Real Talk Podcast: What the latest research shows about boys and men

September 14, 2022
real talk with susan and kristina podcast

In this episode of Real Talk, KJK Student Defense Attorneys Susan Stone and Kristina Supler are joined by Dr. Michael C. Reichert, an Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Boys and Girls at the University of Pennsylvania and a Supervising Psychologist at the Haverford School.  They discuss how to raise boys.  The conversation includes how Dr. Reichert pioneered a groundbreaking discovery about boys and the key to their learning, why time and society along with it has revolutionized gender stereotypes, and the fundamentals of raising a boy that every parent should know.

Links Mentioned In the Show:


Show Notes:

  • (03:11) A shocking commonality that Dr. Reichert and Niobe Way discovered about boys and their relationships
  • (03:37) How a theory of voice education was pioneered
  • (04:04) The essential factor required for boys to engage in learning 
  • (04:42) A shocking finding about boys and relationships that baffled even educational and psychological veterans with 50 years of experience combined
  • (07:22) Transformative relationships: do boys become too dependent on their friends?
  • (08:00) How culture and society has caused the context of title IX cases involving males to evolve over time.
  • (09:40) How Kristina and Susan utilized their certification in restorative justice as a means of conflict resolution
  • (11:14)  Why masculinity has historically grown to be weaponized involving title IX cases 
  • (12:38) The turning point of society: finally acknowledging the humanity of males
  • (17:07) Breaking the stereotype: the shift in parenting and their expectations from their male children
  • (21:32) What every parent, particularly mothers, needs to do for their sons before sending them off to college and throughout it. 
  • (22:10) Why the, “Mama’s Boy Myth,” has been busted. 
  • (23:58) What every single mom raising a son needs to bear in mind
  • (25:00) We are living in the era of redefining emotional strength



Susan Stone: In today’s podcast, Kristine and I are going to, again, explore how to raise boys. Now I know you guys out there who pay attention to our podcast are wondering didn’t you just do that with Niobi Way talk about boys. Didn’t we? 

Kristina Supler: We did. But you know, we’ve really had the pleasure of reading quite a few books recently on this topic.

And given that in our law practice, while we represent male and female students, we tend to see and deal with cases with boys mostly. 

Susan Stone: Yeah. I mean, you have to wonder, especially in hazing cases we represent mm-hmm fraternity members. We have never met, represented a, a sorority sister. 

Kristina Supler: Not true. We have, what did don’t forget that?

Oh, you did. 

Susan Stone: oh my gosh. Showing my age, showing my age.

Kristina Supler: But you are correct in that 99.9% of the time, our hazing cases are male students. 

Susan Stone: Yeah, thanks for calling me out there. That’s awesome. But why don’t you introduce our speaker? That is your job. 

Kristina Supler: Today, we are joined by Michael Reichert, who is a psychologist who has worked in a variety of clinical school, community and research settings over the course of his career.

He serves as the executive director of the center for the study of boys and girls lives a research collaborative at the University of Pennsylvania. And he is also a supervising psychologist at the Haverford school, which is outside of Philadelphia.

Susan Stone: Very pretty area, Kristina and I were there gorgeous 

Kristina Supler: area, gorgeous, fine institutions in that area of the country.

Michael has writing has been published in many prominent. Periodicals the Atlantic New York times, Washington post. And today he’s joining us to discuss his book, entitled how to raise a boy, the power of connection to build. Good men. Welcome. 

Welcome. So we’re gonna start with the first question, Michael, in how to raise a boy, you address society’s narrow conception of what it means to be a real boy.

We had Niobe Way author of Deep Secrets. Talk about how boys crave real friendships, which fade over time as boys hit their teenage years. Can you add anything else to that concept and maybe give us a fresh look about boys, maybe something we don’t know about them, even though you guys are 50% of the population.

Dr. Michael Reichert: good morning, Christina. Good morning, Susan. thank you for having me. And I’m glad to be here and, and particularly glad to be following my good friend and colleague Niobe. You know, um, I was talking with Niobe recently and we were, we’re getting ready to host a webinar. We began the conversation with each other, talking about what has surprised us in our research.

