NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Over the past several years, a wave of books and movies examine the emotional lives of teenage girls, but there's been relatively little about boys, which contributes to easy stereotypes that teenaged boys are not as complex, don't communicate and don't cry, that most fall neatly into the categories of jock, nerd and troublemaker. Writer Malina Saval figured there had to be a lot more to it than that. She interviewed about 30 boys and came up with her own and very different picture of the emotional lives of teenage boys.
Emotionally complex, fashion conscious, yet - and yes, sometimes talkative. She compiled ten of these in-depth interviews into her new book "The Secret Lives Of Boys." Later in the program, the White House won't tell us who is on the shortlist for Supreme Court but Dahlia Lithwick will tell us the likely candidates. But first "The Secret Lives Of Boys: Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens." If you're the parent of a teenaged boy, if you work with them, if you are or were a teenage boy, what's behind the mask?
Tell us your story: 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. And you can join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. Malina Saval joins us now from the studios at NPR west in Culver City, California. Nice to have you on the program today.
Ms. MALINA SAVAL (Author, "The Secret Lives Of Boys: Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens."): Thank you so much.
CONAN: And you write that every boy has a secret. What kind of secrets are we talking about?
Ms. SAVAL: By secrets, things that they're not revealing to their parents, to their friends, sometimes even themselves. Things that they have a difficult time, you know, reconciling and expressing because they don't feel like anybody is there to really listen and anyone who is there that wants to hear what they have to say. And they also feel like they've been, you know, boxed into these stereotypical categories and feel like, you know, people have already decided what they're like and who they are and so they're reluctant to come forth and really talk about who they actually are.
CONAN: One of the things in fact that unites all of the characters in your book, the various ten different boys that you profiled is this feeling that - gee, nobody gets me. Nobody is listening to me. I'm by myself.
Ms. SAVAL: Yeah it was really interesting. I mean, all of these boys collectively shared a feeling of not belonging. And in that shared emotion of not fitting in anywhere, they actually had a tremendous amount, you know, of things in common. So it was fascinating when I met all these different boys from various different walks of life - rich, poor or Jewish, Christian, Muslim, agnostic, you know, they all thought that they were so different and nobody would understand them.
But if I could have just gotten them all together, I think, they all would have seen and understood that they actually have a profound amount of, you know, of things in common. And, I think, it would have been a wake-up call to them as well.
CONAN: And for the most part, there were at least some things that they were not willing to discuss with their parents, as you point out. Nevertheless they were willing to talk about them with you. How come?
Ms. SAVAL: You know it's interesting. I think partially because, you know, I wasn't their parent. There was no - there was no risk of punishment, you know, there was no risk of, you know, heavy critique or on the other hand, unctuous displays of approval which, I think, teens aren't really, you know, comfortable with either. I was sort of, I was a neutral third party and I opened, you know, it up to conversation and gave them a venue in which to talk about whatever they wanted.
I basically left it up to them. I said, look, tell me what's going on in your life and they told me and it was like this gushing forth of emotion in them really wanting to share with someone who is interested in what they had to say. I think for a lot of these teenage boys, they really didn't feel that there was anyone who wanted to hear the truth.
CONAN: So the interested outsider could hear things that - even though they knew it was going to be in a book and that their parents would eventually find out these secrets they were telling you.
Ms. SAVAL: I know and that was really interesting and I think that, you know, because it was going to be in a book, you know, month or even years later for some of them that it created a kind of buffer zone. They were able to get it out on paper, you know, in a way it almost acted as a confessional, you know. And, you know, because it, you know, it was going be on a page at some point down the road, right then and there though they were in, you know, a restaurant or a cafe or, you know, outside or at school just, you know, chatting with me.
And so they felt completely comfortable and open. And I think, to be honest, a lot of them because they knew their parents were going to read this at some point, they even more so wanted to talk because they wanted on some level their parents to find out from the book what they were not comfortable telling them in person.
CONAN: We're talking with Malina Saval. Her new book is called "The Secret Lives Of Boys: Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens." Well if you're a teenage boy or maybe if you were one, if you work with them, if you're the parent of one, what is behind the mask? Give us a call 800-989-8255. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let's begin with Deon(ph). Deon calling us from Louisville.
DEON (Caller): Hey thanks. I love the show.
CONAN: Thank you.
