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.