What led us to the positions that were, were both in respectively and Niobe’s way Niobe’s study was about friendship and what she discovered that surprised her was that boys indeed have tremendously intimiate relationships with each other relationships that they would die without they feel my research that, that wound up in a very similar destination came from a very different source.

I investigated teaching and learning in schools around the world. and we began our large scale survey, 18 countries, 1500 boys ages 12 to 19, and about a thousand of their teachers. And we asked a very simple question. We asked what’s worked, trying to build a theory of voice education inductively from the ground up.

And what we found was completely unexpected. Not mentioned at all by the teachers that we interview, we, we surveyed and interviewed, came exclusively from the boys themselves. And essentially what the boys said was we depend upon a connection with our teacher or our coach in order to engage in learning. The vulnerable act of learning from somebody requires that we believe this person cares about us and wants to help.

now my part, my research partner, and I, we had 50 years at that point between us in the trenches of boys education, we were unprepared for how powerfully boys described themselves as relational learners. And we realized that there was this fog of stereotype that kept us from seeing boys clearly, not just us, but folks in the trenches and some of the finest boys schools around the world.

we all had trouble naming this phenomenon that boys are relational. Fundamentally Niobe found something similar. She found that we have this shroud of, of, of misconception that, you know, what she calls false stories that keep us from recognizing how capable of intimacy boys are in their friendships. I arrived at a similar place looking at boys’ relationships with their teachers and coaches.

Kristina Supler: That’s interesting because this, this subject or this topic of relationships, Susan, and I see it so often at the beginning of episode, Susan mentioned fraternities and hazing, of course, but there’s a lot of positive that can come from fraternities in those relationships. And in your book, you talk about this idea of brotherhood being a distinct and integral.

Facet in boyhood and you discuss how it’s ever present in institutions of boyhood like recess, sports teams, clubs, fraternities. When we represent young men in college title IX cases, we do that work across the country and typically our clients are accused male students. And so often Susan and I have these really difficult conversations.

With our clients, these young men who are absolutely heartbroken and shocked when they not only receive the news that, they’re respondent in a Campus Title IX case, but they learn that they’ve been asked to leave or been kicked out of their fraternity. And they’re friends with whom they thought they had this deep connection.

They’re now on an island alone. What can you tell us about this? Or what are your thoughts on why that happens.

Susan Stone: Other than the legal aspect? Because we always wonder. Is it really the boys or the boys that succombing to pressure from their chapters saying, mm-hmm we, we don’t want our charter revoked.

You gotta get that kid out and suspend them and it 

Kristina Supler: make it begs the question. How real are the friendships? Yeah. And then that’s a painful, uh, ugly dose of reality that these young men are, are navigating on top of everything else. So, Michael, what are your thoughts? 

Susan Stone: Are boys really good time, Charlies? 

Dr. Michael Reichert: Well, you’re saying you’re packing a lot into your question.

So it, I, I think I need to unpack it a little bit or answer from different angles. Number one boys friendships are uh, transformative just as their relationships with teachers and coaches can be transformative. You know, that’s what Niobe Ways research established was that these are relationships in which boys can live.

They can breathe, they can be themselves and absent those relationships. Their mental health is, is considerably diminished they’re alone. So you know, the feeling that your clients have expressed when they get canceled by their fraternity. Of being at a complete loss. I think that’s very real and painful.

That’s number one, but number two, you know, we are in an era, almost a pendulum swing era in which the realities of title IX and me too are seeping into the culture in ways that I think are largely. There’s been this culture, this bro culture that has existed in uh, male development that has been tacitly the dominant, a dominant theme for generations and to be called out now historically, uh, about where aggression in intimate, uh, relationships crosses a line. I think that’s actually really healthy and important.

And, and it, you know, it sets a bar that I think boys need to recognize and take account of, I think a lot about integrity and what what enables a, a young man to retain his human integrity, his humanity.

In the context of a culture that does so much puts on puts so much pressure on boys to lose themselves, you know, this idea, for example, that for most boys, their introduction to their sexuality is in pornography. You know, we’re not really, some folks are talking about that, but it’s not nearly a pervasive enough conversation, particularly in families raising boys.

