Talking to Tween & Teen Boys

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Jonathon Reed has a lot of experience talking to tween & teen boys. 

As a program manager with NextGenMen, a Canadian organization dedicated to changing how the world sees, acts and thinks about masculinity, Reed frequently works with boys in grades 6-8. He says that while boys today are more comfortable wearing pink than they were a generation or so ago, they still face pressure to think and act in certain ways.

“There’s a lot of ‘boys don’t cry,'” Reed says. “There’s still pressure to get girls or be in a relationship.”

Gender Narratives Are Shifting 

Societal expectations of boys & men are shifting. Consider Iron Man, the superhero. Traditionally, male superheros are supposed to super strong and invulnerable. Iron Man, of course, is strong, but in the Avengers movies, he’s shown as struggling with some anxiety and PTSD symptoms due to the “scary stuff he had experienced while defending New York City,” Reed says.

These shifting narratives are part of why it’s so important for adults to listen to boys. Our interpretation and understanding of situations and interactions doesn’t necessarily reflect boys’ complex experiences, and neither does our language or approach.

“We’ve got to look to them as the leaders in this conversation,” Reed says.

School Stress Affects Many Boys

Tween and teen boys may seem like they don’t care about school, but many are struggling with academic stress and school-related pressure.

“The stress related to academics still looms really large in the lives of young people,” Reed says. We can help boys by reassuring them and reminding them, over and over, that grades and school performance are not a mark of a person’s worth.

All boys need validation — perhaps, especially, the boys who are in “the middle of the pack” and aren’t getting accolades for academic or athletic performance. Let go of your preconceived expectations, and look for things to value and affirm in the boys you love and work with.

Remember, too, that boys won’t necessarily tell you about their problems. “If boys are struggling, often they’re struggling in silence,” Reed says. “There’s still a stigma against asking for help, particularly when it also means admitting a weakness or a vulnerability.”

Approach Conversations with Curiosity

Teenage boys (and all humans) tend to shut down and stop listening to people who don’t seem to be listening. By adolescence, most boys know that the world isn’t simply black or white; they’re ready to explore the grey. You’ll have better luck discussing difficult subject if you approach conversations with curiosity, Reed says.

“Curiosity lays the possibility for an impactful conversation,” he says. Then, listen. Don’t dismiss what boys are telling you; dwell on the awkwardness they share and express.

In this episode, Jen, Janet, & Jonathon discuss:
  • Gender expectations for boys
  • Learning from boys
  • What boys talk about
  • Why it’s hard for boys to ask for help
  • Using boys interests to talk about deeper topics
  • Talking to tween & teen about Andrew Tate
  • Discussing consent
  • How building up boys’ confidence increases their ability to resist peer pressure & handle rejection
  • Helping boys recognize & respect their boundaries
  • Boy culture
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:

NextGenMen website

Raising Next Gen Men — ON BOYS episode

Breaking the Boy Code — ON BOYS episode

Teen Boys Emotional Lives — ON BOYS episode

Creating Consent Culture: A Handbook for Educators, by Marcia Baczynski and Erica Scott

Boys & Sex with Peggy Orenstein — ON BOYS episode

NextGenMen’s Future of Masculinity summit — FREE event Apr. 21 & Apr. 28,2023

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