DEON: I was calling because I'm no longer a teenager. I haven't been for about a decade now but I totally agree with what your guest is saying. I was dealing, when I was a teenager especially when I hit puberty, with dealing with the fact that I was gay. And although I had tried to tell - had actually told both of my parents and neither one of them were blatantly or hostily(ph) homophobic, neither of them heard me. And so I spent many years in increasing levels of - I suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. And so the compulsions and the rituals became more and more debilitating and more and more rigid in this attempt to purify myself and somehow to change or to…
CONAN: I don't mean to put words in your mouth but to meet their expectations.
DEON: Totally, to meet everyone's expectations. And I felt like there really was no one that I could tell the truth to because that would be admitting that there was a truth to tell. And it wasn't until I was still a teenager when it happened, I was 18, when I finally just accepted it. I remember the day and the moment and I have never sensed it before, I experienced such relief. But I really do wish there had been someone that I could have talked to. And I hope that things are different for teenagers now.
CONAN: Malina Saval, thanks very much Deon, but one of the characters you write about is gay but defies expectations in other ways. And though his parents seemed - at least his mother seemed to have some of the same reactions that Deon's parents did.
Ms. SAVAL: Yeah. I mean it's interesting because this particular boy that I write about in my book, he was put on Prozac by a psychiatrist shortly after he came out of the closet, so to speak, and told his parents that he was gay. And though, you know, the reasons for that were not just because he'd come out and said he was gay but because he was, quote-unquote, "in their mind, acting out."
He, you know, kissed another boy in the high school hallway and suddenly he was in a shrink's office and that shrink said, oh, you know, you're acting out. You've got some behavioral problems. Let's put you on Prozac and see if we can, oh, I don't know, repress your gayness, you know. So he was, you know, also dealing with people that just weren't 100 percent ready to, you know, accept him for who he was.
And he spent a lot of time dealing with, you know, he comes from a part of the country where there's, you know, a high influx of individuals that, you know, are not exactly open to homosexuality. You know, they don't consider it a sin or whatnot but it's just not something they're comfortable with. And, you know, he had to deal with a lot of these individuals. And people who still said, you know, we love you but we don't really, you know, accept this part of you.
So that was very difficult and also what was really interesting about this particular character, not only that he debunks stereotyping at every turn but also that a lot of the time it wasn't the other teenagers that he told that he was gay that had a problem with his homosexuality, his sexual orientation, it was actually adults. Which raises, I think, a really interesting point about how a lot of times the problem isn't about teenagers accepting themselves and accepting who they are, it's the adult population.
And it was, you know, fascinating to hear a lot of the times from these boys that they felt okay in their skin, but their parents had all these unresolved issues that they had yet to deal with. And that's what made it difficult for teenagers to feel comfortable. They felt fine. It was everyone else, you know, their parents or guidance counselors, teachers sometimes that just were not ready to accept them for who they were.
CONAN: Not willing to listen to what they had to say. Deon, thanks very much. I think Deon's left us already. Anyway, thank you. Let's see if we can go now to Neil, and Neil's with us from Sonoma in California.
NEIL (Caller): Hi. Am I on the air?
CONAN: Yes, you are.
NEIL: Hi, Neal. I was actually - I had a comment about why the guys might have opened up. I'm 22 now, but even when I was in high school, like 16 to 18, as a young guy, it was just easier to talk to women about emotional problems and stuff like that. Even now, I'll call up my friend Lisa rather than my best friend Ian if I want to talk about some kind of emotional thing that's been going on with me, you know?
CONAN: And you think that's true of other males, and specifically teenage boys?
NEIL: Well, I've had that with me definitely, and I just would be really surprised if it's not that way for a lot of other guys. Women just seem like they want to listen to you more about that kind of thing. Guys usually - like, I have great relationships with guys, but generally speaking, they just don't want to hear about that kind of stuff as much.
CONAN: Malina Saval, was that your experience?
Ms. SAVAL: Well, you know, my only reference point is obviously me being a woman and me, you know, researching this book and meeting with all these boys. So I think there probably is something to that. Maybe there's a nurturing quality that boys saw, or maybe it's because I wasn't interviewing them in a clinical setting.
This was - you know, I interviewed them in places where they were completely comfortable. I went to their schools. I went to their rock concerts. We went to restaurants that they chose. We would hang out at their houses, even sometimes, you know, with their parents. I mean, I was really on their home turf. And never before, really, had there been, you know, to my knowledge, like, any books or any studies where, you know, curious journalists were just hanging out with boys, seeing what made them tick.
