Lads Need Dads with Sonia Shaljean

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Lads need dads, says Sonia Shaljean, director of the UK-based organization Lads Need Dads, one of the only projects in the country working to proactively address the impact of the absent father on boys aged 11-15.

Many boys with absent or uninvolved fathers, of course, turn out perfectly okay. But many don’t. Sonia pivoted to this work after noticing, through a long career in criminal justice, domestic abuse, anger management, and homelessness, that males who didn’t grow up with involved fathers (or father figures) are over-represented in each of those areas. Lads Need Dads was created to support young men (and their mothers) “who, through no fault of their own” are experiencing fatherlessness, she says.

The success of their program proves that deliberately and intentionally meeting the needs of boys improves outcomes. Boys develop a sense of confidence and competence. Their relationships with their mothers (and others) improve. They contribute to the community.

Emphasizing the Importance of Dads

“Getting people to recognize that this is a need — that boys can be impacted very negatively without a positive father figure,” is a tough message to sell in a society that’s focused on women’s empowerment and glosses over the need for men, Sonia says. “The thinking is that, ‘we don’t need a man to provide for us anymore.”

But dads’ value to their families — to society — goes far beyond economic provision. Boys need male influence in their lives, particularly during the adolescent years. Even if they have an involved, dedicated mom (or moms).

Advocating for Boys & Men

Despite the fact that boys & men tend to do significantly worse in schools and life than girls and women, there are few organizations focused on boys’ and men’s issues.

“There’s an apathy when it comes to men’s issues,” Sonia says. That needs to change. “Boys need to be supported and seen as the vulnerable gender that they actually are because we are currently failing them badly. If we want our boys to treat other people better, they need to know that they’re valued. We need to treat them better. They need to feel cared for and loved for who they are, not just because they’re going to come into contact with girls and therefore they should be better behaved. Let’s help our young men for the sake of themselves – not just because of how they may impact females.

In this episode, Janet, & Sonia discuss:
  • How fatherlessness affects boys
  • Helps moms accept boys’ need to experience risk
  • The importance of male connection and mentorship for boys
  • Protective factors that can help boys thrive despite father absence
  • The Men & Boys Coalition
  • Increasing boys’ emotional intelligence
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:

Tips for Single Moms Raising Boys — BuildingBoys post

Here’s How to Motivate Teenage Boys: Encourage Risk-TakingYour Teen article by Jen

Men & Boys Coalition

Dads Matter (w Marion Hill) — ON BOYS episode

Dads, Boys, & Masculinity — ON BOYS episode

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