My special attention for working with boys and young men started in the mid-seventies, when I teached and did some exercises with young men between the age of 16 and 17, lower educated, who were part-time employed in low-paying jobs and who went to an educational facility no more than two days a week. During that time, we learned them the basics: how to write letters, apply for and participate in a job interview, understand their pay slip and rights as a worker, fill in their tax forms – but also how (and why) to use a condom, how to relate, especially to girls and each other, how to think about their futures and issues related to alcohol and health. I gained some experience in youth work as well.
Those experiences were very fruitful, especially when I compared these practices with my own school period, university years and my practice as teacher in higher level secondary schools. I soon came to understand how the behaviors of the young men I worked with – sometimes boasting, sometimes shy and withdrawing, sometimes rough even aggressive, sometimes timid – were an expression of their coping strategies in terms of their situations and perspectives. Making contact, listening, rephrasing their complaints or big talk, making mental images of the consequences of their behavior, always accompanied by trying to map the steps for a better future, offering alternatives, often proved successful. Later in the nineties and after I trained general practitioners how to relate to (young) men in their surgery, I became involved in many campaigns on health, sexuality, aids and the use of drugs.
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