Nature vs. Nurture: Raising Sons.

“A young man is so strong, so mad, so certain, and so lost. He has everything and he is able to use nothing.” — Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River (Kindlon & Thompson 2000 Chapter 1). 

Nature has physically defined the male and female of any given species. Men have long been considered to be the dominant members of the human species. This trait is physically displayed in their natural physique. As they grow, men tend to become more masculine and have broader shoulders. For women, their bodies ‘soften’ producing a series of feminine curves. English word like virulent reflect how society views men. The word vir is Latin for man. This shows that men are expected by society to be the powerful ones. Men are expected by society to be the stronger ones in almost all aspects of life (Raising Cain 2000). Men are considered to be born leaders hence their dominance in the various levels of authority. Men are supposed to be emotionally strong. This is why men seldom show their emotions. A man who publicly displays his feelings is considered a wimp.


There is a raging debate on the gender roles. Are the roles we play as males or females a result of nature or nurture? Some will argue that an individual’s behavior is largely dependent on how he or she was raised. The World Health Organization defines gender as the socially constructed standards which are considered appropriate by the society one lives in. this definition leaves no room for any biological influence on how men and women behave. In the book, Raising Cain, the authors discuss the “nature vs. nurture” debate. In their view, men and women have more similarities than differences (Raising Cain 2000). They attribute some behaviors associated with boys to a biological basis, but they feel that culture plays a more significant role in determining how each gender behaves.

In their book, Kindlon and Thompson (2000) assert that boys are emotionally hurting. The first chapter of their book is termed ‘turning boys away from their inner life’ (p.1-21). This chapter discusses how society brings up boys to ignore or suppress their emotions. The authors describe the body language of the boys who come into their office. These boys either sink deep into the couch or sit stiffly at the edge of the seat. Kindlon and Thompson (2000) equate this behavior to the self-conscious nature with which boys approach their emotions. They give the ‘fight or flight’ response men have to their emotions (Kindlon & Thompson 2000 p.3). Boys have been brought up to be emotionally tough. They are taught to be macho and hide their emotions. This could be termed as emotional miseducation (Kindlon & Thompson 2000 p.3). The boys even distance themselves from their mothers in a ploy to assert their maleness (Kindlon & Thompson 2000 p.117). There is a struggle between a boy’s need for connection and his desire for autonomy. This struggle is expressed in different ways as the boy grows up.

The question that this raises is whether a male response to their emotions is biological or cultural. Brain research conducted shows that the brain functions in different ways based on our gender. Boys are born more empathetic, emotive and expressive than girls at birth (Conlin 2003). This aspect is however driven out of them by the time they get to the second grade. The flight or fight response to emotions is largely cultural. Society has taught boys to either avoid their emotions or confront them with anger and sometimes violence. The emotional void created by an inappropriate response to emotions may be the cause of the rising cases of drug and alcohol abuse in men along with high cases of suicide in teenage boys (Kindlon & Thompson 2000 p.6). Culture has played a role in making more men than women more prone to violence. Majority of the action packed movies, which a majority of men tend to enjoy, have a man in the lead role. For this reason, men have been exposed to the assumed roles that they should play (Kindlon & Thompson 2000 p.249). In the action movies, the lead role is a strong male, masculine, gets all the girls and saves the day. He is brave and rarely feels pain. Men in this society have been influenced to behave likewise. They spend hours in the gym trying to be more muscular. The more athletic males get the girls. Males also tend to think they have to save the day. This may be the reason why men tend to feel a sense of duty to provide for their family.

The book raising Cain also raises the struggle of young boy in education (Kindlon & Thompson 2000 p.21-50). Conlin (2003) reveals the increasing gap in male and female education. All efforts geared towards the promotion of education are geared towards girls. She gives an example of a school where the senior class president, vice president, head of the student government, captain of the math team, chief of the yearbook and editor of the newspaper were all girls. It is reported that in American colleges, there will be 142 women getting a BA for every 100 men by 2010 (Conlin 2003). William S. Pollock, a psychiatry professor at Harvard, feels that boys themselves are falling behind their own functioning (Conlin 2003).

