Teaching Boys to Become Men
Organized by: Eric Knight
There's a myth in this country that teenage boys don't have much in the way of real feelings. All they are really interested in is competing against each other, being loud and aggressive, and chasing girls. (Oh, and getting into trouble. They're very interested in that too.)
The problem with this myth is that It's just not true. (Which is kind of what a myth is, right?)
The reality is that boys do have feelings. They do care about a lot more than sports and girls. Right up until somewhere in their mid-teens boys are deeply feeling, caring, and committed to close friends. (There is some fantastic research backing this up. The link is at the bottom.)
Then something happens. In the span of a few years most boys begin to withdraw. They pull away from their close friends and stop sharing their secrets and feelings with them. They start pretending they have no feelings. They start pretending they don't need anyone else to help them through life. Is it a coincidence that during this time male suicide rates triple? That drug use skyrockets? That they begin to get into more trouble at school and at home?
What happens during those mid-teen years to cause this?
Society happens. It is during these years that boys begin to really become aware of the larger world around them, when they become truly aware of society's expectations and norms about what it means to be a man.
They learn that "real" men don't show emotions, except anger and happiness. Emotions are for girls. They learn to suppress compassion, because a real man gets to the top by climbing over the bodies of his competitors. They learn that vulnerability - the ability to open one's heart and say "This is me, this is who I am" - is a trait to be removed at all costs.
Right when life starts to get really difficult, when adulthood with all its myriad pressures looms, when boys most need help navigating their lives, they are learning that they must go it alone.
Is it any wonder so many of them get into trouble? Is it any wonder so many grow up to be unable to connect emotionally to their wives and partners? (It even affects their health, as studies have shown that the men who adhere most closely to the male stereotypes have the most health problems later in life.)
I have two teenage sons of my own. I am a recent graduate of a Master's program in Social Work. Before going back to school I was a high school English teacher. Before that I worked with gang kids in an alternative to prison program. Before that I was a teenager who was completely lost in a big, frightening world with no way to express what I was going through or accept help from anyone in going through it.
Along with one of my professors from the Master's program and a high school social worker I interned with last year, I am developing a group program for teenage boys of high school age. The aim of the program is to help boys to examine the societal expectations and norms that are being placed on them, to engage them in discussions about those expectations, to help them separate the positive expectations from the negative.
The program is designed to help the boys see that they don't have to meet the challenges of life alone. It teaches them new skills and a more complete understanding of what it means to be a man. It teaches them to connect with each other, to help each other deal with life in all its painful, beautiful, messy glory.
Since graduating in May, I have been researching and developing this program. I have a rough draft of about half of it. Starting in mid-August I will be implementing and testing it with students at a high school here in Tucson, AZ. The program is intended to be one hour a week for a semester. We will be taking feedback from the participants and collecting data from them individually and the school as a whole to see how successful the program is.
If it goes well, we will be expanding it to a number of other high schools in the city. The plan is to have a finished group program by the end of the school year and try to get it published. Unlike many published programs, which can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, I am hoping to make this one no more than the cost for a standard hardback book, or maybe even free if grant money can be found to support it. (I want to make sure that cost is never an obstacle if an organization wants to use this.) Besides schools, the program can be used by churches, boys' organizations - any group that works with teen boys.
The problem is that I still have to make a living while putting this thing together. I can work part time right now, but I'm limited there (especially since I don't want to neglect my own family). And, once the spring semester rolls around, if this goes well I may not be able to work at all since I'm going to be traveling to different schools every day while still refining and writing the program.
Your help can keep me going on this program while hopefully not incurring too much personal debt. I'm still new to how Crowdrise works, but I'd like to post regular updates as to how the project is proceeding, maybe with pictures and quotes from the boys. I'd also like to post sections of the program as they become reasonably polished.
Thanks, Eric T Knight
Update 8/27: I met with the two groups of young men I am co-facilitating at the high school yesterday and I'm happy to say it went well. The guys finished up with talking about three men in their lives who have had positive and/or negative impacts on them and I got to give my introductory speech to the program. I was worried that they would think it was cheesy or that it was too long, but they really liked it and were even surprised that I wrote it. Next week, at last, we can start with the first topic of discussion.
For further updates, see the Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/TeachingBoystoBecomeMen