Friday, February 3 at 11am
The CLIC, 3rd Floor, Ruffner Hall
In an empirically grounded challenge to our stereotypes about boys and men, Way’s longitudinal research over the past twenty years reveals the intense intimacy among teenage boys especially during early and middle adolescence. Boys from diverse ethnic and racial groups not only share their deepest secrets and feelings with their closest male friends, they claim that without them they would go “wacko.” Yet as boys grow older, they become distrustful, lose their friendships, and feel isolated and alone. This loss is evident at the same time in development that the suicide rate, according to national data, goes up dramatically for boys and becomes five times the rate of girls.
Drawing from hundreds of interviews conducted throughout adolescence with Black, Latino, White, and Asian American boys, Way’s research suggests that we have been telling ourselves a false story about boys, friendships, and human nature. Boys’ descriptions of their male friendships sound more like “something out of Love Story than The Lord of the Flies.” Yet in late adolescence, boys believe they have to “man up” and “mature” by becoming stoic and independent. Vulnerable emotions, intimate friendships, and expressing feelings are, according to the boys, for girls and gay boys. “No homo” becomes their mantra.
These findings are troublesome, given what we know from decades of social science research about the links between friendships and health, and even longevity. Rather than a “boy crisis,” Way finds that boys are experiencing a “crisis of connection” due to the fact that they live in a culture where basic human needs and capacities are given a sex (female) and a sexuality (gay) and thus discouraged for those who are neither. Way argues that the solution to this crisis lies with exposing the inaccuracies of our gender and racial stereotypes and fostering intimate friendships and fundamental human skills.
Niobe Way is Professor of Applied Psychology in the Department of Applied Psychology at New York University. She is also the co-Director of the Center for Research on Culture, Development, and Education at NYU and the President for the Society for Research on Adolescence. She received her doctorate from Harvard University in Human Development and Psychology and was an NIMH postdoctoral fellow in the psychology department at Yale University. Way's research focuses on the intersections of culture, context, and human development, with a particular focus on the social and emotional development of adolescents. She is interested in how schools, families, and peers as well as larger political and economic contexts influence developmental trajectories. Her work also focuses on social identities, including gender and racial/ethnic identities, and the effects of gender and racial/ethnic stereotypes on adjustment and on friendships. Way is a nationally recognized leader in the field of adolescent development and in the use of mixed methods; she has been studying the social and emotional development of girls and boys for over two decades.
Way is the author of numerous books and journal articles. Her sole authored books include: Everyday Courage: The Lives and Stories of Urban Teenagers (NYU Press, 1998); and Deep Secrets: Boys' Friendships and the Crisis of Connection (Harvard University Press, 2011). Her co-edited or co-authored books include: Urban Girls: Resisting Stereotypes, Creating Identities (NYU press, 1996); Adolescent Boys: Exploring Diverse Cultures of Boyhood (NYU Press, 2004). and Growing up Fast: Transitions to Adulthood among Inner City Adolescent Mothers (Erlbaum Press, 2001). The latter co-authored book (with Bonnie Leadbeater) received the Best Book Award from the Society of Research on Adolescence (2002). Her current research projects focus on the influence of families, peers, and schools on the trajectories of social and emotional development among adolescents in New York City and in Nanjing, China. Her research has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, The National Science Foundation, The William T. Grant Foundation, The Spencer Foundation, and by numerous other smaller foundations.