Troubled boys and male role models

Originally posted on September 29, 2010

Given the number of studies about the correlation between boys turning to criminal behavior and the lack of male role models, one would think the social focus would be on helping boys before they turn to violence rather than punishing them after the fact. One would think that, and one would be wrong:

Billions of dollars are spent annually incarcerating and treating boys for criminal and negative behaviors. The Department of Justice reports that 95 percent of state and federal prisoners under the age of 25 are male. And at-risk boys become at-risk men.

Society is slowly waking up to the fact that we must change the way we raise our boys. We must address the vital connection that is missing between boys and men.

An alarming number of boys are growing up today without a good man in their life. High rates of divorce (50 percent) and out-of-wedlock births (35 percent) combined with a loss of community are creating generations of boys that lack fathers, mentors and positive male role models.

Boys need men in their lives. It is said that to be a man you must see a man. That speaks to the power of role models but more important is the mentoring that good men can provide to boys.

This is nothing new. If one looked at any of the ancient texts, myths, and legends, they are loaded with metaphors and allegories pointing to the basic concept that boys need good male mentors in order to become good men. It is also present in most societies. Most societies have a history of men training, mentoring, and teaching boys to be men, either through a slow process like what happened in ancient Greece or feudal Japan or through some initiation rite (most of which led to a follow-up mentoring process).

Those people seemed to understand that boys without guidance tend to get into trouble, wander through life aimlessly, or seek out things that imitate the mentoring they did not receive. What is the result in modern society?

Here is the deal if you are a boy in this country right now: You’re twice as likely as a girl to be diagnosed with an attention-deficit or learning disorder. You’re more likely to score worse on standardized reading and writing tests. You’re more likely to be held back in school. You’re more likely to drop out of school.

If you do graduate, you’re less likely to go to college. If you do go to college, you will get lower grades and, once again, you will be less likely to graduate. You’ll be twice as likely to abuse alcohol, and until you are 24, you are five times as likely to kill yourself. You are more than 16 times as likely to go to prison.

With each generation, boys are moving away from their connection to mature masculinity, family and community. The sad fact is too many young men are left to puzzle out manhood alone. Growing up without a father, mentor or positive role model can have a devastating impact on a boy.

Overcrowded prisons, escalating gang membership and the dramatic increase in the number of absent fathers are the visible tip of the iceberg. If you pay attention you will see the hidden impact of boys growing up without fathers or living with disconnected or dysfunctional fathers.

This should be obvious, but people have a strange way of ignoring the obvious. Instead, society reacts to boys’ genuine need for male mentoring as a sign of laziness and complacency. Society treats boys who turn to video games and movies as petulant children rather than recognizing that those video games are the closest modern analogies that mimic the myths of old, myths that guided young men on their path toward manhood. Rather than support positive male role models, society tells boys they need to be more feminine and need more rules. Of course, that is really not the problem:

Boys don’t need more rules, more discipline or shaming; they need to be listened to, admired, accepted and blessed for who they are.

Boys need role models and direction to stay on the straight and narrow, a push to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities, help to pursue a healthy lifestyle, recognition that they must be accountable for their actions, and reinforcement of good performance.

Boys grow when a man pays attention to them. Go talk to boys. You just have to listen to them. Ask them who they are. The answers they give may not always make sense, but talk to enough of them and you will surely realize that boys themselves are not the problem. The problem is men.

While that seems like an attack on men, the author’s point is that men need to step up and mentor young boys. Yes, this means dealing with a host of feminist and social diatribes and questions about your intentions. However, the benefit for men and boys is well worth it. It is not just about stopping violence or keeping boys out of trouble, but about actually helping them and perhaps giving them the support they may otherwise never receive.

Of course, in order to do this society has to support these efforts. We must stop throwing money into juvenile prisons and start putting money into services to help boys. We must stop vilifying masculinity. We must start giving the men who do reach out to boys and young men the credit they deserve and support their efforts. This will not work if society opposes these efforts or does not care, which is precisely the reason boys are in the state they are in today.