I, I think that. These, the implementation of title IX rules on campus is I think that is in my mind, historic swing. Do boys at the same time as they’re being called out, need to be called in, in some restorative justice context? I do believe that I feel strongly about that.

Susan Stone: So do we, you should know that many, many years ago. Uh, Kristine and I went to Swarthmore, your neck of the woods, and we were certified in restorative justice. And you know, we talk about it for years.

Kristina Supler: It’s a wonderful approach to conflict resolution, repairing but 

Susan Stone: harm. But I will tell you by and large, we don’t get to employ those skills.

We’re typically hired to be advisors in a more traditional hearing setting, but we always pitch it. And I’m still waiting for the day where someone’s gonna ask us to serve as advisors in a restorative justice setting. Hasn’t happened yet. When did we go to Swarthmore? 

Kristina Supler: Oh gosh, years ago. I don’t remember, but it, it’s interesting to see academic institutions embrace restorative justice more for title nine, of course, now that that’s permitted with the regulations or student general student misconduct cases, but it’s, it has not caught on everywhere. And there’s still many students who are very, very resistant to the idea and, and view it as a process that isn’t going to help resolve whatever the, the harm in question is.

Susan Stone: But we’re not, we’re not given up on that. Michael, we, we believe in it. , 

Dr. Michael Reichert: My son went to Swarthmore, by the way. And maybe during the time that you were taking your training, your certification, 

Susan Stone: you have to ask him and did he see two fabulous women walk across campus? Cause I’m sure it was us.

I’m sure

Dr. Michael Reichert: The arc of history here is really important to acknowledge, you know, that’s really what I was trying to say. Mm-hmm and I do look forward to a time. I believe there will be a time in which you will be asked less to defend young men in these accusations and more to help restore some kind of res you know, some resolution to 

I think I mentioned in my notes before your interview today that I’m launching a new study of younger men, 18 to 30 years old in partnership with an organization based in DC, Equa Mundo. We’re about to launch a state of American men survey. Probably, uh, within a month or two.

 We’re very aware of the fact that we’re taking, we’re undertaking this study in a context in which Senator Holly is coming up with a new book. Uh, and Tucker Carlson is coming up with a new book, both about men and both about sort of celebrating traditional masculinity. The weaponization of masculinity is unfortunately one of the characteristics of our time and your legal practice, my work as a developmental psychologist, a consulting psychologist, and an a researcher it’s taking place in this historic context, what I will say. And one of the reasons we’re focusing on 18 to 30 year old guys is I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be a young man.

To be raising a son or educating a son. I think it’s actually the first time I, I get grandiose here, Kristina and Susan, and I say, I think the first time in all of human history, in which we’re really able to acknowledge the full humanity of male male beings. And in particular, the relational and emotional natures of males I think is for the first time really coming under popular scrutiny.

All of these athletes, for example, who are saying, indeed I struggle with anxiety or depression or whatnot, the legitimation of males as people who have deep feelings in relationships have intimacy needs who have lots and lots of feelings and need to express those feelings.

I think that’s how I. This historic time and we’re in a contest for what view of men is going to prevail. We’re gonna have a, kind of a militaristic masculinity, you know, a throwback masculinity touted in the public square from some very loud voices. And, uh, I think that in your work defending young men who have been called out fairly or unfairly I’m I’m sure. You know, you get, you get both. 

Susan Stone: We do get both. Um, and we see that there is no one flavor of a male respondent. We’ve had many men tell us that they don’t like hooking up. They want the relationships to be deeper than sex. They don’t like partying. We’ve had that. We’ve had situations where there was rough sex

and it was not introduced by the male. It was introduced by the female. So we do see a lot of young men cry. Oh 

Kristina Supler: yeah. I mean, it’s Michael, it’s so interesting to hear you say, uh, that it’s such a wonderful time to examine these issues and raise young men because when Susan and I are meeting with young men every day and talking to their families, the constant refrain we hear from parents who are sitting in our office, you know, in tears about whatever the situation at hand is, because they’re just in this nightmare that they never envisioned involving their child is it’s such a hard time for young men on college campuses in particular. 