So I think it could be because I was a woman, and maybe I had a slightly youthful appearance and I was into a lot of the same music they were and really made a concerted effort to find out what was going on in their life pop-culturally.
So there's that. And I also think it's because, you know, I wasn't having them come to me. This was not you show up at my office. You sit on that couch, you know, talk. You know, you've got 50 minutes. I went to them.
CONAN: And you don't reference this in any way in the book, I just wondered: Did any of them develop a crush on you?
Ms. SAVAL: It's funny, because that question has come up a lot just in sort of a funny, jocular way, a lot of people. You know what? Not, you know, maybe an emotional crush. Maybe I had a crush on them, though. You know, I mean, we formed friendships. So - and I really genuinely liked them.
I mean, nothing happened at all, but I think that there has to be a certain amount of affection and love between two people who are spending, like, upwards of, you know, three years together talking and having conversations, and there's got to be a trust factor there.
So while I hesitate to use the word crush, I think there's definitely a lot of respect and affection that was present and what made the book, you know, work well and made, you know, us be able to establish a close bond.
CONAN: Neil, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.
NEIL: Thank you. Bye.
CONAN: And we're going to continue our conversation about "The Secret Lives of Boys: Inside the Raw, Emotional World of Male Teens" with author Malina Saval. Stay with us: 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us. Email is email@example.com. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Malina Saval traveled all over the country to talk with dozens of teenage boys in an effort to understand what makes them tick, to uncover their emotional lives.
Her new book, "The Secret Lives of Boys," is her portrait of 10 boys she spoke with. You can read an excerpt at npr.org/talk. If you're the parent of a teenage boy, if you work with them, if you are or were a teenage boy, what have you learned about their emotional lives? 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Let's get another caller in. And we'll go now to - this is Arlene(ph). Arlene's with us from Muskegon, Michigan.
ARLENE (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
ARLENE: I have an almost-15-year-old son, and I've been listening to your guest. I guess I really experience what she's talking about with my own child, and I think it's very possible for a parent to have that kind of a relationship. He's very open with us. We talk a lot. He talks about his feelings. He's just not what you'd expect, I guess, if you thought of a typical teenage boy.
CONAN: And he's open with you. He lets you know what he's doing. Do you think he has secrets?
ARLENE: Pardon me?
CONAN: Do you think he has secrets?
ARLENE: You know, I don't think so. I really don't. I don't think he could sleep at night if he kept a secret from us. So he's very open and very honest.
CONAN: And not to speak about Arlene's son, Malina Saval, but I know that was not your experience.
Ms. SAVAL: Well, it was my experience that a lot of the parents said the same thing to me, that really I, you know, I know my kid. A lot of them didn't, but there were definitely a handful of parents that, you know, they had assured me well, you know, we pretty much know everything there is to know about my kid. And then it turns out they didn't.
You know, and it wasn't always the most shocking secrets, but you can pretty much guarantee that there are things that teenagers, you know, keep from their parents. I mean, it's actually - it's a rite of passage, you know? It's part of growing up. It's part of adolescence, realizing that at some point, you can, you know, hoard information from other people, and it's a source of empowerment.
But on the other hand, you know, I think that there definitely are teenage boys that have very healthy relationships with their parents. I mean, what - I'm sorry, Arlene was it?
Ms. SAVAL: Arlene, yeah. What she was talking about, I think that that actually is an important point to address, and one of the things that I - one of the stereotypes that I actually hope to debunk through my book itself is that, you know, not every teenage boy is a hellion, you know, like making his parents' lives miserable. So I think she brings up a really valid point.
CONAN: One of the things that you said any number of people told you was to be sure to include, you know, the all-American boy who is not having terrible problems of angst, who's not having terrible problems of identification, who gets on well in school and gets on well with his parents.
Ms. SAVAL: Yeah, I mean, I have a chapter on an average American kid, and, you know, he has a great relationship with his parents. He, you know, he does pretty well in school. The difference between him and, say, the other kids was that, you know, his parents would actually communicate.
You know for this child, the quote-unquote "average kid," sometimes it can be a little hard for him because he doesn't get noticed. There's that side, because he's not being sent to the principal's office and he's not getting in trouble. And on the other flip side, he's not, you know, a national merit scholar. He's sort of like in the middle.