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15 thoughts on “Troubled boys and male role models

  1. Society treats boys who turn to video games and movies as petulant children rather than recognizing that those video games are the closest modern analogies that mimic the myths of old, myths that guided young men on their path toward manhood. Rather than support positive male role models, society tells boys they need to be more feminine and need more rules.
    Yeah it bothers me as well that it seems like society will in one breath complain that boys need positive male role models to look up to and in the next will move heaven, hell, and earth to keep (often times) a perfectly good male role model, that would be dad, out of boys’ (and girls’) lives.

  2. Toysoldier: “Society treats boys who turn to video games and movies as petulant children rather than recognizing that those video games are the closest modern analogies that mimic the myths of old, myths that guided young men on their path toward manhood.”

    It’s really touching to hear news like this and your endorcement of it, Toysoldier.

    I’m a gamer myself, and still am though in more minute doses as I have limited time as it is. Nowadays, I play video games for their stories. And it’s sad that society dismisses this medium all the time, even as the industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar jaugernaut. How many times have we heard “He’s always wasting time playing videogames.”

    Some games have great stories:

    Metal Gear Solid Series
    Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time Trilogy
    Silent Hill Series

    I think these games are on par with movies and TV in their scripts and atmosphere.

    Danny: “Yeah it bothers me as well that it seems like society will in one breath complain that boys need positive male role models to look up to and in the next will move heaven, hell, and earth to keep (often times) a perfectly good male role model, that would be dad, out of boys’ (and girls’) lives.”

    It’s society’s dirty little secret: Girls are the “In” thing, “Boys” should be on their way out or change themselves in order to be accepted. Nobody wants to talk about their problems.

    Fathers are disposable ATM machines, men not to be trusted with childcare. Any complainers should man up and check their priveledge.

  3. It’s really touching to hear news like this and your endorcement of it, Toysoldier.

    I enjoy reading old myths and legends, so I notice when those myths find their way into modern stories. Superhero comics are probably the most obvious analogues, but video games are a close second. The sad part about video games is that instead of getting well-rounded heroes who are modeled after Odysseus of Gilgamesh, we get heroes similar to Achilles, the hard-headed, fight-oriented bruiser. That certainly fits our modern take on masculinity, but it does not provide any real guidance. That is irony of it all. A traditional hero is driven by reason, but he is also emotional, loving, and passionate. The modern hero is all about brute power.

  4. Yeah it bothers me as well that it seems like society will in one breath complain that boys need positive male role models to look up to and in the next will move heaven, hell, and earth to keep (often times) a perfectly good male role model, that would be dad, out of boys’ (and girls’) lives.

    That is because our society is infected with a vicious strain of aslongasitsnotmeitis. Everyone agrees there is a problem, but no one wants to step up and solve it themselves. It is much easier to throw one’s hands up or to blame the boys and young men for failing.

  5. Toysoldier: “I enjoy reading old myths and legends, so I notice when those myths find their way into modern stories. Superhero comics are probably the most obvious analogues, but video games are a close second. The sad part about video games is that instead of getting well-rounded heroes who are modeled after Odysseus of Gilgamesh, we get heroes similar to Achilles, the hard-headed, fight-oriented bruiser. ”

    You should really give the game series I listed above a try. They have a variety of characters with strengths and weaknesses.

    Like in the Metal Gear Solid Series. The hero, Solid Snake, goes through some character growth and is not crazy about the status people assign him as “Living Legend”. There’s also the option of completing the game without using fatal methods on the enemy. It’s possible to just knock them out in order to get past them all. It depends on how you want to play the games.

    The Silent Hill Series have protagonists that are basically regular people. You make them run for a long time and they’ll get winded. Most have never fired a gun before in their life so their accuracy is clumsy. And the horrors they face are directly linked to the darkness in their psycholgical make-up.

