“He’ll be OK – Growing gorgeous boys into good men” by Celia Lashlie (Harper Collins Publishers) c2005
I really enjoyed reading this book as it is full of practical and reassuring advice on raising boys to become good, loving and articulate men.
Celia, the author, worked in the prison system in New Zealand for 15 years and then within 25 boys schools in New Zealand doing research. She has repeatedly seen what can happen when boys make the wrong choices. She also knows what it’s like to be a parent – she raised a son on her own as a single mum and feared for his survival.
This is a book about the father-son relationship. Celia acknowledges the importance of interaction between dads and their boys. She believes that we need to become more and more aware of the importance of this bond as each boy seeks a hero, an idol, someone who understands what it is to be a male. And who better for this role than his father.
Celia says she wrote the book to share some of the magic she encountered inside the world of boys schools and inside the mind of adolescent boys. Celia writes “they’re gorgeous creatures, full of potential. They may drive us to distraction as they hurtle recklessly towards adulthood, then decide they want to remain boys for just a bit longer and turn back to play, and we may wonder whether they, and we, will make it to their 20th birthday. But they’re also insightful individuals who carry in their heads the answers to many questions we have of them and who can show us the way forward if we will only pause long enough to ask the question….and then wait graciously (and silently) for the answer.” (p19)
Celia writes that after working in male prisons for a number of years, for many of the men, prison becomes a rite of passage, the place where they end up as a result of their misguided attempts to prove to the adults around them, and to themselves, that they’re men. They don’t go to prison deliberately, rather, they go almost accidentally, having chosen to indulge in behaviour they see as manly without pausing to consider the likely consequences.” (p 21)
A major difference she sees between men and women is that we think differently. Women generally think and talk at the same time. We learn what we think about simply by talking about it. Men think, then talk and there’s often a gap, sometimes an enormous gap, between the two processes. Women sense the existence of this gap and immediately move in to fill it by talking to the man and interrupting his thinking process. We think differently.
Allow your boys time to think before answering questions!!
Benefits of attending an all-boys school that became evident were:
• It instills a pride in the boys – to be male is to be OK.
• The school’s ability to revel in and celebrate the business of boys and freedom to focus completely on boys’ issues.
• To provide a setting within which it was safe to explore emotions in a male context.
• Boys didn’t have to concern themselves with their appearance beyond the basics of wearing the correct clothing, tucking their shirts in and pulling their socks up. (The absence of jewellery, hair gel and piercings was one of the first things she noted as there were “no chicks to impress” according to the boys.) They said that the absence of pressure about their appearance at school made life a whole lot easier and allowed them to stay longer in the moment of being boys. Outside of school they were still concerned about their appearance though.
• An all male environment was able to provide both the space and the opportunity for the boys to get the rough and tumble out of their system and move on rather than suppressing it in order to meet the expectations of the adults around them.
• Sport is something boys’ schools both do exceedingly well and use very effectively in their management of the students. Sport is an integral part of the journey to manhood both because of its competitive nature and because it can give them a sense of being a part of something bigger than themselves – they can experience success and develop a sense of pride. Sport also means they can continue to build a positive relationship with their body and use their high energy levels in a positive way.
• Adolescent boys tend to modify their behaviour in the face of scorn or criticism from female classmates but would prefer to keep quiet than to open their mouth and appear a fool in front of a girl. Thus, a boy’s school means they participate more in classroom discussion.
• Boys tried harder as they tend to not try if they fear coming second to a girl. They perceive that the world is stacked against them. They perceive that girls were better students because they were tidier in their work and paid more attention to detail, and the external world favoured women over men.
Some facts Celia noted whilst in boy’s classrooms asking their advice:
• Year 9 students presented major challenges for adults to control the classroom, but they also provided extraordinary insights – boisterous behaviour, inability to concentrate, the ebb and flow of testosterone clearly visible.
• The boys appeared to have no real sense of their bodies and no awareness of the world around them when jostling along a school hallway or moving as a crowd. They tended to look very unfocused as to where they were going. They often had food in their hands and mouth and while they seemed to be able to eat and walk at the same time, they appeared incapable of doing much else or of doing anything at all at speed.
• As their level of testosterone rises, it becomes almost impossible for the boys to sit still.
• Adolescent boys are considerably less resilient than girls of the same age. Their childlike naivety, their dependence on their peers to define their behaviour, their desire to live in the moment and their associated unwillingness to plan all combine at a time when male hormones are raging through their bodies and the blood appears to be flowing down rather than up. It’s a potent mix and one that leaves adolescent boys extremely vulnerable, despite their outwardly strong physical appearance.
• Silence on a woman’s part can often allow the communication channel between an adult man and an adolescent boy to operate more effectively that it does when a woman interrupts the transmission.
