What to do about our young men?
There’s a question that I have been asked a lot over the last period of time that has me worried, it’s not so much the question itself, it’s more the number of times I have been asked it. The question is ‘Can you have a talk to my late teenage son about life?’. I can honestly say that I get asked this question nearly every week. Concerned parents are seeing their young son’s struggling to move into adulthood and witness them heading down self destructive paths which could have huge negative impacts on their lives, so parents are reaching out to me for some help.
While I’m not an expert on this topic, I have been very open about my own personal struggles as a young man and I was fortunate that I was able to find a better path for my life. I think this is why parents come to me, they hope that my story can help their boys to see that there is a different, better way. I try my best to give time to these boys and have a chat, I’m not sure if what I offer helps or not but the more I’m exposed to these conversations the more I think that as a society we need to do more for our young men. While I know not every boy is struggling it seems to me that a lot are.
Some of the insights I have gained into this issue through having conversations with these boys is that many young men haven’t learnt healthy ways to deal with emotion and stress in their lives. They bottle them up and turn to outlets like drugs, alcohol and violence to let their inner struggles out. They don’t feel they can express their internal battles so they start to withdraw from their world in tough times and the only time they can let this out is through destructive behaviour.
Why this is happening? Is it because boys feel they have to be self reliant when it comes to their emotions? They experience emotion and stress like everyone, but they don’t feel as if they can outwardly express them, the adults around them may not recognise their struggles so they are left to deal with it themselves internally. Maybe it’s because many parents are so time poor these days, leading to having less energy and potentially taking the easy option when the tough times present themselves within the family. Is it because as a culture we still promote the ‘real men don’t cry’ attitude which teaches our young men that they are weak if they express themselves? Or is it the social expectation society has placed on this demographic which places pressure to achieve which may not be realistic to live up to for many? To be honest I don’t know the true cause, it could be a combination of these things or there may be several other contributing factors but it seems that this is a very important area that we need to be putting energy into.
The one thing I do know is that our young men need us, they really do. They need the adults in their lives to help guide their moral compass. They need us to show them that tools like exercise, creative outlets, positive social environments and self expression are great ways to deal with our emotions. They need to have the underlying understanding of unconditional love that shows them that they will be loved even when they are not perfect. They need to know that they make your life better because of the contact you have with them. They need to be challenged to be better men. They need all of these things - and much much more.
If you think about the teenage boys who may be in your life, are you able to show more commitment to being one of the people who will support them through one of the toughest times in their life?
Thinking back to when you were a teenager, I think the majority of people would agree that this it isn’t the easiest stage of life to go through, if you were lucky enough there was an adult who seemed to be like a Yoda for you, a wise soul who helped you find your better self. Imagine if you could be that person for the young men in your life. I think that you would find this one of the most rewarding things to experience, as you would have a hand in helping these kids turn into good men, you would be helping shape, influence and have a mark on the world.
It seems to me that now that ever our boys need us to be there for them. I encourage you to become that person for those young men in your life.
This piece orginally appeared in The Press
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