Susan Stone: I’m gonna throw a question that I we’ve prepared our questions that occurred to me. um, and this is gonna be a really controversial question. I’m seeing almost the opposite where it used to be, that people would say that their boys need to toughen it up and their girls were allowed to be vulnerable.

And lately we’re almost seeing a shift in parenting where parents of girls assume that the girls are competent and will take care of things. And that their boys are so fragile that if Kristina and I push hard, for example, when we do mock cross examination to get students ready for a hearing, we hear their boys are gonna break.

And so we’re actually seeing wouldn’t you agree like eggshell males and warrior women? 

Dr. Michael Reichert: I love that. 

Kristina Supler: yeah, it it’s it. You never know that. And that’s actually, what I love about what we do for a living is you never know what you’re gonna deal with on, on the day to day something new comes in. And just when you think you have a certain conception of how someone acts or responds to a situation you’re confronted with something new.

But I mean, what are your thoughts, Michael? 

Susan Stone: Yeah, because I’m gonna tell you what we’re speaking. We, we get asked to speak at the during his places and Wednesday we’ve been invited into someone’s home with a group of young men and their moms before they go off to college, it’s coming up, summer’s almost over.

And we’re gonna talk about things that they should be concerned about. Of course we will give you credit, Michael, but can you give us a little something extra to share that we can talk to these boys and their moms about before these boys go off to college? 

Dr. Michael Reichert: I’m still thinking about pondering your phrase eggshell boy, eggshell men and warrior women, Susan.

I like that. That was 

Kristina Supler: a good one. A little. Yeah. 

Dr. Michael Reichert: In a nutshell, what I would say is this in a, in a survey that launched. Boyhood campaign global boyhood initiative. Equa Mundo did a survey and, uh, focus group research project. And when they surveyed parents of boys, what they found was that one of the values that parents placed cherished most importantly in their sons is something that they called emotional.

and there’s different ways of defining that, that I think really does illustrate my point. That there’s never been a better time to be a boy to raise a son. Traditionally, emotional strength has been defined as stoicism. Suck it up. Don’t show any feelings. Keep it to yourself. Rise above it, be rational.

The problem is that that doesn’t work particularly well. It comes at a tremendous personal cost that we’ve just hidden, we haven’t really openly acknowledged it’s coming out now that football players and star basketball players and all kinds of public figures, have been suffering and quietly believing that they need to some.

Rise above that suffering. When in fact, the solution as a therapist, someone in clinical practice for a long, long time, what I know is that the solution to those kinds of struggles is the opposite of keeping it inside. It’s letting it out, getting it off your chest, relieving yourself of de tension by finding someone that can quote unquote, hold you, listen to you care about you understand.

We’re built to cleanse our minds of suffering and struggle, but not by keeping it inside and what the current generations are doing. What younger men are figuring out is that they need to be able to do that. They need the right, the permission to do that. I teach an emotional literacy course that, that boys school outside of Philadelphia, the Haverford school mm-hmm , I’ve been doing it now for close to 30 years.

When we first started out it was suspect. And only a kind of a self-selected few would find their way into the voluntary program. Now, 2022, that program has become what the boys call the best program in the school. The room fills with people coming. And maybe they’re coming for the pizza, but I believe they’re also coming for the opportunity and it’s a drop and a bucket opportunity, you know, but the opportunity to talk to their friends in a real way, and the kinds of profound ways that boys will share stories about what’s going on in their lives.

Kristina Supler: Your comments are making me think about, of course we’re located in Cleveland, Ohio. And so I’m thinking of the Cavalier’s player. Kevin Love, who is, well, I’m thinking of Julia. Yes, huge. And everyone loves him for a variety of reasons. But when he came out about his struggles, I. Believe it was depression and anxiety.

He, number one, it was so brave of him to share and be vulnerable with the whole country and talk about that. And I think he drew a lot of attention to the issue, but it was also curious to hear people talk about like, gee, how could this. famous, rich superstar athlete have these issues.

