When it comes to strength and courage, males have always dominated society. Therefore, it may surprise you that boys are having a hard time growing up and understanding what it really means to be a man.

In fact, research indicates that boys are in real trouble.

They receive lower grades than girls. Two-thirds of them have learning disabilities. Boys are the suspects in 8 out of 10 arrests for alcohol and drug charges. They are also responsible for more than 70 percent of juvenile crimes.

“You can’t go to a newsstand without seeing a steady stream of magazine articles questioning the role of males in today’s society,” says Dr. Kirk Walker, retired headmaster at McCallie School. “It is rare that you pick up a newspaper without reading of the problems males are experiencing and causing – and most of the articles concentrate on the problems facing adolescent males. Something is amiss and the national statistics are chilling.

“Six-year-old boys who kill do not have a relationship with strong adults who can rescue them. In most boys’ lives, human moments and interactions are gradually being replaced with electronic ones; the power of the human touch replaced by a touchpad. The values of honesty, integrity and responsibility are replaced with the values of popular culture. A culture dominated by fame, sex and violence.”

Tim McGraw’s hit song Grown Men Don’t Cry says, “I don’t know why they say grown men don’t cry.” Actually, there are a number of people questioning why our society teaches boys it is not okay to cry.

Michael Thompson’s book, Raising Cain, stresses that it is critical for parents to give their boys permission to have a full range of human emotions – including permission to cry. Thompson believes that helping boys develop an emotional vocabulary helps them to better understand themselves and to communicate better with others. These skills will help them develop into well-rounded adults.

Dr. William Pollack, author of Real Boys, agrees with Thompson. He says that boys are beginning to question the double standard of masculinity. That double standard pushes boys and men to choose between being the kind of tough, competitive, unfeeling, uncommunicative man traditionally celebrated as “masculine” (the boy code) and being the kind of open, expressive, egalitarian man now heralded as ideal by much of contemporary society.

“If we don’t let our boys cry tears, they’ll cry bullets,” says Pollack.

“Depriving boys of the opportunity and encouragement to grow beyond the strict guidelines of the ‘boy code’ leaves many boys with an impoverished repertoire of emotions, a sense of shame at their weakness, sadness, anger and aggression,” Walker says. “Some have said that we are in an ‘anger epidemic.’ The boys feel fragile and respond to that feeling by hurting themselves and others.”

Walker believes that parents as well as the community-at-large play a critical role in the lives of boys.

Adolescent boys are not “guided missiles.” Instead, they’re “guidance-seeking” missiles. Boys need and want positive role models to help them define themselves.

If you want to help boys in the journey from boyhood to manhood, here’s what Thompson encourages:

  • Recognize and accept the high activity level of boys and give them safe places to express it.
  • Talk to boys in their language in a way that honors their pride and masculinity.
  • Be direct with them.
  • Let them solve problems and be consultants.
  • Teach boys that emotional courage is courage. Courage and empathy are the sources of real strength in life.
  • Use discipline to build character and conscience, not enemies.
  • Model a manhood of emotional attachment.
  • Teach boys there are many ways to be a man.

“It is our responsibility to break the stereotype of what the popular culture defines as a ‘real’ man,” Walker says. “It is our responsibility to help a boy learn to be ‘real’ and to be a man. And it is our responsibility to help a boy define his self-worth in ways that are worthwhile to his community and to himself.”

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