Boys are said to be developmentally behind the girls by two years. Biologically, girls tend to mature faster than boys (Kindlon & Thompson 2000 p.31). This is clearly seen in puberty where most girls physically develop earlier than the boys. Some argue that it is unfair to subject boys and girls to the same learning speed. Boys for example are said to biologically require at least four recesses per day (Conlin 2003). This is because they, unlike the girls, cannot sit and concentrate for long periods of time. This assertion is however doubtful if one takes a look at history. Boys in the past excelled at academics. In olden times, women were thought to be too fragile to grasp the intricacies of science, maths and politics. Now that they have been given a chance to prove themselves in education, theories to excuse the boys’ dismal performance compared to women is given. One tends to wonder where this biological argument is just an excuse used to explain why women are doing better than men in a field once considered to be a man’s domain.

A boy’s inability to sit still and listen in class is interpreted to mean that he may have a learning disorder. Research has shown that the number of boys diagnosed with the attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder is up to four times that of girls (Kindlon & Thompson 2000). The fact that boys are more impulsive by nature and tend to get restless quickly makes them ‘look’ like they have the disorder (Kindlon & Thompson 2000 p.43). The truth is society has not taken the time to conform learning environment to suit an individual child’s need. It is much easier to brand a child ‘special’ just because he does not understand things as well as the rest of the class. Kindlon and Thompson (2003) give a case of where a boy was branded as having a learning disorder just because his spelling was poor (p.27). He was discouraged from participating in his poetry class because of this. The writers propose learning to help boys solve the problem rather than ignore it. They should be given the chance to express what they feel can help them learn better.

Fatherhood is considered a big step for men. Research has shown that hormones could play a part in determining who will be a good father. Research has shown that both males and females undergo hormonal changes during and after pregnancy (Douglas 2006). For men, the changes are said to make them more devoted in caring for their child. Two Canadian studies have been conducted to study these changes. One study showed a 33% drop in testosterone after birth in men made them become better dads. Results also showed that levels of estrogen in fathers rose 30 days before birth. The levels stayed at this high level 12 weeks after the actual birth. The levels of the hormones prolactin and cortisol also rose after birth. The close contact between the pregnant mother and the father is said to initiate these hormonal changes in men (Douglas 2006). These hormonal changes were seen in men who had embraced fatherhood.

The fact that men become good fathers cannot be totally attributed to hormonal changes. Douglas (2006) gives an example of one man, Hudnut. When this man was young, his father was never around. Hudnut made a point of not acting like his father. When his son was born, he changed his work schedule to allow him to spend more time with his son. In this case, Hudnut’s childhood experience turned him into a better father than his own. He understood the relationship he had missed out on as a child. He took measures to ensure that his son does not suffer the same. Statistics show that one in 4 dads takes their child to preschool when mom is working (Douglas 2006). This goes to show that society is influencing the roles fathers play today. A shift from the past where men’s only role was to provide and protect his family is being experienced. A culture where more men are making the choice to become part time or a full time dad is being adapted (Douglas 2006).

Another debate where nature vs. nurture arises is the aggressive nature of men when it comes to seeking out companionship from a member of the opposite sex. Society believes that testosterone, a hormone found mainly in males, makes them more aggressive. Scientists have found very little evidence supporting this theory (Kindlon & Thompson 2003 p. 225). This aggressive nature is also linked to the culture of cruelty seen in boys (Kindlon & Thompson 2003). Men tend to be more physically aggressive and more prone to violent acts. As earlier mentioned, there is no evidence showing that testosterone makes men more aggressive. This aggressive nature is learnt. They grow up taking part in aggressive sports like rugby. Boys are expected to be competitive especially in sports. Most popular mainstream sports teams are men’s teams. Movies have men as the lead roles in everything. Society expects them to be aggressive.


In conclusion gender is largely as a result of cultural values that are instilled in one. The research that shows the hormonal changes in better dads does no guarantee that he will stay that way. The research was only done within a limited time i.e. before birth and the 12 weeks after the big event. What happens after this time? Will the father become a bad parent due to opposite hormonal changes? The fact is biology has little to do with how people behave. In the end, everyone has to make a personal choice on how he or she shall behave. Kindlon and Thompson (2000) advocate for parent to allow their sons to develop their emotions. This will allow them be better equipped to cope with the social and emotional challenges they face in the future.

Works Cited

Kindlon, J. Daniel & Michael Thompson. Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional life of Boys. New York: Ballantine Books. 2000.

Douglas Abrams Carlton. The Making of a Modern Dad. 2006, Psychology Today Magazine. 2008. Web.

Conlin Michelle. The New Gender Gap: From Kindergarten to Grad School Boys Are Becoming the Second Sex. 2003. Business week. 2008. Web.