Meeker opens the middle section of her book discussing our culture’s perception of teenage boys. Our society perpetuates the image of teenage boys as delinquents, trouble makers, defiant kids who are drug addicted, drinking, and disrespectful continually defying parents’ wishes.
Meeker argues, “Our job is to teach our sons to be assertive enough and strong enough to be different from the rest. They must walk away from the party where their friends are drunk. They need to have the strength to say not the their girlfriends...The problem is that we’re dead wrong about why boys get into trouble in the first place. It isn’t primarily peer pressure that is driving boys towards drugs, drinking, depression or that is causing them to fall behind academically or drop out of school. The real reason is that WE HAVE LOWERED OUR EXPECTATIONS about teenage boys.”
What we experience culturally in America with boys doesn’t exist in other parts of the world. So why do American boys struggle so much? Because we are such an affluent society who doesn’t want to push anything on our kids. We try and protect them from so much. We need to raise our expectations of boys and provide mentorship, role models and learning and growing opportunities for our boys.
Meeker goes into much of the brain research surrounding adolescent boys, “teens many actually be able to influence how their brains are wired during teen years because the brain is undergoing so many developmental changes. By learning to order their thoughts, understand abstract concepts, and control their impulses, they exercise their brains, and this might influence their neural foundations... For instance, the front part of the brain is called the frontal cortex. This part of the brain controls judgement, emotional regulation, and self-control. We now know that this doesn’t develop completely until the early twenties in many boys...Much of the new brain research encourages parents and educators to recognize that teen boys are very much a work in progress and that they are still learning how to make mature decisions and control impulses, and that is during the teen years that we can have the most decisive effect on helping them to shape these aspects of their character.”
Meeker spends an entire chapter describing the relationship between encouragement, mastery and competition. Boys imperatively need to have encouragement from their parents and the stakeholders in their life. Importantly, this encouragement needs to be authentic and genuine. Often times during periods of competition, these are the optimal moments for encouragement because a boy’s masculinity is tested. He compares himself to others, and wants his parents to recognize what he has accomplished. Also during these moments of competition, whether through imaginary play or real scenarios, boys need to have reinforced their moral order of good and bad, “ every good parent must provide a means for the boy to deal with the problem of evil and not simply ignore it.”
Additionally, Meeker explains the difference in mother and father roles with encouragement. Boys can act out in front of their mothers because they are the emotional supporters and security. They are compassionate, patient and kind. Boys aren’t as worried or concerned with winning their mother’s approval. However, fathers provide the encouragement for boys that is more necessary than anything else, “ In a boy’s eyes, his father’s words are sacred. They hold enormous power...Encouragement from a father changes a boy’s life. His words can ignite furious passion in a boy that will help him achieve any goal he sets out to accomplish. To a son, a dad’s words are the final truth. If they are positive, a boys feels that he cannot be beaten; if they are negative, however, a son feels that he could never win.” Meeker repeatedly reinforces the power a father’s positive words can have on a son. These words impact the future of his son as well as the boy’s self esteem.
Meeker shifts to discussing competition with boys.Even if the boy doesn’t win in competitions, the way he learns about himself as a growing man, “Competition for a boy is more about building his identity and self perception than it is about beating others. Winning elevates his mood precisely because it offers clear evidence that what he wants to feel about himself- that he is manly- is occurring.” Meeker argues that competition helps a boy control his body and develop his body to perform in the ways he wants it to. This then allows for a boy to control his emotions and master them which is another step towards growing as a man and maturing, “The goal of maturity is learning how to behave as a boy knows he should regardless of where his emotions want to take him.” All of this comes to the forefront in adolescence. This is why it is so imperative to give more praise and encouragement at this juncture of their lives. Boys need scaffolding and guidance like a life jacket rather than be tossed into the sea of life without an floatation device. Boys need to know we will always be there loving, supporting, guiding them on this journey, “It is essential that parents teach their sons that living and ordered life, replete with dun as well as discipline, paves the way to a free life and a successful one. Boys who learn through encouragement of their inherently masculine qualities, who learn to enjoy healthy competition that helps them to respect others and themselves, are boys who have a much better chance of living good lives.” As a community, we can help boys achieve working together for the betterment of all boys and all children.