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Rebels with a Cause

Reimagining Boys, Ourselves, and Our Culture

Author Niobe Way
Read by Niobe Way
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On sale Jul 09, 2024 | 8 Hours and 17 Minutes | 9780593869949
| Grades 6-12 + AP/IB
From NYU professor of developmental psychology Niobe Way,
an in-depth exploration about what boys and young men teach us about themselves, us, and the toxic culture we have created, one in which we value money over people, toys over human connection, and academic achievement over kindness. Based on her longitudinal and mixed-method research over thirty-five years, Rebels with a Cause is a true call to action to change the culture so that we stop the vicious cycle of violence and blame.
 
Dr. Niobe Way has spent her career researching social and emotional development and finds that boys and young men desperately want and need the same thing as everyone else: close friendships. Yet they and we grow up in a stereotyped “boy” culture, one that devalues and mocks those relationships, rather than recognizing that they’re necessary for human survival.
 
In Rebels with a Cause, Way takes her message one step beyond her previous book, Deep Secrets, which was the inspiration for an Oscar-nominated film Close, to reveal how these “rebels,” as she calls the boys and young men in her research and in her classrooms, teach us about their and our crisis of connection, evidence of which is visible in our soaring rates of depression, anxiety, loneliness, suicide, and mass violence. They also teach us about the solutions to the crisis, which is to care, to listen with curiosity, and to take individual and collective responsibility for the damage we have done to them, to ourselves, and to the world around us.
 
Way provides us not only with data-driven insight into the roots and consequences of this crisis of connection, but also offers us concrete and empirically tested strategies for creating a culture that better aligns with our human nature and our human needs. Her book reminds us that “it’s not the rebels who cause the troubles of the world, it’s the troubles that cause the rebels.” The time to listen to and act on what young rebels have been telling us for almost a century is now.
1.

Human Nature

When my son was five years old, his father and I got divorced. I didn't want our home to be filled with sadness, so when I came home from work, I tried to look happy. One evening as I walked in the front door and gave my son a big smile, he said, "Mama, why do you smile when you are feeling sad?" I was startled. How did he know that I was faking my happiness? I didn't know what to say, so like most adults when asked uncomfortable questions by children, I changed the topic. Recently, a friend shared a story of her son at five years old, who asked her in a matter-of-fact voice, "Are you yelling at me, Mommy, because your mommy yelled at you?" Another mother told me that her eight-year-old son said, "It makes sense why you would be upset about spills. Your dad used to scream at you for spilling milk. I get it, Mom." Rather than taking graduate-level courses in psychology, perhaps we just need to listen to children.

Such extraordinary capacities to read the social and emotional world among boys and girls have been noted by parents and researchers alike for over a century. Evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin kept a journal of his children in their first years of life and noted their keen emotional observations and deeply caring nature. In March of 1842, Darwin noted about his two-year-old son, Doddy:

On my return from Shrewsbury after 10 days absence, Doddy appeared slightly shy,-I can hardly describe how this was shewn, except by his eyes being slightly averted from mine. He almost immediately came & sat on my knee, kissed me, & was then much excited . . . Doddy's observant nature is shewn by his daily telling . . . everyone, without omission, to have pudding, when their meat was finished, & to take a crust, when their pudding was finished.-Elizabeth remarked [about his] careful politeness at meals towards his guests, was like his granpapa the Doctor.

Darwin was particularly impressed by his son's ability to read the emotions of others. On March 23, he noted: "Doddy looking at full-face likeness of Isaac Walton in frontispiece of the Angler said 'like papa looking at Doddy' & then changed it into 'like papa laughing at Doddy.'-The plate [picture] is not at all like me, but it has the faintest smile about the eyes & is a full face." On March 26, Darwin writes: "Doddy was generous enough to give Anny [his little sister] the last mouthful of his gingerbread & today he again put his last crumb on the sofa for Anny to run to & then cried in rather a vain-glorious tone 'oh kind Doddy' 'kind Doddy'"

Darwin also commented on the caring nature of his four-year-old son, Willy:

Annie 3 years and 1/2 was looking at a print of a girl weeping at her mother's grave . . . Willy then seemed to find it rather melancholy & sad. Is her Mamma really dead? Has she got no nurse? . . . About 3 months ago . . . when he went with me to Etruria as soon as his things were putting on to go, he began the most bitter cry for fear Annie should be unhappy without him, & when we were set out he began crying again anxiously enquiring whether she would be unhappy.