That’s so shocking. And I know Susan, I, I mean, I heard people making comments along those lines and I thought like, of course they do. I mean, this is what we see every day is a certain, you know, conception of masculinity they’re struggling and they have these issues and challenges. 

Susan Stone: Yeah. I just wanna circle back Michael to our talks with moms and boys, from what, tell me if you agree with this.

From what I’m hearing, we really need to say that we know the transition to college is gonna be difficult. So for moms and parents of males going off to college where you are alone, and it’s a long haul, that freshman year is hard to make sure that there are outlets for those males to express home sickness and loneliness and fear.

Is that the message you think we should send on Wednesday night and in future talks? 

Dr. Michael Reichert: Yes. I would say it a bit differently. Would I say to parents who are about to launch their sons to college freshman years? I say what you want is for your son to have you in his hip. If the attachment process in these primary relationships has gone well, so that the boy has a secure sense of being quote unquote, well held by his mom or his dad or both.

What we want is for that boy to have easy access to the resource of that relationship, no matter what he’s facing. Now the fear is always, you know, we have this phenomenon that Kate Lombardi Stone wrote about in her book. Mama’s Boy Myth. We have this fear that many moms carry that if they keep their sons too close, they’ll somehow undermine his, his individuation as a masculinity.

They’ll turn ’em into a mama’s boy. And what I say to moms, when I talk to him, Susan, is that’s nonsense. It’s just the opposite. boys will want to be autonomous and independent and strong, but we don’t understand separation any longer in developmental psychology as turning away from relationships or giving up on them, we actually grow in relationships, not out of them.

And so boys will use their mothers as sounding boards or as stress relief valve. When they need to provided that the channel for communication is kept clear. Now, a lot of moms do, they’re the ones that initiate the calls. They, they can’t deal with the separation at their end. That’s a different phenomenon.

yeah. That’s a different conversation. well, 

Susan Stone: I actually am reflecting because I have two girls and one boy, and ironically, I do speak to my son more than my two daughters combin. 

Kristina Supler: that is true. You say that it’s very true. Yeah. Just as an outside observer. 

Susan Stone: Yeah. I’m thinking and reflecting. I, I was a single mother raising three kids, and I will say, I always believed in my mind that it’s much harder for a mother to raise a son without a dad present that it is a daughter.

And there are a lot of single mothers out there. Do you have advice for single mom? 

Dr. Michael Reichert: Okay. I have to, um, refer you to a wonderful book written by a famous Ackerman Institute, family therapist, Olga Silverstein. The book is titled the courage to raise good men. And it’s a book that’s based on her experience as a single mom raising her son.

But essentially Susan, what she says that I, I wholeheartedly agree with is. You build this relationship with your son in which essentially you promise him, that you will always be in the background of his life there for him supporting him, loving him, knowing him, willing to hold him when he needs, needs to reveal something that’s hard.

And there’s nothing about becoming a man that requires that your. To turn away from that or give up on that or somehow go without that strength comes from connection, not from separation. And that’s the thing. I think that we, psychologists folks like Niobe Way and myself, what we’re trying to redefine is what is emotional strength.

And it actually is having the courage to acknowledge. I’m scared. I feel bad. I’m upset. And, and acknowledge that in the face of a culture that might derogate you if you reveal those feelings. But that’s the good news here, you know, less and less. That’s true. It’s an exciting time. 

Kristina Supler: Well, Michael, this has been a really wonderful, oh my God episode.

It’s really such a pleasure to talk with you and hear what you have to add to the discussion that you put in your book, how to raise a boy, the power of connection to build good men. And we encourage our listeners to check out the book and thank you so much for joining us today. 

Susan Stone: Michael, we could talk to you further, but I think it’s really good to end on a note where my mind is just racing because with all the pain going on the world, mm-hmm, leaving on a note that this is a great time to raise a boy.

It’s a great time to be a male in the face of everything. And that men are more comfortable being more emotional, that bodes well for both men and our daughters and women. So 

Dr. Michael Reichert: thank you. Yeah. Yeah. Good luck in your parenting um, thank you both. Thanks for talking with you. Thank you.

Susan Stone: Thank you.