reading Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph.  Not long ago I wrote about one of his other books, The Secret of Happy Children.  Like that one, Raising Boys is short and easy to read.  I found it full of useful advice.

Some of it was similar to Michael Gurian’s book, The Wonder of Boys, which I reviewed last year, but there’s enough difference that I highly recommend both.  Busy parents may find Raising Boys more concise and practical for their needs, however.

Biddulph begins the book by noting that thirty years ago, a huge effort was raised to help girls gain confidence. While this was good (I think I benefitted from that), there was neglect when it came to boys. He writes, “…today, it’s the girls who are more sure of themselves, motivated, and capable. More girls than boys finish school, more girls go on to college, and they get better grades than boys.”

While this isn’t true for all boys, I have noticed other articles about boys and education reporting similar findings.  But work has been underway to change how we treat boys.

Much is known now about the differences between the developments of boys and girls brains.  Boys’ brains develop more slowly, and the left and right hemispheres of their brains are less well connected.  Since we know this, we can take steps to help boys and girls as they develop.

Biddulph advises, “…when you chatter, interact and tell stories to babies, toddlers and school-age boys, you’re actually building their neural linkages so they will become men who are good with words and feelings.”

In the book Biddulph writes about the three distinct stages of development for boys.  From birth to approximately six-years-old, boys are in the “learning to love” years.  This is a time that mama is the star of the show, although dads are very important too.  From six to fourteen, however, is “when fathers count the most.”  After fourteen, boys begin to seek a wider world.  They need mentors and caring adults in addition to their parents.

I learned in the book that boys like structure and need to know who’s in charge.  “Wherever you see a gang of boys looking unruly, you know the adult leadership is failing,” Biddulph writes.  Later he adds, “If the teacher, scoutmaster, or parent is kind and fair (as well as strict), boys will drop their macho act and get on with learning.”

He also explains that “if girls are anxious in a group setting, they tend to cower and be quiet” (that’s true for me!), but boys may run around and make noise.

I found it interesting that he noted that schools such as Montessori schools which engage boys in interesting hands-on work have less of a problem with unruly behavior.  He also explains that girls can certainly behave like boys too, and many of the differences between girls and boys are slight.

Biddulph is a big proponent in having boys start school one year later than girls.  I have read this many times and even talked to a kindergarten teacher about it, which is why I wouldn’t enroll my five-year-old in Kindergarten until next year, if I weren’t homeschooling.

Boys’ fine-motor skills and cognitive skills develop slower, so most of them would benefit from starting school later.  Just watching my little boys, it’s evident to me that they need to move a lot.  I don’t make my five-year-old sit at a desk for lessons for more than 20~30 minutes, and even when we are learning, I allow plenty of wiggling.

The book has a chapter each for fathers and mothers and explains the important roles each of them have in their boy’s development.  There is also advice for single mothers, a chapter dedicated to finding and creating the right school environment for boys and much more.

My favorite quote from the book is: “Family life is a work in progress. You only get in trouble if you have to be right and you have to show them who’s boss.  If you are human, it goes much better.”  Raising Boys is an essential read for parents with young boys.

What parenting books would you recommend about raising boys and girls?

6 thoughts on “Book Review: RAISING BOYS by Steve Biddulph

  1. I recommend you read Cordelia Fine’s book ‘Delusions of Gender’, as Biddulph is particularly adept at falling into every single gender stereotype (and fake ‘science’) trap that Fine debunks in her excellent book. Oh, how much I wish everyone would read that book. Particularly parents and teachers, and especially the ones who’ve been poisoned by the likes of Biddulph :S

    As another mother of exclusively sons, I agree with every single point made in this blistering review of ‘Raising Boys’:

    There has not been one single instance in many years parenting all my sons where the fact that they are boy children has explained something better than the simple fact that they are children. They are individuals, FAR more different from each other than as a group of boys they are different from any of the girls we know. I really find it hard to believe that in 2012 we haven’t moved on from gender essentialist crap of the Biddulph variety. Depressing, really.


  2. I quote the closing paragraph of linked review: ‘No, Steve Biddulph: it’s more likely the gender stereotyping and gender expectations from birth that cause all these problems you bring up, for ALL children. If we didn’t pigeonhole kids based on their sex into one colour or another, one sort of toys or another, or one sort of clothes and haircuts or another, or one sort of expected and assumed characteristic/activity or another then they wouldn’t have such problems relating to each other, the world and the other sex at home, at school, in later life. And they wouldn’t then carry on having the same idiotic expectations of the other sex purely because they ARE the other sex, either. Our stupid sexist culture is the problem, not their maleness or femaleness or lack of either.’


    1. Kate, Thanks so much for your thoughts. I agree with you on many points, and I think (as Biddulph even says in his book) we have to be careful not to let this research make sexists out of us. Kids are individuals and very different from each other. My older son was quieter and “easier” than my second son, although I think now they both definitely need lots of space and time to run around, and yes, young girls need that too, but thinking back to my own youth and many young girls that I know, there seems to be some difference between them, even though it’s slight. I read through the review you linked to, however, and it had some good points, but after reading Biddulph’s book, I didn’t come away with the harsh thoughts against Biddulph. I read every parenting book with a grain of salt and consider it a guide, not an instruction book. I think every child needs good role models, both female and male. However, I will definitely make sure my sons get some male role models in their lives because I do think there are some parts of being male that I can’t relate to, and they’ll need that. Learning about how the brain develops in girls and boys is helpful just so that we can be aware and help all children. I don’t think it should be taken as a absolute. Listening and observing our children on an individual level is the most important thing a parent can do to guide them through their education and early life. Again, thank you for commenting. I like hearing different viewpoints, and I’ll check out Fine’s book sometime.


      1. PS. I do think that it’s important to note that more girls are attending college, and more boys seem to be failing in school. Boys (not girls) create gangs too. Would love to get your thoughts about that. I am willing to stretch my mind on this issue. Thanks, again.


    2. And if it were only “our stupid sexist culture”, you’d have a point, but it isn’t just our culture. I have lived for extensive periods in 3 countries in Europe, in China, Thailand and a year in a small village in the mountains of Indonesia, and somehow they all have the same patterns of behavior – ( the only slight exception is Thais believe that there are 5 sexes instead of 2). The village in Indonesia had almost no contact with the outside world except for a few anthropologists over the years. Their lives were about farming and an obsession with pigs and chickens. They had the same “stupid sexist culture.” So where does it come from? Almost certainly from the human brain.


Part of the reason I keep a blog is because being a stay-at-home mom can be lonely! So please reach out with a message, if you have a question or would like to chat. I usually write back within 24 hours, but please be patient.

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