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Statement # 6

Time for Boys

In short

It seems to be wrong with the boys in our society. Girls achieve better at school. Boys have far more behavior and learning problems. Boys seem to be in a permanent crisis.

In the school bus, girls are busy with chatting with each other. The boys sit, one by one, each looking surly before him. If there are problems like aggression, vandalism and other kinds of criminality, it mostly concerns boys.

What's happening? What's wrong? What can we do?

Last years, there is written a lot about this subject. Counter Balance gives its own opinion in this statement and offers a selection from literature.

Double codes 
What can we do? 
There is a lack of real contact 
What can we do? 
Control, OK, but preferably selfcontrol 
M. Fadil, buurtvader 

Double codes

The boys' code

In the age of chivalry, there was a code for boys and men - for those time a practical code. This code still exist, in spite of the fact that society radically has changed. Pollack calls this the boys'code.

  1. Be cool
    Do not show nay weakness such as pain, sorrow or shame. Thus, these feelings are hidden. Keep a stiff upper lip - or at least pretend to do it. By doing so, de boy might loose the contact with these kind of feelings - thus with a part of himself. On that stage, they no longer pretend to be indifferent, they are indifferent.

  2. Be hard 
    Here we see the dare-devil, bravado, challenging and fascination to violence.

  3. Be the big boss 
    A boy ought to acquaintance power; he must win and dominate.

  4. Be sturdy
    It is strongly forbidden to be a cream puff or a softy. 
    This is, as also Pollack says, the most dangerous command. It prevents boys expressing their more tender feelings and on the long term even to feel these. Feelings such as sympathy, dependency and carefulness are girlish, thus taboo.

The cover of Pollack's book Real Boys in Dutch version. The words on the left hand side are modern Dutch words referring to the boys' code. 

The opposite code

Also the opposite is expected from the postmodern man. He must be also tender and caring, sympathetic and social - and vulnerable. This is not easy as we acknowledge that many men in their deeper inner self in fact still are remained a child or adolescent. 

These opposite codes head for the boy. This is disturbing. To avoid this disturbance, many boys chose for the first set of codes, the boys' code. This may have been a useful choice in the age of chivalry, but not in our days. Now it is harming: the boy looses the contact with an important part of himself. He merely uses one side of his brain. He walks with one leg, he falls ... or attacks. 

What can we do

We might be conscious of the above and speak about it, including with the boys. Daily life will offer a lot of opportunities for it.

We might help them to feel, to give expression to, and to accept feelings such as sorrow, pain or failing. 

We might value the real positive male characteristics:

not being the dare-devil, but really courageous;

encouraging not violence but self-control;

We might appreciate and develop the modern virtues of masculinity such as being sympathetic, caring and social. 

This is possible ... as long there is enough real contact with the boy.

There is a lack of real contact 

In our culture, children, especially boys, are quite young removed from the mother. Already as a baby, they sleep in an own bedroom. When they go to school, the next separation of the mother figure takes place. In puberty, the distance becomes even greater. These separations may cause intense feelings. Ignoring these feelings might be traumatic. The development of the boy might stagnate in that phase, as has been the case for many men. 

Boys need real contact with men, thus inter-generational contact, particularly in one-to-one relationships. However, fathers are working during a great part of each day and uncles and granddads often live far away. As far as there are still men having a job in education, the contact is more and more merely functional and from a growing distance. Also in sport clubs and children's homes we see this development. It mostly concerns group situations with a merely functional leadership. One-to-one contact is explicitly avoided - if not forbidden. Men from the neighborhood or acquaintances are kept at a distance - just fancy! 'What's on that man's mind - with my child?

Thus, boys are dependent on their peers. These are the ones who mostly educate them. However, there is a lack of real contact among boys. The boys' code forbids this. Boys may only express one side of their personality, the sturdy one, and only that side may develop itself. Boys cannot offer each other more than that. 

What can we do? 

Little boys should be allowed to be more often and longer close to their mother. Dear mothers, do not be afraid for a bit more bodily contact. Also a school boy might still like to sit on your lap.  

In addition, boys especially need fathers. Fathers should spend less time at their job and more time going about with their children - they should be more a caring father. 

Moreover, accept a mentor for your son and allow one-to-one contacts. 

Boys who had contact with a Highly Involved Man appeared to achieve as the best, while the bad achievers had standoffish fathers who taught them that boys do not cry. Fathers and other men appear to be important, along with the codes they offer to the boy.

Teachers, sports coaches and childcare workers have a function. This is to establish and maintain a personal contact. Whoever remains merely 'functional' and keeps an impersonal distance, wrongly realizes that function. 

  René de Boer argues the re-evaluation of the 'initiation' of the son into the men's world. This correspondents with the narrative of the prince who so could become the king. 

"I lead my sons away from their mother and I teach them to be a man, which includes to cope with emotions. This seems me better than starting to cry if your son uses drugs, while you prefers a job of forty hours a week. No wonder, man! Bette had worked thirty hours a week and had spend time playing with your son."

Wilfred Scholten, 'It's wrong with the man; caught between his own adolescent behavior and the lot of claims from women; Wegenegr Dagbladen, 14 augustus 1999. 


Control, OK, but preferably selfcontrol 

Boys are active from nature. Usually, this is labeled as "too active", over-active or even hyperactive. 

Instead of valuing this typically male characteristic and developing it, activity is suppressed. Male vitality is subjected to 'treatment' and repressed with ritalin.

Impersonal control and zero tolerance  do not work, or work in the opposite direction. It provides the boys new kicks. They like to oppose that kind of control. 'Waw! What a kick, man!'

It is far more effective not to suppress male vitality, but instead accepting it, valuing it, and helping to develop control from within. 

Another more effective kind of control is social control and teaching social abilities and ways to cope with conflicts.

In the Netherlands, we have buurtvaders, neighborhood fathers. This model is developed particularly in vicinities in which young Moroccan boys gave a lot of troubles. The fathers of those vicinities took the initiative to walk through the neighborhood, following a roster so there were always some of them present. They accost the boys in a personal way. The model works so good that delegations from all over Europe and further have visited these Moroccan fathers to copy their method.                                       

The one and only thing that really has effect is: personally accosting the boys about their behavior after establishing a real and personal contact. 

This demands time:

Time for boys


M. Fadil, Neigborhood Father 

(NRC 4 nov. 2000)

About one and a half year ago, fourteen fathers started their daily rounds through the neighborhood. 

"Actually, we have had a try-out period of a half year. Initially, the kids called us names such as 'betrayers!' If we called at the parents to address them about their children's behavior, we heard: 'These must be others; my children do not such kind of things'."

"What are you actually doing, asked our wives. Each evening on the way. We had to convince the kids and their parents that we were no policemen." 

"Then, we got an idea. We have taken 56 children around the age of fourteen to an amusement park. We have paid this from our own money. The vicinity council wouldn't pay it. This does not fit in our plans, they said. But we wanted to make clear that we were neighborhood fathers, we merely are here and work for the children."

"Gradually, the parents began to accept us. Why have our children such a bad reputation? Why do our children hang around the streets until late in the evening? We want to change this. Now, there are no longer little children hanging round on the streets in the late evening. "

"We have had visitors here from Switzerland, Norway, France and South-Africa. Alderman and police officers from [.. several Dutch cities ..] have been here. The Moroccan Prime Minister was here to see our work."

"It would be good if there would come h fathers everywhere. Will we ever make ourselves superfluous? We go on with pleasure."



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