Are you worried about your son? Does he hate reading and, for that matter, school? Is his iPod filled with music that makes you cringe? If he has not seen the inside of a jail cell yet, are you secretly afraid that he might someday soon? Has he been unable to find or hold down a job? Is he fascinated by “thug” culture and beginning to adopt some of its trademark fashion and mannerisms? If you are worried about your son and his ability to navigate the culture of his generation, Lisa Bloom’s newly released book, SWAGGER: 10 URGENT RULES for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness, and Thug Culture is a must read. In this book, bestselling author Lisa Bloom issues a startling wake-up call to the parents of boys and offers practical solutions as well.
Bloom identifies four potent forces aligned against boys today: a failing education system, a jobless economy, the promotion of thug culture and mass incarceration. Bloom provocatively points out that girls are thriving at far higher rates than boys in this same environment, and sets out to understand why this is and what parents can do to give their sons the advantages they need to be successful in spite of the odds.
Many parents of boys can relate to the issues Bloom raises. They have sons who do not like school or who cannot find a job. They have watched their sons embrace cultural values contrary to their own, and sadly, too many parents have seen their boys enter the criminal justice system. Bloom’s observation and articulation of the problems boys face is not unique, but what is unique is her ability to answer the questions parents have about why this is happening to their sons and what they can do about it.
Why does my son hate school?
According to Bloom’s research, being punished for their boyish energy and friskiness begins for many boys as early as preschool, where they are expelled five times as often as girls. The result is devastating; many boys “hate” school and feel like they do not belong.
Boys, writes Bloom, think of reading as “girly”-parents of most boys have heard that before! But, what parents may not realize is that there is a fundamental literacy issue among boys today as a result of this attitude. While the academic achievements of girls are being celebrated, Bloom says, “Boys dominate in one area: remedial and special education classes.”
Bloom asserts that the problem is exacerbated by America’s continued de-prioritization of education. Schools are less effective. Teachers do not have supplies. Sports programs are being eliminated. Students are jammed into overcrowded classrooms. “Is it any wonder so many boys report hating school?” asks Bloom.
Why can’t my son find a job?
According to Bloom’s research, the loss of traditionally male, blue-collar jobs, one of the most significant shifts in the economy, has profoundly affected boys’ prospects for employment. A generation ago, jobs like these only required a high school diploma and were a young man’s ticket to a middle class life with the ability to support a family.
Today’s high school graduates emerge to find that entry level jobs for boys have largely evaporated. For boys today, being a high school dropout or only having a high school diploma is “almost a surefire road to a life of poverty at best and incarceration at worst” says Bloom. Yet, in a jobless economy, that is just where many boys today are finding themselves – uneducated and unemployed.
Why are my son’s values so different than mine?
According to Bloom, one place many disenchanted boys turn to is thug culture which “seduces our boys with flashy loud messages that manhood equals bravado, emotional numbness, ignorance and thugdom.” She points to hip-hop and rap in particular, because these genres are so popular among boys today. Surveying top-selling artists, Bloom proves that these destructive messages are pervasive and, contrary to the perception of many parents, mainstream.
Bloom speaks directly to parents who view listening to subversive music as a sort of rite of passage; imploring them to stare down reality. She bravely leads her readers into the gritty world of thug culture, giving them a reality check that is virtually impossible to ignore. Bloom does not speak simply in generalities, for example, that these music lyrics are often “degrading to women.” She actually includes the lyrics themselves revealing, in an undeniable way, the violent, misogynistic, gang-related content. Bloom actually shows parents the reprehensible lyrics pulsing through their son’s earbuds hour after hour.
Why is a brush with the law so hard for my son to overcome?
According to Bloom, many boys, who are increasingly disenfranchised by the educational system and economy, buy into the multi-million dollar thug culture marketed to them, and become involved in criminal activity as a result. Bloom, a lawyer and legal analyst, credits the War on Drugs for a prison population in the U.S. that is the largest in history-and, she points out, 93 percent of those prisoners are male. With minimum sentences of five to ten years for first time drug offenses, a boy who breaks the rules even once-following role models like Eminem, Jay-Z or Chris Brown-will pay a heavy price.
Based on her own extensive experience, Bloom asserts that the cost of even a small mistake as a minor can permanently derail a boy’s life. Boys-first-time, non-violent offenders-are treated harshly by the justice system. Then, Bloom explains, they have the odds stacked against them as they try to reenter society as an ex-offender. For example, being banned from public housing as an ex-offender has an avalanche affect, often culminating in re-incarceration. “Everything turns on housing,” Bloom explains to parents. “The ability to receive mail, a return address for a job application, a place to have custody or visitation with kids, a roof, a bed, a sense of community and rootedness.”
In the first half of her book, Bloom certainly succeeds in her goal of giving an “unvarnished, clear-eyed look at what our sons are facing, day in and day out, right now, as they navigate through boyhood and emerge as young men, yearning for a decent life.” While her meticulously researched analysis leaves parents shocked and perhaps feeling that the forces working against their boys are insurmountable, Bloom uses the second half of her book to present practical, proven solutions that can help parents raise healthy and successful boys against the odds.
Bloom offers what she calls “10 URGENT RULES.” She says her first rule is key: “Lose the swagger, kid.” Swagger, the attitude which defines manhood in thug culture, is giving boys an elevated sense of self-confidence that Bloom says is delusional. Bloom’s research shows that “swagger” is dramatically impacting boys’ ability to function in school which has a ripple effect for the rest of their lives as they work to enter the job market. Swagger lands many boys in jail, crippling their chance at success.
Bloom’s other rules include setting the expectation your son will go to college, actively encouraging your son to read (she includes list of books “boys love to read”), and controlling the messages media is pumping into your son’s brain. These common sense rules are not original parenting advice, but when situated as solutions to the dire picture she paints of the prospects for boys today, they take on new meaning. Bloom is very persuasive in outlining the problem and then motivating parents to implement solutions-things most of them have known they should be doing all along.
Bloom has written an easy to read, compelling, straight-forward analysis of the world boys are growing up in with a close look at why so many boys are not thriving. If you are worried about your son, Bloom’s book is sure to be an insightful and practical resource for you. If you are not worried about your son, don’t be surprised if this book is a wake-up call.