Boys Will Be Jerks (and Champions)

Who are these guys and what makes them tick? What does it take to be a young male in a highly competitive culture? And how has Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat complicated an already difficult and challenging terrain?
09/16/2013 04:10 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2013

Usually girls hold grudges, so you should probably avoid girls for the rest of the week. -- Billy, 11

I know what you mean, Billy, as does Rosalind Wiseman, author of Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Your Son Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends and the New Rules of Boy World.

Billy is one of the over 100 boys (and some girls) who collaborated with Wiseman into this timely exploration of Boy World. Best known for Queen Bees and Wannabes which was transformed by Tina Fey into the seminal 2004 movie Mean Girls Wiseman has boldly strode into the multi-layered and complex emotional world of young men.

She begins with some sobering stats that show the declining educational achievement of males -- vastly out-achieved by young women at the bachelor degree level. Or that for every 100 girls aged 15 to 19 who commit suicide, 549 boys take their own life. And, of course, 100 percent of school shooters have been male.

So who are these guys and what makes them tick? What does it take to be a young male in a highly competitive culture? And how has Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat complicated an already difficult and challenging terrain?

Wiseman begins her journey into Boy World by examining what she calls the Act-Like-A-Man Box or ALMB. Inside the box are all the attributes you'd expect of an Alpha Male: strong, independent, tall, confident, detached and tough. And for those awkward boys who are most likely to be teased or ignored: poor, weak, tries too hard and, perhaps worst of all, sensitive.

She describes the grip the ALMB has on boys and how much of their social circles are determined by adherence to what is expected of them as young males. She also shows how the pressure to stay squarely in the box, teaches boys to demean girls and dismiss out-of-the-box boys. The latter often being called "gay" as the easiest of put-downs.

Wiseman then breaks down the different groups of boys as if examining the strata of an unearthed layer of rock. There's the 10 Percenters -- the epitome of ALMB and the highest status boys, who are usually good at a high profile sport (eg, football), have that certain look and swagger and often have parents who are equally invested in their boy's status and condone "bad boy" behavior. Next come the Majority (about 75 percent) followed by the Bottom Rung and the Outer Perimeter.

Then she moves her forensic analysis to individual types and identifies eight different roles that guys can play: Mastermind, Associate, Bouncer, Entertainer, Fly, Conscience, Punching Bag and Champion. Some of these are self-evident by the title. Others need some unpacking which she does at some length. The last category prompted Calvin, aged 15 to say:

Rosalind, I'm not sure you should put the Champion stuff in here for the parents because as soon as they read it, they're going to think their son is one. How are we going to convince them that they're probably wrong?

Good question, Calvin. It's not the only time that parents get somewhat dissed. Wiseman helpfully fills the book with what she calls "landmines" or things to avoid when talking with the boys in your life. It's certainly not easy in Parent World, either.

Of particular interest are the two chapters that address the world of social media and video games. When Queen Bees was published in 2002, Facebook, Twitter and the wild and whacky world of apps were still a few years away. Wiseman faces boys and social media head on and admits to having completely changed her thinking in fundamental ways over the course of writing Masterminds. She tackles issues of privacy, the double standards around boy and girl sexting and online porn.

Then she dives deep into the controversial world of video games. She has some surprisingly positive things to say of even the most violent of games such as "Call of Duty" and goes on to describe the different kind of gamers from the casual to the hard-core. She even offers two pages of rules and a simple contract for the parents who are at a loss as to how to manage their boy's time or the way they interact with others online.

Wiseman concludes her book with a tortured walk through Girl World as described by her male confidants. Tyler, aged 15, sums thing up nicely:

Sometimes you know what you did that pissed a girl off, and all you can say to yourself is, What was I thinking? And then other times it's like, What? I don't get it. Why?

I feel your pain, Tyler.