In the opening chapters of Cracking the Boy Code: How to Understand and Talk to Boys, psychologist Adam Cox undermines his own premise. Is there a “Boy Code” at all? Structural differences between brains of boys and girls, Dr. Cox notes, are less distinct than differences in the brains among boys. However, this book discusses boys as if they are all similar to each other and no one else. Dr. Cox, as a rule, is more interested in talking to boys as they are than in understanding how boys become the way they are; readers who are looking for a theory on why boys may have different behaviour or cognition from girls for whatever reason are going to be disappointed.
On his own account, Dr. Cox took inspiration from Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, where Russel Crowe’s character, General Maximus’ maxim is “Strength and honour” which became Dr. Cox’s catchphrase for greeting the boys he treated. This is the insight behind Cracking the Boy Code: Appeal to boys’ masculinity. Don’t make too much eye contact—boys don’t like that, urges Dr. Cox. Never embarrass him. Treat him like he’s a little older than he is. Take him seriously.
This isn’t bad advice. Taking other people’s feelings seriously is a good idea. So is doing a project together. But what is not clear is why this is specifically good advice for boys. Girls and boys and nonbinary children all value the esteem of their peers, all want to be engaged in meaningful activity and none of them want to feel belittled by adults.
Anyone who wants advice on talking to boys should use this book cautiously. Dr. Cox’s ideas on gender are suspiciously unclarified. His descriptions of neurology are so oversimplified they are misleading. That said, his writing style is clear and concrete ideas are reiterated at the end of each chapter and there are numerous project ideas listed in the appendix. Dr. Cox sincerely cares for the boys he treats. But if you share his sincerity, consider looking beyond Cracking the Boy Code.