I mean, he tries hard in school, he works really hard, he does his homework. And he, you know, he gets A's, maybe a B here and there, but it's hard - you know, he sort of gets lost in the shuffle a little bit. So I did feel it was important to include that type of boy and just what it's like being, quote-unquote, "average."
CONAN: Which doesn't mean he's not smart or fun to be with and all of that.
Ms. SAVAL: Right.
CONAN: Arlene, does that describe your son a little bit?
ARLENE: You know, he does get occasionally sent to the principal's office.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ARLENE: He's full of life, but I guess that's why I find him so unusual. He tells us - he'll apologize when he needs to. Yeah, I don't know. He…
Ms. SAVAL: I guess my question would be how can you be 100 percent sure that he doesn't have secrets, you know? I mean, how…
ARLENE: You're right.
Ms. SAVAL: I mean, you don't know.
ARLENE: You're absolutely right. I think we have fostered an atmosphere in our home where we've been very accepting, and we talk with our kids about a lot of stuff. He has four sisters, which maybe helps influence him to be a little more open. If he didn't talk, he would get lost in the shuffle. But yeah, he's just very open, and I'm aware of that, that there might be things I don't know, but I would be shocked if they were things that were…
ARLENE: …maybe all parents would be shocked. Anyway…
CONAN: Well, I think you ought to ground him for a month just on basic principles.
ARLENE: All right, I'll tell him you said that.
CONAN: Okay. Bye-bye, Arlene.
ARLENE: Thank you. Bye-bye.
CONAN: So long. Let's see if we can go now to Martin, Martin with us from Silicon Valley in California.
MARTIN (Caller): Hey, thanks for taking my call. This is a great topic. I have a 13-year-old son. Again, he's exactly as the boy you described, although there are inconsistencies in messages that he'll bring home. You know, like definitely an open family, open relationship with him.
He's a great kid, but there are times when - like I'll ask on a daily basis how school is going, and he's always, you know, it's fine, and here's what I did and seems very open. But then, you know, we'll happen to meet - in fact, we were shopping for some clothes for him to go to Disneyland last week, and he pointed out a girl, and he goes oh, yeah, she got put on suspension for drinking.
You know, and this is a 13-year-old girl. And I was like, well, that seems kind of odd. You know, in other conversations I've had with him, he said none of that takes places, right? The kids are all good. There's no bullying. There's (unintelligible). So I know that there's aspects of his school life that, you know, definitely he's guarded about. And I'm not quite sure why, but maybe it's just because he feels we'll be judgmental. I'm not sure. He goes to a multicultural - I mean, ethnic background school.
We're very accepting of all his friends. But, yeah, it does seem that he is guarded about very specific topics when it comes to what's actually happening in school. And so those are my concerns. You know, what's really happening there?
CONAN: Yeah. Yeah.
Ms. SAVAL: Well, I mean, there's - you know, there's really no way to know. And I think one of the points that I think is really important for me to make in terms of discussing this book is that my job wasn't to provide, you know, neat, elegant, you know, tied it up with a little pink ribbon, bow-type answers to what's going on with teenage boys in America.
Every teenage boy is different. And when I profiled these boys, I made it clear that they are just one version of the truth about male teens in America. I think like people, teenage boys are different from, you know, as different from one another as we are from one another, you know, as adults.
You know, there could be a lot going on in school that he's not telling you, or it could just be that sometimes none of us feel like talking about things that are going on in our lives. We're tired, or we're just, you know, that's just something we want to keep separate. It doesn't necessarily mean anything bad is going on.
I mean, to say that there's no bullying in school and that girls aren't being, you know, put on suspension for drinking, I mean, that's definitely a fallacy. That happens all the time. But, you know, I mean, there's really no way to know.
I mean, he could - it's possible that maybe he just doesn't want to slam someone else's reputation outside of school. Maybe there's a fear factor there. But I think just, you know, talking there to your son and your teenager and saying, you know, if there's something going on where it affects you and you're in danger, we absolutely, 100 percent want you to tell us what's going on. We won't be judgmental, and we really want to make sure that you're okay.
But it could just be that, you know, we don't always talk about everything all the time with everybody that we know. And I think it's also important, to, you know, to stress that if a child doesn't want to tell his parents everything, that that child has someone else that they can talk to.
The previous caller talked about her son having sisters that he was close with. That's great, too. I think teenage boys are just looking for a confidante. They're not going to tell their parents everything, just like a parent can't be all things to their kids, and a kid can't be all things to his parents.
