Let’s Give Boys Hope

31 May 2015 by , No Comments

It takes a village to raise a child. So what’s happening to our boys? Where are we failing as a society?
I don’t have the answers however I am deeply concerned. Two years ago I went to my eldest’s daughter university graduation. Her father shockingly said, “where are all the males?” Statistics show that females account for 60 percent of the undergraduates. This is the reverse from the 1960s. Good on the female gender, but what’s up with the male gender? More importantly, university or college isn’t the place for every kid – so what else can they be motivated to do? Or how can we help boys become more engaged in school. Many questions, not many answers.

Recently there was an article in Time magazine, What Schools Can Do To Help Boys Succeed, which stated that “young male rambunctiousness, according to a recent study, leads teachers to underestimate their intellectual and academic abilities.” If teachers don’t believe in their students, they definitely don’t believe in themselves. The author, Christina Hoff Sommers, suggested three options for assisting these kids:

1. Bring Back Recess and Gym – Boys need to run and play to eliminate some of their squirming and restlessness.

2. Turn Boys Into Readers – Assist them to find reading materials they like, whether it’s sports, science or comics. Reading abilities are the foundation upon which all learning is built.

3. Work With the Young Male Imagination – If what they naturally gravitate towards is constantly berated they will become disengaged.

There are awesome teachers in your school boards who have contributed to significant change and have provided students with encouragement, acceptance and hope. A wonderful example I’d like to point out is a movement by the Upper Canada District School Board called #seemyvoice. It is promoting individuals to use their voice, create inclusion and equity for all.
“Lost Boys” is a term researchers and authors are using to describe this generation. As a psychotherapist, I find that some males begin to give up on school around Grade Ten, sometimes even in younger grades. These boys gave their best in Grade 9 – a new start in their life, and then became discouraged for a variety of reasons. As well I see the dispirited twenty something males, not even knowing where to start to get back on track.

One question I struggle with is, are they really lost or perhaps they’re giving us a clear message that the traditional methods in government, schools, and homes isn’t working? Perhaps this is the chaos before the resolution.
According to new research, our society is producing boys who are not motivated to start their careers, struggle through high school, drop out of college and surf the internet. I believe these behaviors are symptoms of discouraged, disengaged males who are using avoidance strategies to escape feelings of failure. Mental health issues are on the rise. The ripple effect is huge.

Dan Siegel, psychiatrist and author of “What We Can Learn From The Teenage Brain”, offers a fresh perspective on teenagers. He believes that teenagers have four distinguishing features during this period – novelty seeking, social engagement, emotional intensity and creative exploration. Some boys seem to have these tenfold. As adults we often lose touch with these aspects and our lives can become dull and lack luster. I recommend we celebrate these features and set age appropriate boundaries so teenagers can use these traits to tap into their innate talents and strengths, allowing them to remain engaged in their lives.

As parents we are the gate rails so they don’t fall off the bridge. Teenagers’ brains, especially their prefrontal cortexs are not fully developed until age 25. As adults and parents, I suggest you use your prefrontal cortex equipped with logical reasoning, brainstorming abilities, and delay of immediate gratification and regulation of emotional intensity to guide or redirect your teenagers (not that they like it) to make wiser choices. Learning to regulate your prefrontal cortex, is your job as a parent. When we shrink to age 16 and battle with our kids nothing is accomplished. Moreover, many parents either give up or evoke grounding for a year! From my professional experience, when boys are harshly punished with excess adult anger they begin to resist and defy adult authority. Consequently, your intention of motivating your teenager to do better, shifts to power struggles and revenge.

The goal of this article is to increase awareness of this crisis of our boys and hopefully motivate everyone in society to explore alternative ideas. Perhaps we could use our novelty seeking, emotional intensity and creative exploration to find answers.

As Donald Sutherland voiced so eloquently as President Snow in The Hunger Games – hope is the second strongest emotion after fear. It’s our obligation as a society to give these boys hope and listen to their voices.

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