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Lost Boys

Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them

by James Garbarino
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James Garbarino , Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1999). Order on-line

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Lost Boys : Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them
by James Garbarino
Order on-line
From Kirkus Reviews , April 12, 1999
An impressively well researched, thoughtful, and helpful study of why some American boys become violent, even murderous, and about what can be done, beyond the simpleminded response of building more prisons, to prevent such behavior and to help boys when preventive efforts fail. Garbarino (Human Development/Cornell) delves into the confluence of psychological, social, existential, and spiritual factors that make some acting-out boys become violent. These include lack of sufficient attachment to at least one loving and reliable adult, living in drug- and crime-infested neighborhoods, suffering abuse or some other trauma, and lacking the kind of a spiritual anchor that provides a system of meaning beyond the self. In the last quarter of his book, Garbarino proposes a variety of responses (he doesn't believe in a single magic bullet solution) to aid at-risk and violent boys. His ideas are often innovative and generally involve the boys' families as well as social institutions. For example, he recommends that incarcerated juvenile offenders be placed in institutions more akin to monasteries than the boot camps that are the rage today. Garbarino bases his findings on both an extensive review of the literature and wide-ranging discussions with a significant number of boys in prison. With the exception of occasional meaningless statistics (television allegedly accounts for about 10 to 15 percent of the variation in violent behavior) and a few hyperbolic generalizations (being a boy is inherently traumatic in our culture), his writing is straightforward, clear, and engaging. At a time when too many policy makers look at juvenile offenders with a combination of contempt and rage, Garbarino's important book offers them, and those who work with adolescent and pre-adolescent boys, a far more sophisticated and socially constructive approach. --Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Book Description
In the first book to help parents truly understand youth violence and stop it before it explodes, national expert Dr. James Garbarino reveals how to identify children who are at risk and offers proven methods to prevent aggressive behavior.

After more than a decade of relentless increase in the urban war zones of large cities, violence by young boys and adolescents is on the rise in our suburbs, small towns, and rural communities. Twenty-five years as a psychologist working in the trenches with such children has convinced James Garbarino that boys everywhere really are angrier and more violent than ever before. In light of the recent school-based shootings, it's now clear that no matter where we live or how hard we try as parents, chances are our children are going to school with troubled boys capable of getting guns and pulling triggers. Beyond the deaths and debilitating injuries that result from this phenomenon are the staggering psychological costs -- children who are afraid to go to school, teachers who are afraid of their students, and parents who fear for their children's lives.

Building on his pioneering work, Garbarino shows why young men and boys have become increasingly vulnerable to violent crime and how lack of adult supervision and support poses a real and growing threat to our children's basic safety. For these vulnerable boys, violence can become normal, the "right thing to do." Terry, one of the boys Garbarino interviews, says "I just wasn't gonna take it anymore. I knew I would have to pay the price for what I did, but I didn't care." We've seen how the deadly combination of ignoring excessively bad behavior and allowing easy access to guns has destroyed families in Pennsylvania, Oregon, New York, Washington, Kentucky, and Arkansas. Fortunately, parents can spot troubled boys and take steps to protect their families from violence if they know what signs to look for -- lack of connection, masking emotions, withdrawal, silence, rage, trouble with friends, hypervigilance, cruelty toward other children and even animals -- all warning signs that every parent and peer can recognize and report.

Dr. Garbarino, whom Dr. Stanley Greenspan of the National Institute of Mental Health hails as "one of the true pioneers in our understanding of the inner life of our youth," addresses the wide range of issues that boys of every temperament and from every background may have to confront as they grow and develop. By outlining the steps parents, teachers, and public officials can take to keep all children safer, Dr. Garbarino holds out hope and solutions for turning our kids away from violence, before it is too late. This is one of the most important and original books ever written about boys.

A leading psychologist examines the recent explosion of adolescent violence, identifies children at risk, and offers proven methods to prevent aggressive behavior.

The author, Jim Garbarino , April 16, 1999
Putting a human face on youth violence is my goal.
My work as a professor at Cornell University and as an invited lecturer at conferences and meetings all over the country means that virtually every single week I have a chance to talk to groups of people about issues affecting children, youth, and families. However, one of the highlights of these situations is the opportunity to talk directly to individuals who come up after the lecture or after class and to hear what they have to say. This is why I am pleased to be able to speak to individuals who have come to for information about my new book Lost Boys. If we were sitting down for a chat this is what I would say to you about the book: For the past 25 years I have been searching for answers to three questions: "why do human beings hurt each other?" "what effect does this hurt have on the development of children and adolescents?" and "how can we transform our lives to heal the hurt?" This work has taken has taken me to war zones around the world to understand the impact of political violence. This work has taken me all over the world, from Yugoslavia to Mozambique, from Cambodia to Nicaragua, from Israel and Palestine to Northern Ireland.For example, in the wake of the Gulf War I was sent to Kuwait and Iraq on behalf of UNICEF to assess the impact of the violence on children there. In my work here at home as a psychologist and a researcher I go to neighborhoods, schools, and prisons all over North America, where I try to understand how violence at home compares with violence abroad and what lessons we can learn from the one to help us deal with the other. For the last four years I have been focusing my work on the problem of lethal youth violence in America: kids who kill. This means that I sit down hour after hour with violent boys and young men to hear their stories. I have learned a great deal from these hours spent listening. I have learned to see beyond the outside toughness so many violent youth project to glimpse their inner sadness and pain. And I have come to see the central importance of spiritual development in understanding and dealing with the issue of youth violence-- preventing it and curing it. This is what Lost Boys is all about. I think it has something to offer to every adult who cares about kids -- as the parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend or neighbor of a particular boy or in some general way as a teacher, a counselor, a coach, a police officer, a lawyer or a therapist. I hope readers will come away from Lost Boys with a renewed sense of hope and sympathy for the difficulties many boys face in growing up in our society and the devestating costs to all of us when boys grow up hurt and sad, costs that take the form of violence directed at self or others. Remember that about the same number of boys kill themselves as kill other people in our society. In many ways Lost Boys is a work of love. It reflects my love for the boys in my life-- my son, my step-son, and my nephews. Learning how to love them has taught me a great deal. And it reflects my love for the girls in my life -- my daughter and my niece-- because the quality of the lives "my girls" will live depends to a great extent upon the relationships they will have with the boys of today who will become the men of tomorrow. Lost Boys is also a work of love in that it reflects the love I have found in my own spiritual life. This recognition of the central importance of spirituality runs through the book as a complement to all the psychology, sociology, biology, and anthropology I use to make sense of violence in the lives of boys. If you find Lost Boys helpful and want to share your experience or if you simply want to be in touch because you have something to say to me you can reach me via e-mail at


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