Darwin's beliefs about our social and moral nature likely stem from his observations of his own children, including his sons.

Judy Chu's developmental research with four- and five-year-old boys finds that boys are often "very aware" and "tuned into how things affect [others]." Jake's mom recounted how her son said to her: "Mom, your voice sounds kind of happy and it also sounds like you're kind of worried about something," and she responded: "'Well, I'm happy that it is a beautiful day today, but you're right, I'm worried because I know it's going to be a really busy day for me' . . . Jake is just, like, clued in. It's like, 'Mom, why did you kind of use that kind of angry voice with me?' . . . He's constantly decoding me." Mike's mom described her son in a similar way: "Yeah, and it's almost half conscious for me that I'm feeling tense or stressed and Mike will say, 'Mom, why are you sounding angry?' or 'Why are you, or are you tired?'" Min-Haeng's mom also remarked on his ability to notice how she is feeling. While moments of emotional attunement are evident in older boys, the early years appear to be a time in which boys feel particularly free to be expressive.

As parents, we are not surprised by such stories, as we know them from listening to own children and to the friends of our children. Every year during their childhood and early adolescence, Amine, one of my son's close friends, made elaborate birthday cards for my son. These cards contained hand-drawn pictures and expressed how much their friendship made him happy. His mother told me that her son would spend hours creating them not only for my son but for all of his close friends. Parents of boys and girls often share stories of their children's sensitivity and emotional acuity. Yet developmental theories suggest that children don't yet have the social or emotional intelligence to understand or reflect on the actions and emotions of others with such sensitivity, or to recognize that people can sound both happy and worried at the same time and that people can fake emotions. Even the topic of social and emotional acuity or attunement is not given as much attention in the study of children relative to that given to their cognitive capacities, even though the former capacities are clearly a component of the latter ones. Reading recent textbooks on human development, one would think that emotional acuity, attunement, and sensitivity, which both Darwin and Chu underscored in their observations of children, are in fact tangential to child development. Why has my field overlooked or downplayed the significance of a set of qualities that parents already know are important and that are fundamental to building human connection?

Carol Gilligan provides the answer in her book In a Different Voice. Describing Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development, in which justice-oriented responses to moral dilemmas are considered the highest form of morality and care-oriented responses a lower form, she reveals a male bias in our stories of child development, including the ones we continue to share in the offices of our pediatricians. Such a bias privileges human qualities associated with masculinity, such as thinking, over human qualities associated with femininity, such as feelings. Primatologist and ethologist Frans de Waal agrees with Gilligan, claiming that we have "macho origin myths" that downplay our human capacities for empathy and care and emphasize our competitive and aggressive sides in our theories of human nature. When discussing human nature in our textbooks, we even compare ourselves with our more aggressive cousins, the chimpanzees, rather than with our more peace-loving ones, the bonobos, even though the latter apes share the same genetic similarity with humans as the former. In her book Mothers and Others, evolutionary anthropologist Sarah Hrdy also suggests a male bias in our theories not only of human nature but also of human evolution by exposing the absence of any discussion of child-rearing strategies and practices in our understanding of how we evolved. If we didn't raise our children, she maintains wisely, we wouldn't be here at all. She also underscores that our evolutionary history of "cooperative breeding" involves all members of the community regardless of their gender identities. Only in a culture that gives a gender and sexuality to core human capacities and needs and puts them in a hierarchy, with the so-called masculine activities over the purportedly feminine ones, would we end up neglecting an obvious and fundamental aspect of our human story.


