14 August 2017

Boy, Boys, Boys

Taking the stage in front of 700 assembled members of the Scotch community and guests from many other Perth schools, Maggie Dent began her talk with some startling facts regarding boys, their development and their possible futures.

It is a risk being born a boy. Statistics show clearly that boys, and men, are more at risk of:

  • Injury as a result of an accident
  • Admission to hospital as a result of an accident
  • Injury during sport
  • Injury doing risky behaviours
  • Failure at school and imprisonment
  • Death or injury in car accidents
  • Offences involving criminal activity
  • Being killed as a pedestrian
  • AIDS
  • Death at work
  • Circulatory system disease
  • Diagnosis with cancer
  • Death from cancer
  • Death in war
  • Permanent disability from work
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Suicide

While the evening started on a sombre note, it did quickly turn to the positive with insights shared on how we, as parents and educators, could work to develop good men. With her irreverent sense of humour and love of story telling, Maggie took us on a journey through the minds of boys and men, the pressures they face from media and their own hormones, and how we, as parents, get some things wrong while trying to get everything right.

Our boys are either roosters or lambs. Roosters try to mark their territory and make sure all know they are present. They show off with feats of athletic prowess, strength and bravado. Lambs tend to be quieter and more sensitive, even though they may be capable of the same things as the roosters.

Maggie strongly advocated the need for unstructured play and freedom for boys. She shared with us the impact of a micromanaged childhood that is over-supervised and planned, with very little freedom and autonomy.

"I believe the impact on boys is particularly negative, and increasing levels of depression and mental illness in adolescence may be telling us that there are some very deep instinctual drives that need to be nurtured in a healthy way, rather than denied and crushed." (Dent, 2014)

Boys must develop the ability to assess risks and manage it on their own. This skill is essential for later in life where the risks can have a more profound effect than a cut knee or a broken arm.

Maggie believes that boys need physical contact, rough and rumble play with other boys, and male role models. As boys tend to be less efficient at using language to resolve conflict, this is where they learnt non-verbal cues telling them it was time to leave and walk away.

Leading play expert Dr Stuart Brown argues that we only develop an understanding of 'play code' in our childhood from playing endlessly with other children. Without a play code we can badly misread social situations and interpret a threat incorrectly and, without the ability to defuse the situation, this can turn into violence quickly, especially with a bellyful of alcohol.

What boys need:

  • To feel part of a team - belonging
  • Opportunities to explore and investigate how things work
  • To kick balls, run races and pit themselves physically against a challenge
  • Structure and help getting organised
  • Goals and good coaching
  • Safe environments and a zero tolerance attitude to ridicule and shaming

(Ian Grant, Growing Great Boys)

Maggie's main message was the need for positive male role models in a boy's life. This does not mean only a Dad, as some families have single parents. It refers to the men in their life, be they uncles, grandfathers, teachers or coaches.

Maggie shared with us what a boy needs from their dad (or male role model):

  • Rules
  • Routines
  • Ridiculousness - Fun, laughter, jokes, surprise and warmth create safety for boys
  • A "you have what it takes approach"
  • Love and affirmation

(Dent, 2014)

It was a special evening filled with laughter and deep reflection on our successes and shortcoming as parents of boys. I left considering where I was getting it wrong and how I could do a better job raising my own son. With the advice I have been given, I hope I will be able to better understand, nurture and connect with my son. Maggie engaged with us, educated us and challenged us as parents and teachers. I thank her for the opportunity to hear her speak.

John Stewart

Head of Junior School

Dent, M. (2014). Why boys need a boyhood to become good men. Retrieved May 29, 2014, from: http://www.maggiedent.com/content/why-boys-need-boyhood-become-good-men