View on boys and young men

Last updated: 03/04/2017

What do boys want? What can boys do? What makes them tick?

They can be fun, nosy, curious, energetic. A “Let me do it!” attitude: in search of control and own responsibility, they push limits, sometimes too far. It’s a matter of trial and error, risks and danger. They are looking for connections with peers. Seeking goals. Rude or naïve. Sometimes selfish, sometimes noble. Between bravado and timidity. Everyone unique and in his own pace. Never the same.

What can educators, teachers and facilitators do?

They can tune in on their energy, motives, dilemmas, with an eye to boys’ qualities and their perspectives. Be an example. Sometimes, just be curious; look and listen. Help them to find words for still vague, mixed or confused thoughts, to imagine the consequences of their actual deeds. Sometimes, confront them and draw lines. Be encouraging, enabling. Support them through transfer of knowledge, training, splitting up difficult tasks. Be straightforward and unambiguous, but use some humor. Always offer them a way out, never humiliate them, and before anything else: be there for them.

Why are we here?

What are we doing here? What’s the meaning of it all? These are not silly questions, certainly not in times of crises where some might get cynical. Throughout history every culture has dealt with these questions. In the strongly individualized western world, in which relations, markets, workplaces, living situations, technical possibilities, products and fashions are changing ever so rapidly, especially young people are looking for answers. In my own life my answer to cynicism has developed as follows (and this took me many years to formulate…):

  1. We are here to survive, and at the same time to keep the world sane and hand it over to the next generation (so: eat, drink, build a roof, keep your house clean, take care of the environment and your offspring, if any).
  2. We are here to connect with others: in essence we are social beings, we need each other and we can be significant to each other.
  3. We are here to develop ourselves, to learn – and that includes making mistakes. We ought to learn from them lest they were for nothing; that’s how evolution works.
  4. We are here to contribute, to do our fair share (offer food, drinks, roofs, meaningful products, services, thoughts, support, make and educate new generations)
  5. And also: we are here to enjoy! Ourselves, each other, the world…

All these five answers are related, and to a certain extent overlapping. One moment the stress lies on one answer, another time on another. Every human being is looking for his or her own path.

Boys grow up, gain awareness, take up responsibilities, try to connect to the world and wish to give meaning to their life. What can they master themselves? Where do they need some support, encouragement, restrictions or challenges? What does really matter? Who and what do they need?

Working with boys is, more than anything else, doing something together with them. Go from the physical to the mental dimensions and back: help them to direct their own energy. From self-acceptance and self-awareness to awareness of others, the world around them, taking up their responsibilities and connecting with their surroundings. “It is good that I exist, I am quite someone, and starting from there I can learn a lot, realizing that I am a valuable part of it all.”

What keeps them busy, what keeps them going? Often pictured negatively, their energy, wishes and qualities as well as their dilemmas or problems deserve greater attention. Be it in education, care, policy and law enforcement or in sport and traffic: just observing the rules without offering any prospects doesn’t work.

‘Constructive work with boys’ is inspired by research, as well as personal experiences and those of many others. We can coach young men to accept themselves, gaining awareness of who they are and what they experience. We can help young people not by reducing them to their sex but with awareness for differences of the sexes in their nature and the way they mature, influenced by nurture and environment. Through this process we enable them to make choices, direct their own energy, construct a life that makes sense. All of this with respect for others, as well as cooperation in and responsibility for our shared world.

It is not just a case of use it or lose it. Neglecting the potentials and needs of our boys makes many of them eventually turn against the world itself, showcasing a behavior that is not only destructive to women, LGBT’s, people from other cultures and/or religions,  but also to themselves.

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