Starting in the middle of the twentieth century, however, some storytellers in the field of developmental psychology have, in fact, resisted such a male bias in their research and told a “different story” about who we are as humans and what shapes how we develop and who we become. During the 1940s and ‘50s, child psychiatrist John Bowlby observed the distress young children exhibited at the loss of a primary caretaker and identified a trajectory of responses that began with protest and, when such protest was ineffective, led to despair and ultimately to detachment. His work, which sparked almost a century of research, was in response to a general downplaying of the significance of real-life events. Bowlby chose to focus on the impact of separation from the primary caretaker, as he was convinced it had negative effects. James Robertson, one of Bowlby’s research assistants, began to observe children’s behavior as they were separated from parents in three institutional settings, as well as when they were at home with their parents prior to the separation and after they were reunited with them. His observations suggested that children need to “experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship” with their mother or primary caretaker, and if they didn’t, they were likely to show signs of severe emotional distress.

In the 1950s, Robertson made a film called A Two-Year-Old Goes to Hospital that illustrates the distress that children experience from even a short separation from their parents. The film records the emotional deterioration of Laura, aged two, while she is in the hospital for eight days to have a minor operation without the comfort of her mother. According to a description of the film, "because her mother is not there and the nurses change frequently, she must face the fears, frights, and hurts with no familiar person to cling to. She is extremely upset by a rectal anesthetic. Then she becomes quiet and 'settles.' But at the end of her stay, she is withdrawn from her mother, shaken in her trust." As a result of the film, significant changes were made in hospitals so that caretakers could stay with their children when they were hospitalized. It is considered a "seminal influence on the development of hospital care for children."

While Bowlby initiated the investigation of early attachment processes and Robertson took the research into the mainstream, it was Mary Ainsworth and her research with babies and mothers in Uganda that led to the well-known typologies of secure and insecure attachment, and to decades of longitudinal research on the ways in which such typologies were found to be associated with social and emotional well-being. Working as a research assistant to Bowlby, Ainsworth began her study of attachment by spending time in several villages near Kampala, Uganda, and visiting homes of babies and mothers over a period of nine months. She and her interpreter interviewed the mother and observed the interactions of the mother and the baby and with the rest of the family. What she saw did not support the view at that time that infants were passive recipients of socialization. Rather, her research suggested that babies actively sought out their mothers, particularly when they were alarmed or hurt. She concluded that babies use their mothers as a secure base from which to explore and rely on their mothers to decrease their anxiety when they are in distress. This "safety regulating system," she maintained along with Bowlby, serves an evolutionary function, as it provides protection from predators and thus ensures survival.

Yet Ainsworth also noted variation in the quality of the attachment among the babies, leading her to characterize attachment as securely or insecurely (avoidant or ambivalent) attached. According to Ainsworth: "Insecurely attached babies cried a lot even when the mother was present, whereas securely attached babies cried little unless mothers were absent or seemed about to leave." Securely attached children appeared to have confidence that their mothers would soothe them in times of distress or anxiety, be emotionally sensitive, protect them when their safety was threatened; whereas insecurely attached children did not appear to have such confidence. Securely attached children, she theorized at the time, would be more likely to freely explore their environments; whereas insecurely attached children would be more clingy or ambivalent (flipping between turning toward and turning away) with their mothers and less likely to explore their environments.

To empirically assess these patterns after she returned home from Uganda, Ainsworth created an observational research procedure called the "strange situation," which entails a child playing with toys for twenty-one minutes in a laboratory while caregivers and strangers enter and leave the lab at different times. During the strange situation, the child experiences being left entirely alone, alone with a stranger, together with a stranger and caretaker, and just with a caretaker. The intent of such a procedure is to create stress for the child with a stranger as well as comfort with the caretaker. The researcher observes through a one-way mirror how the child responds to the departure of the caretaker as well as to her return. From these observations, Ainsworth and her team determined the reaction of the child to the return of the caretaker was a better marker of attachment style than their reaction to the departure. While most children were distressed by the departure of their caretakers, their responses to their return varied greatly and predicted the extent to which a child was willing to freely explore their environment. When the child responds positively to the return of the caretaker, reaching out and/or running over to her to greet her, and returns to play with the toys in the room, the child is coded as securely attached. When the child is more cautious, wary, ambivalent, or avoidant of the caretaker when she returns to the room and has difficulty returning to play with the toys in the room, the child is coded as insecurely attached. Secure attachment of children with their primary caretaker has been repeatedly found to predict better psychological and social outcomes in longitudinal studies over the life course; whereas insecure attachment has been found to be associated with more negative social and emotional outcomes in later life.

