The Psychology of Black Boys and Adolescents

by Kirkland C. Vaughans and Warren Spielberg, Editors
Introduction by Marian Wright Edelman


It has been said that the most dangerous place for a child to grow up in America is at the intersection of poverty and race. That danger is especially prevalent for young black men, who are five times more likely to be incarcerated than black girls. Understanding the struggles these young men face is key to finding solutions.

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Cover image for The Psychology of Black Boys and Adolescents

June 2014


Pages 615
Volumes 2
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Psychology/Child and Teen

Drawing on personal insights and research-based knowledge, this important work facilitates understanding of the psychological struggles of young African American males and offers ameliorative strategies.

Despite examples set by successful black men in all walks of life, the truth remains that a disproportionate number of black boys and young men underperform at school, suffer from PTSD, and, too often, find themselves on a pathway to jail. The two-volume The Psychology of Black Boys and Adolescents marks the first attempt to catalog the many psychological influences that can stack the deck against black male children—and to suggest interventions.

Bringing together an expansive collection of new and classic research from a wide variety of disciplines, this set sheds light on the complex circumstances faced by young black men in the United States. Contributions by authors Kirkland Vaughans and Warren Spielberg contain insights from the groundbreaking "Brotherman" study, conducted over a ten-year period to report on the lives and psychological challenges of over a hundred African American boys and their families.

Among the myriad issues studied in this set are the often-negative expectations of society, the influence of gangs, and the impact of racism and poverty. Of equal importance, the work explores culturally specific ways to engage families, youths, communities, and policymakers in the development of healthy, safe, educated boys who will become whole and successful adults.


  • The work of 30 distinguished contributors, from Marion Wright Edelman to Ellis Cose
  • Perspectives and solutions from disciplines as wide-ranging as clinical psychology, law, sociology, and poetry
  • Original, cutting-edge research by the authors


  • Describes how issues relating to poverty, education, and family can lead to the "adultification" of black boys, contributing to adverse life outcomes
  • Explores the relationships between race and stress-related disorders, detailing the impact of racism on the attitudes and values of African American boys
  • Examines institutionalized racism as a pervasive and unacknowledged problem in American society
  • Offers culturally specific interventions for working with African American males
Author Info

Kirkland C. Vaughans, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and psychoanalyst. He has been in private practice in New York since 1991, focusing on boys and teenagers. Vaughans is the founding editor of Journal of Infant, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy and is assistant clinical professor at Adelphi University's Demer Institute. He has appeared on television and radio and presents at major conferences on a regular basis.

Warren Spielberg, PhD, Fulbright Scholar, is a psychologist, psychoanalyst, and member of the faculty at the New School for Public Engagement where he also directs the Co-Existence Initiative. He is an acknowledged authority on the problems of boys and men and is a member of the American Psychological Association Task Force on treatment guidelines for boys and men. After 9/11, he served as a consultant to the Fire Department of New York, for which work he was awarded a Practitioner of the Year citation by the American Psychological Association. Spielberg has appeared on national television and radio. He is in private practice in Brooklyn, NY, and conducts workshops on boys and men around the world.



"Spielberg and Vaughans bring brilliant social science analytics and compassionate pragmatic thought to bear upon one of the our most troublesome problems in education, and they demonstrate both the promise and limitations of rationale thought when superimposed on the immorality of racial and economic subjugation. Thinking within these constraints, Spielberg and Vaughans presents a cogent program, informed by research, for intervening in the lives of a marginalized and oppressed group of young men. It is well that they include, as do I, rational defiance of racist oppression. For young men fortunate enough to experience what is prescribed an easier life is promised. The authors' very insightful interpretations, should be widely read. Their prescriptions are wise and very well-informed."
—Edmund W. Gordon, John Musser Professor of Psychology, Emeritus; Yale University, and
Richard March Hoe Professor of Psychology and Education, Emeritus; Columbia University

"This is a book that champions our sons, brothers, and nephews as well as our students, colleagues, and neighbors. Kirkland Vaughans and Warren Spielberg invite us to appreciate and embrace a black masculinity that they fully, complexly, and frankly portray.

This edited volume draws on the talents of clinicians, sociologists, researchers, cultural observers, and experts in public policy to lay out the challenges black boys face, beginning with the first breaths they draw, in a culture that treats them as dangerous and disposable. Unblinkingly honest, Vaughns and Spielberg tackle delinquency, school failure, racism, violence, and the environmental and social factors that, over time, deprive black men of their health and shave years from their lives.

However, this book offers so much more—it also gives voice to the strengths, creativity, and ingenuity young black men deploy to fashion lives of purpose and dignity. We hear from black youth often absent in our public discussions—those who are gender non-conforming, boys in independent schools, and boys with strong fathers.

The Psychology of Black Boys and Adolescents introduces the reader to evolving academic disciplines and to new clinical frameworks. With this book, teachers, clergy, and clinicians can update their knowledge and, in doing so, enhance their ability to serve African American boys with the careful thought and sophisticated consideration they deserve and have not often received."
—Kimberlyn Leary, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and Chief Psychologist at the Cambridge Health Alliance

"The Psychology of Black Boys & Adolescents is destined to become the essential central volume, encompassing the greatest minds on the subject of black young males in America today. From the far-ranging issues of development/identity to community contexts, educational failure and success, central issues of parenting, physical health, and clinical treatments, these scholarly volumes contain the greatest extant cutting-edge knowledge on the lives of black boys in America ever compiled into a set of volumes within recent history! It is a must-read for any academic teaching about young black males’ lives, any policy maker attempting to create programs, and any parent or clinician helping children. It provides the data necessary to interrupt the 'cradle-to-prison pipeline,' as Marian Wright Edelman terms it, to offer black males opportunities for success."—William S. Pollack, PhD, ABPP, Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and author of Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood

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