    In Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time trilogy, your prince character starts out with an ego, always noble about the glory of his country, and basically plunders a city for the Dagger Of Time in order to please his father. The second game, he fights his dark side. In the third, he learns how to be the perfect ruler of his kingdom by balancing combat and war with generosity and empathy for himself and his constituints. So you have great character growth there.

    See, it’s just a matter of finding the good in the negative stereotypes.

  6. “Everyone agrees there is a problem, but no one wants to step up and solve it themselves. It is much easier to throw one’s hands up or to blame the boys and young men for failing.”

    In some respects this is exactly the desired outcome. Second wave feminism was based on the destruction of the family. No fault divorce, alimony, child support, and the granting of child custody almost solely to women were all designed to allow women to remove men (and fathers) from their families. Fathers had to be removed from the lives of their boys in order to reprogram boys to act more like girls. Of course this didn’t work and now we are left with a couple of generations of confused and directionless boys and men. they don’t know how to be men and they don’t know how to be fathers. The great stories of true manhood have been replaced with stories of violence for the sake of violence. As you mentioned, the “hard-headed fight-oriented bruiser” is the new hero-ideal. He can be as bad as he can be good. The other story themes that are popular depict boys and men as being incapable of success without the aid of a female while female heroes succeed in spite of opposition fromnearly every male character, friend or foe. Girls and women stand on their own against all odds, while boys and men need to be propped up. In the abscence of fathers, this is what is modeled to our boys. then, when they begin to show little interest or motivation in anything other than video games, we blame them and call them “slacker boys.”

    “It is said that to be a man you must see a man.”

    This is not sad at all. To be anything, you must be taught. What is sad is that we have removed those who are most capable of teaching manhood from the lives of our boys and replaced them those who are least capable. This isn’t to say that mothers have nothing to teach their boys, it is to say that mothers are ill-equipped to teach manhood. both mothers and fathers are important and the sooner society remebers this, the better off everyone will be.

    TDOM

  7. Eagle, I’ve played a few MGS games and the last Silent Hill game on the PSP. I have never played any of the Prince of Persia games. Personally, I am more of a RPG and fighting game fan. There are some games that have well-rounded characters, but most of them, especially the popular ones, have the stoic brute or the foul-mouthed asskicker. Ironically, emo-chic is now cool, so Capcom recently allowed Ninja Theory to emo up Dante from Devil May Cry. So he, at least in appearance, has gone from wisecracking asskicker to moody, uber-skinny asskicker.

  8. Not all heroes are driven by brute force. I would think only the legendary fictional figures are able to stand time because of their emotional or social reason to be determined. For instance, Batman is a great character because of the emotional loss of his parents.

    The emo punk, emotional character is turning into something disgusting and quickly. The problem with character like these is how they display their emotional intelligence… which turns out to be zero. Not only is this bad, but it makes characters look really stupid and annoying with the capacity to be emotionally self-aware to be zero. Therefore, the character doesn’t really develop at all in anyway. The protagonist from Avatar: The last Air Bender is a great example of this because as a character, he does not self develop in ANY way from start to finish.

    Katara is even worse because she becomes a paradox of her being the motherly, mature person to other person (ie controlling) but isn’t emotionally intelligent or mature about her own emotions.

  9. The problems are systemic. Patriarchal societies focus most on absolute truth, honor and justice, things which have always been most appealing primarily to men. These items are largely absent in our society because feminine values have been artifically elevated as superior to masculine ones.

    Another feature of patriarchal societies is distinct gender roles because there is a recognition that men like to operate in spheres that are relatively female free. This is because such spheres allow men to compete for women without having to compete against women. The problem is that these spheres have disappeared with government subsidized female encroachment.

    A gendered approach to schooling needs to be reinvigorated where each sex is generally taught according to its own inherent abilities and gender based affirmative action needs to be rooted out at every level.

    Guys have reacted to the female creep by finding new avenues to create separation from females like the X-games and MMA. Another is engaging in ultra abstract activities. Still others have checked out of the system. The problem is that these actions represent a detrimental tendency to run away from problems rather than tackle them. A role model tackles a problem and does not run away from it.