What is most striking about Ainsworth and Bowlby's theory of attachment, given that it was developed in a mid-twentieth century that was most assuredly infused with a male bias, is that it is inclusive of both autonomy and connection in its definition of attachment. Not only do babies seek out their primary caretakers especially in times of distress, but this confidence that their caretakers will take care of them when needed enables those who are securely attached to be autonomous and freely explore their environment. Neither connection nor autonomy, in the theory of attachment, is privileged over the other; both are seen as equally important developmental goals and, in fact, are dependent on each other. When children feel confident that their primary caretakers will protect them from danger, will be sensitive to their feelings, and are emotionally attuned to their needs, they have the courage to explore the world and to take risks that may even increase their anxiety, but they are willing to do so, knowing that they have caretakers who will provide a safe space for them to return. When they do not feel such confidence, they will be less likely to take such risks or will take risks that may be damaging to themselves and others instead of those that are potentially growth producing.
“Insightful… fascinating, particularly her extensive interviews with boys of color… much food for thought.” —Publishers Weekly

"A thoughtful, well-informed look at contemporary boy culture and its many inherent problems." —Kikus

"Rebels With a Cause
is a key intervention - as a developmental psychologist of immense experience, Niobe Way is uniquely positioned to unravel the very notions of (masculine) development that bind our society as a whole into structures of violence, exclusion, and isolation; in the often painful testimony of boys and teenagers, she also finds a compass to show us the way home." —David Wengrow, New York Times bestselling author of The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

"Reading Niobe Way’s epic new book is one of those experiences that forever changes your understanding of the world you live in. In the mirror it holds up to society and ourselves, we see an urgent, dire need for greater connection, care, and most of all curiosity. The implications of her research create possibilities for dramatic transformation of how we live and how we raise and educate generations to come. Way combines rigorous reserach with compelling personal stories with inspiring examples of trajectory-changing projects and programs. This is a must-read for anyone who cares about our children, our society, and our future." —Jeff Wetzler, author of Ask: Tap Into the Hidden Wisdom of People Around You

"This is a book for everyone invested in education and children---meaning everyone who cares about the future." —Carol Gilligan, author of In a Human Voice

"Rebels with a Cause
may just be the book we need to save America from itself. —Lisa Arrastia, founding director of The Ed Factory and Associate Professor of Education, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

“Through brilliant storytelling that includes personal and professional narratives, Professor Way presents a four-part narrative that sets the foundation for understanding the foundations of some of today’s biggest challenges to offering solutions to these challenges.” —Michael Cunningham, Professor of Psychology & Africana Studies and Associate Provost for Graduate Studies and Research at Tulane University

"Rebels with a Cause is magnificent! Full of thick stories and deep insights -- all brilliantly expressed! Way builds beautifully on Carol Gilligan's work to reveal profound truths about the human condition and highlight a path forward that bypasses moral injury and leads to the meaningful connections we need -- individually and collectively -- to heal and thrive." —Judy Chu, author of When Boys Become Boys
© Daniel Root/The Root Group
Niobe Way is Professor of Developmental Psychology at NYU, the founder of the Project for the Advancement of Our Common Humanity (PACH; pach.org), creative advisor of agapi, and the Principal Investigator on the Listening Project. She was the President of the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA), received her B.A. from U.C. Berkeley, her doctorate from the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, and was an National Institute of Mental Health postdoctoral fellow at Yale University in the psychology department.

Her work focuses on social and emotional development and how cultural ideologies shape families and child development in the U.S. and China. She has been researching social and emotional development of adolescents for 35 years, and has authored or co-authored over one hundred peer reviewed journal articles and seven single authored, co-authored, or co-edited books. 

