The Problem: Being There for Boys at a Critical Time
In the early teenage years, a boy starts to look beyond the family, school and traditional areas of support, to experiment for himself and discover what the world has to offer. It is a time when many influences – for good or bad can take root. The boy is aware of physical and emotional changes taking place in his body and can feel insecure and vulnerable. He is aware of thinking and feeling differently from the way he did a short time ago, but often is unable to express it. Research indicates that the well-being of boys at this age has a considerable impact on their mental health in later years.
The “critical time” idea, can be illustrated by picturing in our mind a typical 11 year old boy: his life would still revolve very much around his family, his school friends and those who shared his interests (sports team, scouts, etc). Now picture a 15 year old. The relationship with his parents is very different and communication will often be difficult, his major influences are likely to be his friends which he will have chosen himself and he may well be experiencing pressure to experiment with alcohol, drugs and other substances.
In the early to mid-teens, every boy seeks the approval of his father as confirmation that he is “on the right track.” Boys lacking the vital guidance of a father or father figure, may hide their need behind unhelpful behaviour such as.
- An arrogant, confrontational attitude
- Uncontrollable anger, which is easily triggered
- A disrespectful attitude
- A lack of ambition and confidence
- A desire to be outside the family
In cultures across the world, a father or father figure has traditionally taken on the role of mentor to the boy during these vital years taking him into manhood. He passes his skills and interests on and establishes a relationship where the son is comfortable looking to him for advice and guidance. A ‘male to male’ trust develops as they share activities together.
Traditionally, this important period culminated in a celebration or ‘rite of passage’ after the boy had accomplished certain tasks to prepare him for the challenges of adulthood. Then he was acknowledged as a man in the eyes of the community. In western society we rarely prepare boys for the challenges of manhood.
The father has a vital role to affirm his son as a young man and to encourage him to take on new challenges which may be out of his comfort zone, whilst being there to praise and encourage him. The father also needs to introduce him to a wide community of men who can guide him in interests the father may not share (eg Sports Clubs, the Boys Scouts Association), at the same time ensuring the male company is healthy and supportive to the son. The boy learns how men relate to women.
In his ‘mid teen’ years, the boy’s mind is often filled with big ideas about what he is going to achieve in life, which may seem unrealistic. Yet this stage is vital to provide the energy and drive he needs to build a career and raise a family. Here the father’s wisdom and own experience of starting work and building a family are invaluable to the son.