So I think it's really important that kids have various different outlets, you know, and places where they can express themselves.
CONAN: When are you heading to Disneyland, Martin?
MARTIN: Oh, he just went back. He went with his band group, and it turns out that, you know, again he's a very social kid, very active. I mean, he ended up convincing 21 girls and him to jump into an elevator to see if they could cram it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SAVAL: Nice.
CONAN: Well, we're glad…
MARTIN: I mean, that's how open he is with me, but then if I ask, like, even about the names of the girls that he's kind of hanging out with, he becomes very guarded about oh, well, there's a few. And then, you know, just kind of goes off. We don't push him on it, but it is interesting that he - yeah, we can tell when he becomes guarded.
Ms. SAVAL: Well, he's a little shy. He's a little embarrassed, and I think that's completely normal and natural for adolescent boys. So…
MARTIN: Anyway, you know, I think this is a great topic. I appreciate the discussion.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we can go now to Akache(ph). Is that pronouncing it correctly?
AKACHE (Caller): Yeah, that's my name. Akache.
CONAN: In South Bend, Indiana. Go ahead, please.
AKACHE: I was going to talk about, like, I'm a 16-year-old, and I'm about 6'0", 200. and when people look at me, they think hey, this guy, he's big and he's strong and he plays a lot of basketball. And I do play a lot of basketball, but they think that I'm a big tough guy. I mean, I am tough, but I'm not - I do get my feelings hurt sometimes. I do cry.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SAVAL: Yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: And do you get a chance to talk to your parents? Do you feel like you can be open with them?
AKACHE: Yeah, I talk to my dad a lot. I talk to him a lot. I mean, my mom, she's always - she spends a lot of time in Bermuda, working on her books. But, you know…
CONAN: It's hard to hear the show if you got the radio on in the background. So, it can get a little confusing.
AKACHE: Oh, you can hear it?
CONAN: Yeah, we can hear it.
AKACHE: Dad, tell me you turn off the radio.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: And do you…
Ms. SAVAL: I want to ask you…
CONAN: Oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Ms. SAVAL: No, I was going to ask him a question. He said, you know, I cry. And, I mean, I think a lot - you know, a lot of boys in this book, they - that was obviously one thing that came up a lot, one topic was, you know, boys not being able to cry and boys not wanting to cry and boys, you know, literally losing the physical ability to cry in our culture.
And they were working really hard in various different ways to prove that that's not true. You know, they cried. And I think that that's actually, you know, I think that's a positive step. And I think that, you know, a lot of boys that I met, they felt more, you know, increasingly, throughout the time that we spent together, increasingly more and more comfortable, you know, expressing themselves.
So, I just wanted to, you know, make that point. He mentioned that, you know, I cry. And it's interesting in our culture where we assume because someone is six-foot, you know, three, or however tall, you know, he said he was, that that person doesn't know emotions. The fact that those things go together, you know, is interesting. And…
CONAN: Akache, when you talk to your dad, does your dad listen?
AKACHE: Yeah, I mean, he tries, but sometimes, you know, I mean, it's just - he has a lot of things to do. I mean, between my brother and my sister and the things that my mom has to do, I mean, sometimes I don't feel like I'm always getting heard. I mean, I do get heard some of the, like, some of the time, but not always. I mean, not like I feel like I should.
AKACHE: I'm very self-centered.
CONAN: Well, that's so unlike everybody else in the world.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SAVAL: Yeah. I mean, back to, you know, like a few callers ago, when they asked, you know, what was it about these - what was it about you that triggered this emotional outpouring from these boys, I mean, this is exactly it because they felt like they had no one to talk to, and suddenly somebody's in the room saying, okay, go, talk.
And for some of these kids, nobody in their entire life has ever had anybody, you know, offer themselves up to them in this way, just to be their, you know, to listen to what they had to say.
CONAN: Akache, thanks very much for the call, and good luck.
AKACHE: Thank you.
Here's an email from Sharon just on this point: I'm employed as a juvenile probation officer. About 85 percent of teens involved in the juvenile justice system are males, so I spend a lot of time with adolescent males.
I think they will tell me things they won't share with their parents because I'm not emotionally invested in the decisions they make and don't take it personally when they make a bad choice.
That's - it's interesting. Not all the kids that you profiled in the book have made the wisest choices all the time.