Her latest co-edited book is The Crisis of Connection: Its Roots, Consequences, and Solution (NYU Press). She has also co-edited with Judy Chu, Adolescents Boys: Exploring Diverse Cultures of Boyhood (NYU Press). Her last single authored book is Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection (Harvard University Press), which was the inspiration for "Close" a movie that won the Grand Prix Award at Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film. She is regularly featured in mainsteam media speaking on the topics of boys, friendships, loneliness, teenagers, gender stereotypes, masculinity, and the roots of violence. View titles by Niobe Way

About

From NYU professor of developmental psychology Niobe Way,
an in-depth exploration about what boys and young men teach us about themselves, us, and the toxic culture we have created, one in which we value money over people, toys over human connection, and academic achievement over kindness. Based on her longitudinal and mixed-method research over thirty-five years, Rebels with a Cause is a true call to action to change the culture so that we stop the vicious cycle of violence and blame.
 
Dr. Niobe Way has spent her career researching social and emotional development and finds that boys and young men desperately want and need the same thing as everyone else: close friendships. Yet they and we grow up in a stereotyped “boy” culture, one that devalues and mocks those relationships, rather than recognizing that they’re necessary for human survival.
 
In Rebels with a Cause, Way takes her message one step beyond her previous book, Deep Secrets, which was the inspiration for an Oscar-nominated film Close, to reveal how these “rebels,” as she calls the boys and young men in her research and in her classrooms, teach us about their and our crisis of connection, evidence of which is visible in our soaring rates of depression, anxiety, loneliness, suicide, and mass violence. They also teach us about the solutions to the crisis, which is to care, to listen with curiosity, and to take individual and collective responsibility for the damage we have done to them, to ourselves, and to the world around us.
 
Way provides us not only with data-driven insight into the roots and consequences of this crisis of connection, but also offers us concrete and empirically tested strategies for creating a culture that better aligns with our human nature and our human needs. Her book reminds us that “it’s not the rebels who cause the troubles of the world, it’s the troubles that cause the rebels.” The time to listen to and act on what young rebels have been telling us for almost a century is now.

Excerpt

1.

Human Nature

When my son was five years old, his father and I got divorced. I didn't want our home to be filled with sadness, so when I came home from work, I tried to look happy. One evening as I walked in the front door and gave my son a big smile, he said, "Mama, why do you smile when you are feeling sad?" I was startled. How did he know that I was faking my happiness? I didn't know what to say, so like most adults when asked uncomfortable questions by children, I changed the topic. Recently, a friend shared a story of her son at five years old, who asked her in a matter-of-fact voice, "Are you yelling at me, Mommy, because your mommy yelled at you?" Another mother told me that her eight-year-old son said, "It makes sense why you would be upset about spills. Your dad used to scream at you for spilling milk. I get it, Mom." Rather than taking graduate-level courses in psychology, perhaps we just need to listen to children.

Such extraordinary capacities to read the social and emotional world among boys and girls have been noted by parents and researchers alike for over a century. Evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin kept a journal of his children in their first years of life and noted their keen emotional observations and deeply caring nature. In March of 1842, Darwin noted about his two-year-old son, Doddy:

On my return from Shrewsbury after 10 days absence, Doddy appeared slightly shy,-I can hardly describe how this was shewn, except by his eyes being slightly averted from mine. He almost immediately came & sat on my knee, kissed me, & was then much excited . . . Doddy's observant nature is shewn by his daily telling . . . everyone, without omission, to have pudding, when their meat was finished, & to take a crust, when their pudding was finished.-Elizabeth remarked [about his] careful politeness at meals towards his guests, was like his granpapa the Doctor.

Darwin was particularly impressed by his son's ability to read the emotions of others. On March 23, he noted: "Doddy looking at full-face likeness of Isaac Walton in frontispiece of the Angler said 'like papa looking at Doddy' & then changed it into 'like papa laughing at Doddy.'-The plate [picture] is not at all like me, but it has the faintest smile about the eyes & is a full face." On March 26, Darwin writes: "Doddy was generous enough to give Anny [his little sister] the last mouthful of his gingerbread & today he again put his last crumb on the sofa for Anny to run to & then cried in rather a vain-glorious tone 'oh kind Doddy' 'kind Doddy'"

Darwin also commented on the caring nature of his four-year-old son, Willy:

Annie 3 years and 1/2 was looking at a print of a girl weeping at her mother's grave . . . Willy then seemed to find it rather melancholy & sad. Is her Mamma really dead? Has she got no nurse? . . . About 3 months ago . . . when he went with me to Etruria as soon as his things were putting on to go, he began the most bitter cry for fear Annie should be unhappy without him, & when we were set out he began crying again anxiously enquiring whether she would be unhappy.

