New York Times

Boys at Risk

I am not good at articulating what I know about working with at-risk boys. The CDC calls them the Hard to Reach.

Not that the CDC has ever made any real attempt to reach them. Mainly, it’s a bunch of so-called scientists throwing labels at a wall to see what sticks.

I no longer even try discussing the subject of at-risk boys as the scorn directed at me personally has a tendency to rile the boys themselves. It’s just not worth the grief.

You can imagine how surprised I was the read about these kids in the New York Times.

Allan Schore, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the U.C.L.A. School of Medicine, explores the slower development among boys “in right-brain attachment functions.”

This “maturational delay” in brain function, Schore writes in an essay that was published earlier this year in the Infant Mental Health Journal, “All Our Sons: The Developmental Neurobiology and Neuroendocrinology of Boys at Risk,” makes boys more vulnerable over a longer period of time to stressors in the social environment and toxins in the physical environment that negatively impact right-brain development.

This vulnerability, in turn, makes boys more susceptible to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and conduct disorders as well as the epigenetic mechanisms that can account for the recent widespread increase of these disorders in U.S. culture.

Schore argues that a major factor in rising dysfunction among boys and men in this country is the failure of the United States to provide longer periods of paid parental leave, with the result that many infants are placed in day care when they are six weeks old.

Starting day care at six weeks, Schore writes, is “the exact time of the initiation of the postnatal testosterone surge found only in males.” Schore notes that “research has documented that boys more so than girls raised in single-mother families show twice the rate of behavioral problems than do boys in two-parent families” and argues that a “mis-attuned insecure mother” can be “a source of considerable relational stress, especially when the immature male toddler is expressing high levels of dysregulated aggression or fear.”

When a child is 18 to 24 months old, fathers play a crucial role, Schore writes, pointing to the male infant’s attachment transactions with the father in the second year, when he is critically involved in not only androgen-controlled rough-and-tumble play but in facilitating the male (and female) toddler’s aggression regulation. This same period (18–24 months) involves the initiation of a critical period of growth in the left hemisphere, and so the “paternal attachment system” of father-son interactions would presumably forge an androgenic imprint in the toddler’s evolving left-brain circuits, including the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, allowing for his regulation of the male toddler’s testosterone-induced aggression (“terrible twos”).

What does all this suggest?

First, there are irreversible changes in the workplace, particularly the rise of jobs requiring social skills (even STEM jobs) that will continue to make is hard for men who lack those skills.

Second, male children suffer more from restricted or nonexistent parental leave policies and contemporary child care arrangements, as well as from growing up in single-parent households.

It would be paradoxical if the right-wing takeover of the country on Nov. 8 were to instigate significant policy initiatives to address this problem. Or perhaps not so paradoxical, given that males who are particularly conflicted about their disempowered status in American life — and who are the most loyal Trump supporters — might be the ultimate beneficiaries of this kind of reform.

On Sept. 14, 2016 in Ashton, Pa., at the height of the presidential campaign, Donald Trump, with his daughter Ivanka, who helped craft the policies as a self-described working mother, said that he would seek to make child-care expenses tax deductible for families earning less than $500,000 and called for establishing tax-free accounts to be used for child care and child enrichment activities.

He also called for guaranteeing six weeks’ maternity leave by extending unemployment insurance benefits to working mothers whose employers do not offer paid maternity leave.

“For many families in our country, child care is now the single largest expense — even more than housing,” Trump said, speaking from prepared remarks. “Our plan will bring relief to working and middle class families.

It has been a longstanding objective of right-wing regimes to push women back into traditional gender roles. Is that what’s going on here? Or could it be something less pernicious and more important?