• Boys need unhurried time. They need adults to stand near the boundaries, guarding the boundaries and nudging the boys forward, not telling them.
• Boys like living in the moment because they don’t feel they have any real control over their lives. Also fear of failure if they try something new. Boys often won’t have a go unless their success or a return is guaranteed.
• The only really acceptable emotion adolescent boys feel able to display is anger. They deal with it by hitting someone or something. Older boys tend to move away from whatever emotion they are feeling and that allows them to detach themselves from it and eventually let it go so that it loses power over them.
• Loyalty to their mates appeared to be the basis for many of the actions taken by the students.
• Boys believed that the girls would keep their innermost secrets secret and not tell others whereas you discuss surface emotions with other boys.
• Recognise their desire to live in the moment, their inability and/or unwillingness to plan their lives.
• Boys want and need fewer, much bigger steps educationally wise.
• Fear of failure keeps boys living in the moment longer.
• Peer pressure is huge for adolescent boys.
• Recognise that he will have a go at breaking the rule once.
• Fathers need to be more involved in the lives of their teenage sons, mothers less, in regard to sex, drugs, alcohol, cars. Men’s business is to guide them through adolescence. The women’s role is to step back.
• Adolescent boys need to be able to experience the consequences of doing or not doing something before it becomes real enough to matter and to motivate them.
• Fear of being accused of being gay was huge, thus always seeking ways to prove their masculinity.
• Alcohol is about easing the pressure of moving towards manhood, about finding common ground with their peers and girls and simply about having fun.
• An adolescent boy needs to know who dad is and what sort of man he is or was.
• Boys want to belong to something bigger than themselves.
Practical ideas to implement:
• The physicality of boys almost demands that boys learn best when they can be physical eg allow them to stand up every 10 minutes and put someone into a headlock before sitting down again.
• Boys need a regular adrenaline fix. If they don’t get it the right way, they’ll get it in the wrong way.
• Sport is an integral part of the journey to manhood both because of its competitive nature and because it can give them a sense of being a part of something bigger than themselves. Thus, it’s great to encourage participation in sport.
• Adolescent boys need time to think, time to process new-found emotions and time to make decisions about their future. Encourage ‘down time’ that’s not filled with tv, computers or gaming.
• Boys need fewer but bigger steps in projects ie they don’t feel that they are challenged enough by the assignments etc. The challenge has to be significant in their eyes. When leaving projects to the last minute, they have been thinking and processing over it.
• Large uncluttered classrooms with a lot of space. Learning happens while they are mobile. Even a chair specially designed for movement.
• Keeping boys at school until the end of year 12 generally gives them time to come to grips with life and responsibility and holds him steadier through the turbulent years.
• No long explanations. They basically want to know what do I have to do, when by, who’s in charge and what happens if I don’t do it. He also needs to know that any penalty is fair ie if I don’t do it, I receive the same consequence as every other boy who doesn’t do it.
• Make it fun whilst learning.
• Try having short deep conversations with year 9-12 boys. A lot is happening on the inside for them.
• Mums – butt out of your boys lives. Stop harassing (nagging) them, doing things for them. Let them be. Chill out mothers. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Do not make their lunches. Let them accept the consequences of their actions.
• Mothers need to let their sons learn about actions and consequences and stop interfering when others discipline their sons.
• Encourage your son to have informal friendships with other men.
• Look for male role models.
• Dads need to discipline them and spend time with them.
• Don’t provide him with information he hasn’t asked for. Wait until he finds that information then start a discussion with him.
• Keep younger boys (year 7-9) busy with sport and other interests so that they don’t have time for alcohol. Do as I do, not what I say in regards to alcohol. Hypocrisy of adults is noticed.
• Keep life simple for year 9 boys. Strong boundaries. Keep your no no, your yes yes. Don’t be swayed. He needs you to be firm and to stay firm.
• Provide year 9’s with real information and prove (gently) that he doesn’t know everything.
• Year 10 – incorporate some play. Needs not to be serious all the time.
• Year 12 – boys given a strong sense of control over their own destiny. Remove boundaries.
• They responded best to eye contact, which reassured them that what they were saying mattered and was OK, acceptable, and even important.
• Learn to suspend the need for judgement that usually follows any acknowledgement of how males do things differently.
• Leave space in a conversation so that it allows time for boys to share.
• Boys like clear boundaries. They like to know what’s being required of them and by whom and what will happen to them if they don’t do what’s being asked. They like things to be kept simple.
As a parent of a boy entering the teenage years and a teacher (home school mum), I found this book extremely insightful. I would definitely recommend every parent of a teenage boy grabbing a copy and reading it.