  10. Davout: “Still others have checked out of the system. The problem is that these actions represent a detrimental tendency to run away from problems rather than tackle them. A role model tackles a problem and does not run away from it.”

    You can’t blame them entirely for taking this action.

    It’s hard to tackle problems like you describe when you’ve hardly got any support to back you up. Raise so much as a stink about men’s rights and male victims and you’ll likely get the “Man up” attitude or the “You’re a priveledged group. You have no problems.” putting the onus on you to change while society stands back and sips their lattes, basking in the status quo.

    If nobody is willing to listen to you, why bother?

    Kind of like how I’ve been tackling my own personal issues regarding female bullying. No support except for on the internet. I’ve got a job to work hard at, make a living for myself. Am I going to raise a really big ruckus and risk alienating myself further from the world? A lot of people like to think they’re the great rebels where they can do it their way and everyone else can just take the highway. Guess what, that’s a myth. Especially when tackling a systematic problem like what you describe.

    I’d love to have more male role models who fight for the rights of venerable men. But you’ve got to think about what they’re up against and how entrenched the disgust with all men is in society.

  11. Eagle32,

    I empathise with you because I too feel swamped by anti-male attitudes. What changed was I realised that I felt worse when others made glib anti-male utterances in my presence and I did nothing. I felt like a cowardly loser. I had to make a stand to confront feminist attitudes because I take pride in being a man and that is paramount and no one should EVER rest easy having taken cheap potshots at men.

    My choices were:
    A. Smile, make nice with people and bite my lip when people flaunt feminist bullshit……. and feel terrible on the inside
    OR
    B. Approach people logically and argue with them whenever they spouted said BS and feel great on the inside because you stood up for yourself

    I went with B. I was not very convincing in the beginning because I didn’t have good idea of how to go about arguing with idiots. With practice, I realized that I should let people hang themselves with their own words before advancing my own arguments. I would suggest you do the same. People, in my experience, are good at attack but quite horrible on defense. If they give you the various reactions you described above, show them the logical holes in their arguments and insist that they address these holes.

    A lot of quiet people are out there who are afraid and looking for leaders so, rest assured, you are not alone. You, however, are unlikely to find them if you don’t take the initiative.

  12. This article is correct in pointing out that the lack of male role models has many effects on boys.it doesn’t just lead to gang activity, but hinders boys lives in many ways.

    I had a father who ignored me. I craved a male role model when I was a boy because I was looking for some guidance about how to live my life in a world where I was surrounded by women. I turned to comic books (mostly Batman), then Star Trek (I idolized Kirk and Spock), and others such as James Bond. If I hadn’t had them I probably would have killed myself.

    But they weren’t enough. They are great fictional characters, and positive role models for sure, but not particularly helpful when trying to grow up in Queens NY. As a result, my life has been unfocused and I have not been as happy or successful as I probably could have been – and should have been. Without being successful women are not interested in me. I am now 41, not married, no girlfriends, no kids.

    I take full responsibility for what I’ve done – or not done – with my own life. But I did the best I could under the circumstances. My point is that witout a fathers’ guidance a boy may not be able to reach his full potential. This hurts the boy,of course, and also robs our society of what that boy could have accomplished with his life.

  13. Growing up fatherless led me to look for someone or something to give me a sense of protection. Unfortunately when you are young you idolize the wrong people. It has taken me years and much soul searching to understand that fear and respect are 2 different things. I believe good male role models help you gain that understanding much sooner. Another good post by the way.

  14. I try to be a good role model for my 5 year old ss. To be his Dad whether I ever complete the adoption process or not. Unfortunately early in my relationship with his Mother I expressed why I thought it was important for sons and children in general to have a Dad in their lives and she took it as a personal assault on her. Men keep up the good fight. The pay to play scheme known as being involved in your kid’s life that has developed in this country is worth the rewards even though it is an excercise in frustration.

  15. Awesome post. I am moved beyond words.

    This blog is a necessity for a fruitful society.

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