Ms. SAVAL: No, not at all. But, you know, experience is part of growing up. So, no, they have not made the best choices, but, you know, who of us has? So, I think I was just incredibly nonjudgmental when it came to, you know, hearing what they had to say and talk about.
And, yeah, I mean, you know, there's no, like, magic wand secret to why these boys talk to me other than I really think I just - I was there…
Ms. SAVAL: …and made it clear that I was ready and willing and wanted to listen and hear what they had to say.
CONAN: And to be fair, you've talked about any number of instances where you started these - one of these conversations…
Ms. SAVAL: Right.
CONAN: …and the boys just sort of vanished into the ether. So, they all didn't work.
Ms. SAVAL: They all do not work. Boys can be very slippery creatures. You know, it was difficult to track a lot of them down. They would lose their cell phones. They would move.
A lot of boys in my book, they were, you know, they came from various different socioeconomic backgrounds. So there were some kids that were moving quite a bit, you know, that they would suddenly, you know, be at one high school and then just drop out, you know?
There was a couple of kids where their parents actually decided that they didn't want them to be a part of this book after at first giving their approval because they were nervous about what the boys might say and, you know, what might be in print. They were concerned with their reputations.
It was extremely hard to pin down a lot of these boys. And a lot of times, they would tell me one version of the story. And then a couple of days later, they would, you know, assiduously recant, say, oh, wait, I didn't quite mean that. I said that in a moment of passion or I was really mad at my parents, and they would change their minds. I mean, that's, you know, I - it was definitely not a linear process at all.
CONAN: "The Secret Lives of Boys" is the book we're talking about, "Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens." Malina Saval is the author.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And I wanted to ask you about a couple of points that you make in the book, one of which is that boys are remarkably attuned to their look - not necessarily the same as fashion, but that they are very concerned with how they present themselves to the world.
Ms. SAVAL: Oh, absolutely. I mean, in every chapter, you know, in every, you know, archetype of boy that I talk about, they all have a particular style, even if that means, you know, making a point not to be styled, whether it's, you know, how often they wash their hair.
I've got one boy in my book who washes his hair once a month. I mean, he gets it wet every day. How often does he shampoo? You know, about once a month. I've got another kid who was obsessed with Abercrombie & Fitch. I mean, everything that he wore is was from Abercrombie & Fitch.
And they talked about fashion a lot, you know? I think I talk about in my book how, you know, they're not going to sit around talking about supermodels per se, but they definitely, you know, there's a couple of conversations I had with boys, we'd be flipping through the latest copy of, you know, Details magazine and, you know, we're looking at a fashion spread of, you know, Patrick Dempsey, and some of the boys saying, oh, you know, it'd be so cool to look like that. So they how look was incredibly important to these boys.
CONAN: Another point - and we just have a couple of minutes left - and that is that as you went through all the things that segregated boys into different cliques and different groups and race and ethnicity and other factors, you said class, socioeconomic position was by far the most important.
Ms. SAVAL: Oh, absolutely. Rich and poor was a huge dividing factor between boys, as I think it is for most people in America. It affected what they could do, where they could go, what clothes they could buy. It obviously affected what their parents did for a living and, you know, on what issues they could bond.
You know, it's really difficult for a boy whose father, you know - let's take an extreme example - a parent who, you know, who's in a gang and the mother is struggling to make ends meet at her job. You know, it was difficult for that person to find much in common with a boy whose parents are millionaires.
And they both have problems, but the difference is the kid who comes from wealth, his parents are able to get him proper psychological care in the way of a shrink that he can talk to, you know, once or twice a week and send him to schools that, you know, will give him certain opportunities that aren't presented to other boys.
And so, you know, those boys just aren't going to come together, actually, even in the same room to find out that despite these differences, despite these cultural and economic differences, you know, to find out they do have much in common, they didn't get that chance. So…
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CONAN: We are talking with Malina Saval, again, about her book, "The Secret Lives Of Boys." We'll take a couple more calls after we get back from a short break.
We'll also talk with Dahlia Lithwick about the names that might be on the shortlist President Obama has in his pocket as he considers the next justice of the United States Supreme Court. Stay with us.
I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: In just a couple of minutes, we're going to be talking about the shortlist of the nominees for the United States Supreme Court. In the meantime, we're wrapping up our conversation with Malina Saval, whose new book is called "The Secret Lives of Boys: Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens."
And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Beth, Beth calling from Denver.
