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Boys on Life

[whitespace] Girls may be underachieving in math and science, but these guys are here to tell you that life's no cakewalk for the young male of the species either

By Cecily Barnes

The preteen boy, thought of by many as the most elusive and mystifying creature on the planet, has come out of his smelly room to tell the world who he is and offer words of wisdom about overcoming the singular struggles faced by his species. The outcome: Boys Know It All: Wise Thoughts and Wacky Ideas From Guys Like You. This handy resource guide provides cool activities for growing boys, along with strategies to deal with everything from being teased at school to being bothered by an older sister. And they seriously try to offer help.

In "The Scoop on Girls" chapter, for example, a handful of little girls proffer their best dos and don'ts for boys--a mini version of The Rules. Above all, girls request that boys be nice. Niceness earned first place on the list of characteristics that young Juliets look for in a mate. Meanwhile, boys needn't worry about stocking their wallets with cash or wearing a football jersey, because modern girls simply don't care for such artifacts of materialism. Instead, play it simple when you like a girl: Call her on the phone, write her a note or "tell her friends, so they can tell her."

If the liking is mutual, girls say they prefer hand holding to having a boy put his arm around them. And whatever a boy does, he should never "snap her bra," "be mean" or "pretend you're so cool." You got that?

It seems as if the dog-eat-dog dynamics of the schoolyard haven't changed much over the years. Three chapters in Boys Know It All outline strategies for dodging and confronting cruelties. Fourteen-year-old Carl Massey writes about the relentless torment he faces for loving a "girl's activity"--tap dance. But rather than feel bad or hide his love for dancing, Massey opted instead for psychoanalysis and understanding. When kids tease other kids, he explains, it's not because there's something wrong with "you"; rather it's because there's something wrong with "them." Usually the kid is jealous or insecure and will stop teasing if confronted or invited to participate. Massey wisely concludes: "If you think what you are doing is fun, then you should stick with it no matter what other people say or do."

Thirteen-year-old Courtney Grant tells his own story of fending off hecklers in the section titled "Standing Up for Yourself." Courtney says he gets teased because he's African American, overweight and has "a girl's name." One day at school, Courtney writes, his adversary greeted him with the painful words he had heard so often before: "fat slob, flat nose and big lips."

"Before another piercing word could enter my heart, I reached out and greeted the bully with a handshake. With all the courage I could muster, I said to him, 'Let's talk after class.' " That class was the shortest of Grant's life, but afterward he firmly told the bully that from this point forward they would be friends, and if teasing occurred in the future, he would go to the principal and demand that the principal facilitate a written plan of friendship. "He and I aren't exactly friends now, but it's OK because I don't hear those negative words anymore," Grant wrote.

Apparently one of the biggest trials faced by a young boy today is not an adolescent starvation and survival ritual, an unmedicated circumcision with a speartip or even a hunt where he has to stand in the front. No, it is dealing with his older sister. These giggling monsters tease brothers in front of friends, blab secrets, mess with their brothers' stuff and then want them to play stupid games. Michael Adinolfi, 12, suggests his fellow little brothers do one of two things. "You can either get them back or you can get along." Revenge, of course, is more fun. Adinolfi recommends dumping their perfume down the sink, hiding their dolls, messing up their Barbies' hairdos or simply repeating everything they say: "That really annoys them." And then there's those schemes that begin unplanned yet turn out to be wildly brilliant.

"One Halloween I went to the freezer and snuck a few pieces of my sister's candy. Every day I took a few more pieces, little by little. By Thanksgiving all her candy was gone, but she had no idea who the candy thief was. There was no evidence left!"

Mean and bossy sisters are best ignored, Adinolfi says. Other options include insulting them back, feigning deafness or turning them in to the authorities--in this case, parents. And then there's the more diplomatic method. By respecting your sister's privacy and requests, Adinolfi says, she'll usually respect yours too.

When all is said and done, these boys grudgingly admit, she has better things to do than mess with a little bro.

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From the March 11-17, 1999 issue of Metro.

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