Darwin's beliefs about our social and moral nature likely stem from his observations of his own children, including his sons.

Judy Chu's developmental research with four- and five-year-old boys finds that boys are often "very aware" and "tuned into how things affect [others]." Jake's mom recounted how her son said to her: "Mom, your voice sounds kind of happy and it also sounds like you're kind of worried about something," and she responded: "'Well, I'm happy that it is a beautiful day today, but you're right, I'm worried because I know it's going to be a really busy day for me' . . . Jake is just, like, clued in. It's like, 'Mom, why did you kind of use that kind of angry voice with me?' . . . He's constantly decoding me." Mike's mom described her son in a similar way: "Yeah, and it's almost half conscious for me that I'm feeling tense or stressed and Mike will say, 'Mom, why are you sounding angry?' or 'Why are you, or are you tired?'" Min-Haeng's mom also remarked on his ability to notice how she is feeling. While moments of emotional attunement are evident in older boys, the early years appear to be a time in which boys feel particularly free to be expressive.

As parents, we are not surprised by such stories, as we know them from listening to own children and to the friends of our children. Every year during their childhood and early adolescence, Amine, one of my son's close friends, made elaborate birthday cards for my son. These cards contained hand-drawn pictures and expressed how much their friendship made him happy. His mother told me that her son would spend hours creating them not only for my son but for all of his close friends. Parents of boys and girls often share stories of their children's sensitivity and emotional acuity. Yet developmental theories suggest that children don't yet have the social or emotional intelligence to understand or reflect on the actions and emotions of others with such sensitivity, or to recognize that people can sound both happy and worried at the same time and that people can fake emotions. Even the topic of social and emotional acuity or attunement is not given as much attention in the study of children relative to that given to their cognitive capacities, even though the former capacities are clearly a component of the latter ones. Reading recent textbooks on human development, one would think that emotional acuity, attunement, and sensitivity, which both Darwin and Chu underscored in their observations of children, are in fact tangential to child development. Why has my field overlooked or downplayed the significance of a set of qualities that parents already know are important and that are fundamental to building human connection?

Carol Gilligan provides the answer in her book In a Different Voice. Describing Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development, in which justice-oriented responses to moral dilemmas are considered the highest form of morality and care-oriented responses a lower form, she reveals a male bias in our stories of child development, including the ones we continue to share in the offices of our pediatricians. Such a bias privileges human qualities associated with masculinity, such as thinking, over human qualities associated with femininity, such as feelings. Primatologist and ethologist Frans de Waal agrees with Gilligan, claiming that we have "macho origin myths" that downplay our human capacities for empathy and care and emphasize our competitive and aggressive sides in our theories of human nature. When discussing human nature in our textbooks, we even compare ourselves with our more aggressive cousins, the chimpanzees, rather than with our more peace-loving ones, the bonobos, even though the latter apes share the same genetic similarity with humans as the former. In her book Mothers and Others, evolutionary anthropologist Sarah Hrdy also suggests a male bias in our theories not only of human nature but also of human evolution by exposing the absence of any discussion of child-rearing strategies and practices in our understanding of how we evolved. If we didn't raise our children, she maintains wisely, we wouldn't be here at all. She also underscores that our evolutionary history of "cooperative breeding" involves all members of the community regardless of their gender identities. Only in a culture that gives a gender and sexuality to core human capacities and needs and puts them in a hierarchy, with the so-called masculine activities over the purportedly feminine ones, would we end up neglecting an obvious and fundamental aspect of our human story.


Starting in the middle of the twentieth century, however, some storytellers in the field of developmental psychology have, in fact, resisted such a male bias in their research and told a “different story” about who we are as humans and what shapes how we develop and who we become. During the 1940s and ‘50s, child psychiatrist John Bowlby observed the distress young children exhibited at the loss of a primary caretaker and identified a trajectory of responses that began with protest and, when such protest was ineffective, led to despair and ultimately to detachment. His work, which sparked almost a century of research, was in response to a general downplaying of the significance of real-life events. Bowlby chose to focus on the impact of separation from the primary caretaker, as he was convinced it had negative effects. James Robertson, one of Bowlby’s research assistants, began to observe children’s behavior as they were separated from parents in three institutional settings, as well as when they were at home with their parents prior to the separation and after they were reunited with them. His observations suggested that children need to “experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship” with their mother or primary caretaker, and if they didn’t, they were likely to show signs of severe emotional distress.

