Teenage boys face many pressures, perhaps the most significant of which is related to the development of their identity as they transition to manhood. Unlike other cultures who have clear-cut rituals that mark the transition from boy to man, most Australians in the 21st century lack a formal rite of passage by which teenagers earn their right to be called a “man”. As such, teenage boys often struggle with this transition and are confused with the concept of masculinity.

 

There is a lot of pressure on boys in today’s society with regards to behaving in a certain way. Society’s stereotypical expectations for boys to be brave, strong, competitive, active and rebellious underlie the beliefs that these traits will help them to develop into a “real man” as they get older. Comments such as “boy’s don’t cry” and “toughen up” are common assertions made to boys, shaping them to behave in society’s culturally prescribed gender role.

 

Boys are exposed to images of strong, aggressive and brave men in the media, and these ideas are perpetuated by other influences such as sporting teams, friends, family, schools and community. Recent workshops run by the current author regarding this topic asked teenage boys to describe a “real man”. The boys used words such as tough, confident, popular, unemotional, rugged, sporty, aggressive, successful, sexy, assertive, and powerful. Furthermore they stated that there were implicit and explicit pressures within their social groups and wider community to behave in the aforementioned manner so as to impress girls, be popular, look tough in front of mates, achieve at school and sport, and keep up appearances.

 

These pressures and expectations have a significant impact on boys with regards to their mental and physical health; particularly for those boys who don’t “fit” the stereotypical picture of manhood. While some are resilient and have the capacity to manage these issues, many feel the pressure and use unhelpful and negative coping strategies. These include: anger, school avoidance, mental health issues (depression / anxiety), substance misuse, aggressive behaviours, anti-social behaviours and crime, risk taking behaviours and bully / intimidation / exclusion of others.

Such negative coping strategies can lead to pervasive problematic behavioural patterns and life-long psychological issues. Young males are instead encouraged to build upon and utilise positive coping strategies to manage the pressures and expectations that are placed on them. These include: distraction, relaxation, respecting and supporting others, ignoring peer pressures, relaxation, accessing support and asking for help, and developing skills in anger management.

Furthermore, research indicates that protective factors that assist young boys to develop into healthy, happy, pro-social men include: a supportive and caring family environment, building upon their strengths, educating them about risk factors such as drugs and alcohol, instilling a sense of belonging by encouraging them to join sporting teams and engage in hobbies, and clear communication with young males about the changes in their bodies / moods / lives when going through the transition to adulthood.

If you would like to know more about making a healthy transition from boyhood to manhood, or feel your child may need some support regarding these matters, you can contact Lauren on 0404 288 308 or laurenpaganoni@gmail.com