BETH (Caller): Hi. Hi. I've got an 18-year-old son and he's got a twin sister, so 18 as well. And I have been blown away by how incredibly mature and empathetic he is.
I've recently gone through a divorce, and my son is just - he's just empathetic and nonjudgmental, and the list can go on and on. But, you know, had I speculated early on about what my teenage son would be like, I don't think I would've guessed that those would be the qualities that I would describe. But he's amazing.
CONAN: And it's easy to be surprised by your own children, isn't it?
BETH: Yes, it is. Yes, it is.
CONAN: And a good thing, too. And expectations, Malina Saval…
Ms. SAVAL: Yeah.
CONAN: …that is something that is so frequently dashed in this book, both - for the most part positively.
Ms. SAVAL: Yes, I was actually interested when the caller said that she was so surprised by her son's empathetic character. I was wondering if the daughter, her daughter, the twin shares the same sort of empathetic qualities and whether or not she was surprised that her daughter possessed those.
BETH: Well, you know, my daughter is - she can be empathetic as well, but she's a lot more judgmental right now…
Ms. SAVAL: Okay.
BETH: …and a bit more manipulative. And I don't know whether it has to do with the mother-daughter versus mother-son relationship. I mean, I'm trying to - I try and take a step back and say, well, who knows? But there's definitely been a difference, definitely been a difference. He's been a lot more supportive in many ways.
Ms. SAVAL: Well, I think what's so great about what you said is that throughout the book, a lot of, you know, other than just the profiles of the boys, a lot of people weigh in - clinicians, experts, people - other people that have worked with boys, they weigh in on the fact that loyalty and empathy are two of the most undersold qualities about teenage boys.
And even in the minds and through the point of view of the boys themselves, they see themselves as more emotional sometimes and empathetic than the girls. A lot of boys came to me and said, you know, my friends and I, we have such a tight bond and we would never stab one another in the back. And all the girls at school, they'll say one nice thing to someone's face, but then they'll just turn around and say something cold and judgmental.
So, I think actually what you're describing really fits a lot of the profiles of the boys that I talk with in the book as well. Boys are incredibly loyal in terms of friendships and very empathetic. And that we've got this misconception in our culture that they're not, that's what's interesting, because boys are emotional. And anyone who's spent time with boys will know this to be true. And if you haven't spent time with boys, then you don't know that.
Ms. SAVAL: And if you say they're not emotional, then you clearly have not spent time with boys. They're incredibly, highly - they're emotional sieves. They're incredibly emotional creatures.
CONAN: Beth, thanks very much.
BETH: Well, I enjoyed them both, but they're - but my son is a total treat. And I appreciate the book. Thanks.
CONAN: And good luck with everything, Beth.
BETH: Thank you.
CONAN: Here's finally an e-mail from Carrie(ph) in Lafayette, California - or excuse me, Louisiana, I guess that is. As a mother of a 13-year-old boy with two younger sons as well, what advice would your guest give to parents out there who want to connect with their sons? What do the boys say their parents did right or wrong when it came to providing them with a safe place to connect?
Ms. SAVAL: Well, I will say the number one caveat is guessing wrong. A lot of these boys, what they absolutely hated was that - was when the parent would come to them and say, we know what's going on. We were young once, too. We understand what you're going through.
The boys absolutely loathed that approach, because the truth is, you were young, yes, but not at the same time, you know, and place that we're in right now in our culture in America.
So, first of all, I think if you're going to your son, per the boys that I interviewed, have just a really open - keep an open mind about what their situation is like and understand that it's going to be different from when you were a child.
And don't come in with any presupposed notions of what's going on because right away, that's going to turn them off. They just did not like when parents said to them, you know, I understand that this must be hard for you, or I understand that you must be feeling this way. I would say go in with as few assumptions as possible and really just encourage your child to be able to talk, you know, freely from their point of view about how they feel. And then you can, you know, talk to them and add in and maybe share some of your experiences as a child or as a teenager.
But I think just going in and presupposing that you really don't know what it's like to be young and male in America today because you don't. You're older and you were young and male or female and whatnot at a different time and place.
CONAN: Malina Saval, thank you very much for your time today. Appreciate it.
Ms. SAVAL: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
CONAN: Malina Saval, a journalist and author. Her book, "The Secret Lives of Boys," is in stores now. You can find an excerpt at npr.org/talk. And she joined us today from our studios in Culver City, California at NPR west.
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