In the 1950s, Robertson made a film called A Two-Year-Old Goes to Hospital that illustrates the distress that children experience from even a short separation from their parents. The film records the emotional deterioration of Laura, aged two, while she is in the hospital for eight days to have a minor operation without the comfort of her mother. According to a description of the film, "because her mother is not there and the nurses change frequently, she must face the fears, frights, and hurts with no familiar person to cling to. She is extremely upset by a rectal anesthetic. Then she becomes quiet and 'settles.' But at the end of her stay, she is withdrawn from her mother, shaken in her trust." As a result of the film, significant changes were made in hospitals so that caretakers could stay with their children when they were hospitalized. It is considered a "seminal influence on the development of hospital care for children."

While Bowlby initiated the investigation of early attachment processes and Robertson took the research into the mainstream, it was Mary Ainsworth and her research with babies and mothers in Uganda that led to the well-known typologies of secure and insecure attachment, and to decades of longitudinal research on the ways in which such typologies were found to be associated with social and emotional well-being. Working as a research assistant to Bowlby, Ainsworth began her study of attachment by spending time in several villages near Kampala, Uganda, and visiting homes of babies and mothers over a period of nine months. She and her interpreter interviewed the mother and observed the interactions of the mother and the baby and with the rest of the family. What she saw did not support the view at that time that infants were passive recipients of socialization. Rather, her research suggested that babies actively sought out their mothers, particularly when they were alarmed or hurt. She concluded that babies use their mothers as a secure base from which to explore and rely on their mothers to decrease their anxiety when they are in distress. This "safety regulating system," she maintained along with Bowlby, serves an evolutionary function, as it provides protection from predators and thus ensures survival.

Yet Ainsworth also noted variation in the quality of the attachment among the babies, leading her to characterize attachment as securely or insecurely (avoidant or ambivalent) attached. According to Ainsworth: "Insecurely attached babies cried a lot even when the mother was present, whereas securely attached babies cried little unless mothers were absent or seemed about to leave." Securely attached children appeared to have confidence that their mothers would soothe them in times of distress or anxiety, be emotionally sensitive, protect them when their safety was threatened; whereas insecurely attached children did not appear to have such confidence. Securely attached children, she theorized at the time, would be more likely to freely explore their environments; whereas insecurely attached children would be more clingy or ambivalent (flipping between turning toward and turning away) with their mothers and less likely to explore their environments.

To empirically assess these patterns after she returned home from Uganda, Ainsworth created an observational research procedure called the "strange situation," which entails a child playing with toys for twenty-one minutes in a laboratory while caregivers and strangers enter and leave the lab at different times. During the strange situation, the child experiences being left entirely alone, alone with a stranger, together with a stranger and caretaker, and just with a caretaker. The intent of such a procedure is to create stress for the child with a stranger as well as comfort with the caretaker. The researcher observes through a one-way mirror how the child responds to the departure of the caretaker as well as to her return. From these observations, Ainsworth and her team determined the reaction of the child to the return of the caretaker was a better marker of attachment style than their reaction to the departure. While most children were distressed by the departure of their caretakers, their responses to their return varied greatly and predicted the extent to which a child was willing to freely explore their environment. When the child responds positively to the return of the caretaker, reaching out and/or running over to her to greet her, and returns to play with the toys in the room, the child is coded as securely attached. When the child is more cautious, wary, ambivalent, or avoidant of the caretaker when she returns to the room and has difficulty returning to play with the toys in the room, the child is coded as insecurely attached. Secure attachment of children with their primary caretaker has been repeatedly found to predict better psychological and social outcomes in longitudinal studies over the life course; whereas insecure attachment has been found to be associated with more negative social and emotional outcomes in later life.

