How boys become men: advice for quiet dads and over-protective mothers ...

I have just read a fascinating book by a New Zealander lady who worked for fifteen years as a prison officer in prisons for young men. (He'll Be OK: Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men, by Celia Lashlie.) She was commissioned by a group of private boys' boarding schools in New Zealand to carry out a large research project, 'The Good Man Project', interviewing pupils, parents and teachers in about 25 large schools across the country.

Her aim was find out what is going wrong, and right, with the raising of boys.

This book presents the conclusions of 18 month of intensive 'action research'. In action research, the focus is on collecting testimonies and opinions from large numbers of people, and then coming to general conclusions. The result is chatty and easy to read. There are no tables or graphs.

There are some interesting conclusions, especially about the role of men in guiding adolescent boys through the most difficult time in growing up (around age 14, the author says) and the way in which men are not in general fufilling their role, often because mothers won't let them ...

My experience as a Headmaster certainly tallies with what Celia Lashlie found: contact between school and home is usually managed by the mother and the mother is - in most cases -  the main decider in all matters relating to her son. It is also my experience that most mothers are not prepared to step back as boys approach the key period of 13-15, and and that most fathers are not making enough time to be with their sons, go fishing, play football, and the rest. (Lashlie hints that while women talk with their sons, men spend time with them, and that this is the male way: non-verbal communication sometimes works best. Women, suggests Lashlie, have trouble understanding this.)

There are some useful reminders about what is and what is not normal for a teenage boy. For example, we need not worry when they suddenly go quiet and uncommunicative. Lashlie explains why, as well as offering suggestions about how to support them through their trials, whilst still giving them clear guidelines and rules.

She suggests that once they have reached 16 or 17, if we have got it right, then one can ease off with the rules and sanctions (this is my experience also as a Headmaster.) But around 13-15 she says you need 'an electric fence' to keep them under control! (I agree there too.) One amusing passage about punishment suggests that one should isolate the one thing they love the most, and then take it away from them. I suppose she is talking about MP3 players, IPhones and the like ...

Celia Lashlie sent her own son to Catholic boarding school for a while. But this is not a book that takes an especially Christian view. It does take a fair and humane view, however, and tries not to fall into the trap of political correctness. Catholic families (especially mothers) could benefit from reading it, especially if they are worried about their sons.

Interesting and challenging reading, especially for father and mothers of teenage boys.

Comments

kathy said…
“The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother's side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent.”
Erich Fromm

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