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Boys Struggling to be Men

What is happening to the young men in our culture? The male suicide rate has increased to three to four times higher than females and males are twice as likely to become alcoholics. Girls are outperforming boys academically at every level. Women are 33 percent more likely to earn a college degree by age 27 than men. We know that boys mature and develop physically and emotionally later than girls, but they don't seem to be catching up even beyond adolescence. Additionally, boys are slower to develop social and behavioral skills which puts them at a real disadvantage. Consequently, many young men avoid responsibility, lack self-confidence, and struggle to find purpose in their life. They appear to be confused about their identity and the role they need to play in relationships. What has caused the shift in gender performance and success?

In general, boys tend to struggle with non-cognitive school related skills like sitting still, paying attention, and taking turns. Some boys lack planning and organizational skills or task persistence which is needed for them to become better learners. Regrettably, many public schools are removing mandatory gym class which is exactly what boys need: physical stimulation and exercise. Research has found that males thrive in kinesthetic learning environments, which is learning through moving. Intense physical activity can also stimulate healthy levels of testosterone which has been found to improve focus, motivation, and memory. Also unfortunately for boys, there is a dearth of male teachers especially in the lower grades. Boys want and need strong male role models, which we would hope are their fathers but the reality is that father figures are often lacking in boys' lives. Their desire to imitate behaviors they've observed has to do with acceptance and a need to fit in. When the father is absent, boys will search for a substitute role model to emulate, such as sports stars or celebrities which are not always positive. While there are both positive and negative effects of playing video games, approximately 15 percent of American youth have an unhealthy addiction to gaming. Many of the video games disengage boys from real-world pursuits and contribute to their avoidance of important and meaningful connections. So what can we do to help our boys?

We can start by limiting their screen time and encouraging them to get physically active, along with modeling these behaviors ourselves. Boys also need to be responsible for their actions and face appropriate consequences at home. Dr. Leonard Sax wrote in his book, Boys Adrift, that men are no longer needed in the stereotypical role of the past, and therefore have a difficult time feeling purpose in life. Therefore, boys will benefit from finding purpose, passion, and positive activities. Blame needs to be eliminated from their vernacular and they have to stop playing the victim. They need to set standards and expectations for themselves that are high. Encourage boys to write them down, read them daily, and develop a game plan. Mediation, prayer, reflection time, and journalling can all provide a positive focus. As a parent, make a conscious choice to surround the boys and young men in your life with positive, ambitious, and supportive people that inspire them and hold them accountable. Men thrive on challenge and responsibility which is often experienced in a committed relationship. We should never stop learning and growing both in knowledge and wisdom. It is good to take some risks, embrace rejection and failure, and learn to believe in yourself. Help boys learn to acknowledge the good, writing those down, and focusing on how they can use those positive attributes to excel. Through it all emphasize remaining humble, grounded, and grateful. Boys mature to men when they can apply these skills and take full ownership of their lives. And remember that confidence breeds confidence.

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