What is most striking about Ainsworth and Bowlby's theory of attachment, given that it was developed in a mid-twentieth century that was most assuredly infused with a male bias, is that it is inclusive of both autonomy and connection in its definition of attachment. Not only do babies seek out their primary caretakers especially in times of distress, but this confidence that their caretakers will take care of them when needed enables those who are securely attached to be autonomous and freely explore their environment. Neither connection nor autonomy, in the theory of attachment, is privileged over the other; both are seen as equally important developmental goals and, in fact, are dependent on each other. When children feel confident that their primary caretakers will protect them from danger, will be sensitive to their feelings, and are emotionally attuned to their needs, they have the courage to explore the world and to take risks that may even increase their anxiety, but they are willing to do so, knowing that they have caretakers who will provide a safe space for them to return. When they do not feel such confidence, they will be less likely to take such risks or will take risks that may be damaging to themselves and others instead of those that are potentially growth producing.

Reviews

“Insightful… fascinating, particularly her extensive interviews with boys of color… much food for thought.” —Publishers Weekly

"A thoughtful, well-informed look at contemporary boy culture and its many inherent problems." —Kikus

"Rebels With a Cause
is a key intervention - as a developmental psychologist of immense experience, Niobe Way is uniquely positioned to unravel the very notions of (masculine) development that bind our society as a whole into structures of violence, exclusion, and isolation; in the often painful testimony of boys and teenagers, she also finds a compass to show us the way home." —David Wengrow, New York Times bestselling author of The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

"Reading Niobe Way’s epic new book is one of those experiences that forever changes your understanding of the world you live in. In the mirror it holds up to society and ourselves, we see an urgent, dire need for greater connection, care, and most of all curiosity. The implications of her research create possibilities for dramatic transformation of how we live and how we raise and educate generations to come. Way combines rigorous reserach with compelling personal stories with inspiring examples of trajectory-changing projects and programs. This is a must-read for anyone who cares about our children, our society, and our future." —Jeff Wetzler, author of Ask: Tap Into the Hidden Wisdom of People Around You

"This is a book for everyone invested in education and children---meaning everyone who cares about the future." —Carol Gilligan, author of In a Human Voice

"Rebels with a Cause
may just be the book we need to save America from itself. —Lisa Arrastia, founding director of The Ed Factory and Associate Professor of Education, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

“Through brilliant storytelling that includes personal and professional narratives, Professor Way presents a four-part narrative that sets the foundation for understanding the foundations of some of today’s biggest challenges to offering solutions to these challenges.” —Michael Cunningham, Professor of Psychology & Africana Studies and Associate Provost for Graduate Studies and Research at Tulane University

"Rebels with a Cause is magnificent! Full of thick stories and deep insights -- all brilliantly expressed! Way builds beautifully on Carol Gilligan's work to reveal profound truths about the human condition and highlight a path forward that bypasses moral injury and leads to the meaningful connections we need -- individually and collectively -- to heal and thrive." —Judy Chu, author of When Boys Become Boys

Author

© Daniel Root/The Root Group
Niobe Way is Professor of Developmental Psychology at NYU, the founder of the Project for the Advancement of Our Common Humanity (PACH; pach.org), creative advisor of agapi, and the Principal Investigator on the Listening Project. She was the President of the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA), received her B.A. from U.C. Berkeley, her doctorate from the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, and was an National Institute of Mental Health postdoctoral fellow at Yale University in the psychology department.

Her work focuses on social and emotional development and how cultural ideologies shape families and child development in the U.S. and China. She has been researching social and emotional development of adolescents for 35 years, and has authored or co-authored over one hundred peer reviewed journal articles and seven single authored, co-authored, or co-edited books. 

Her latest co-edited book is The Crisis of Connection: Its Roots, Consequences, and Solution (NYU Press). She has also co-edited with Judy Chu, Adolescents Boys: Exploring Diverse Cultures of Boyhood (NYU Press). Her last single authored book is Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection (Harvard University Press), which was the inspiration for "Close" a movie that won the Grand Prix Award at Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film. She is regularly featured in mainsteam media speaking on the topics of boys, friendships, loneliness, teenagers, gender stereotypes, masculinity, and the roots of violence. View titles by Niobe Way