How Can We Help Boys Fulfill Their Dreams?

Scott Heathcote, masculinity, positive masculinity, International Men’s Day, boys development, male role models, working with boys in schools, boy crisis, inspirational male speakers, international men’s movement,

How can men make a difference for boys? Canadian man calls on Good Men Project community for advice on how to create an event for boys in his local school on International Men’s Day.

From time to time the Good Men Project is approached by people who want to know how they can make a difference for other men and boys.

One such man is Scott Heathcote from Alberta Western Canada who is planning to launch a new initiative to “promote positive masculinity” and asked for our advice.

We decided that the best way we could support Scott is to share his questions with the Good Man Project community and ask for your feedback and ideas.

2013 is certainly a big year for Scott, his wife is due to give birth to their first son in September and then by International Men’s Day (19th November) they are planning to set up a not-for-profit organization and host their first event for boys in their area.

The name of the event is “Ignite Your Passion” and is aimed at boys at a local middle school aged from nine to 14. Scott’s intention is that this launch project will inspire the boys who attend to find their passion and pursue it. He says:

“It is our hope that boys who find a passion and develop a plan to go after that passion will be more likely to graduate high school, have higher self confidence, be less likely to be involved in drugs or criminal activity and have a lower pertinacity to commit suicide.

“I know those seem like rather high expectations but from my digging around in the literature, extracurricular activities seem to have a correlation with the expected outcomes.  It makes sense to me too.  If your life has a purpose and a goal, lots of other things fall into place.”

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Scott is clearly a bold man with a big vision and has big ambitions for this event. He’s already working on a video that shows boys pursuing their dreams, overcoming setbacks and reaching their goals as adults.

This will be followed by a number of inspirational male speakers and conclude with teacher leading an exercise where the boys try to identify their passion and develop a plan to achieve it. Scott’s aim is that the whole event reflects many different aspects and expressions of masculinity.

Despite his clear and confident vision, Scott acknowledges that he has concerns about how such an event will be received and mindful that some people might seek to oppose his idea:

“It is important to me that this program remains strictly positive,” he says. “There are many opportunities to complain about the difficulties facing men but I think doing that would make a lot of people tune out and also give my detractors a foothold to attack the program.  I am also very careful to not detract from girls in any way.

“I want to involve girls primarily because I want them to hear positive messages about boys too. Girl power and the princess culture has done much to make people, boys included think girls are great, to the point that some boys despair being boys.  I want to help balance things a bit. I want the girls value guys as much as they value girls.  We hear a lot about teaching boys to respect girls, but nothing in the other direction.”

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With this in mind, Scott has three questions in particular that he’d like you to give him feedback on:

1.  This program could apply equally well to girls but there are plenty of programs for girls out there and really none for boys.  Is it better to make this event just for boys or to include girls as well? If we include girls how should we do that?

2. Boys of this age are notoriously difficult to reach (or at least that is what their teachers say). I am concerned that a bunch of speakers may not hold their attention, so how do we make sure that this program is effective?

3. I find it difficult to say anything positive about masculinity without making sweeping generalizations or saying, by default, that men are better than women. How to I extol the virtues of boy and masculinity in general without saying “boys are better than girls”?

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It’s great to hear from men like Scott who are taking on the challenge of making a difference for the next generation of men and boys. It’s also refreshing to see an emerging male leader acknowledge his fears and concerns and reach out to our community for guidance and support.

Scott told us: “When I was toying around with my opening remarks to the school I was planning on talking about the energy of boys.  How the energy that boys contain, while difficult to deal with sometimes, is the energy of innovation, of change.  Combine that with male mechanical curiosity and you have inventors and explorers.  You have men who are willing to take risks to make the world a better place.”

Scott clearly has bucket loads of energy and creativity himself and is out to create a better world for his son to grow up in. With qualities like these I hope he will take a personal risk and stand in front of the boys at the “Ignite Your Passion” event holding his new baby boy and sharing his experience of becoming a proud (and probably quite tired) new father.

I am reminded of how much my life changed in the first few weeks of becoming a dad and sharing that transition into fatherhood with a group of boys sounds like a great way to celebrate International Men’s Day.

That’s my key piece of advice to Scott and we’d love to hear your thoughts and get your answers to his three questions in the comments section below.

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—Photo credit: Flickr/samnasim

 

 

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About Glen Poole

Glen Poole is an international expert on men and boys and author of the book Equality For Men. He is Director of the consultancy Helping Men, UK co-ordinator for International Men Day and host of the National Conference for Men and Boys in Brighton and Hove. You can follow him on twitter @equality4menUK and at www.equality4men.com.

Comments

  1. Scott, there are lots of programs for boys Rites of Passage. I’ve been writing about them since 2006 at the Man-Making Blog at http://bit.ly/manmakingblog. A really great one I’ll be staffing is the YMAW or Young Men’s Adventure Weekend out of Vancouver, BC. You can learn about that one at: http://goo.gl/A3BEN

    I’ve been working in this area since the publication of my Man-Making book and I’d be happy to give you some feedback on your questions.

    1. This program could apply equally well to girls but there are plenty of programs for girls out there and really none for boys. Is it better to make this event just for boys or to include girls as well? If we include girls how should we do that?

    I have attended lots of boy (and men) programs and I can tell you that all the males involved are powerfully transformed for the better as a result. While there is certainly a place for co-ed programs, based on my experience, I’d strongly vote for male only experiences.

    2. Boys of this age are notoriously difficult to reach (or at least that is what their teachers say). I am concerned that a bunch of speakers may not hold their attention, so how do we make sure that this program is effective?

    While I’m not exactly sure of what “this program” entails, it’s a no-brainer that especially boys will have a very hard time with “sit and listen” programming. Given their body chemistry, especially boys approaching teen years need to be active, challenged, physical, and if possible, in the company of men. Men do a good job of containing and directing young guys energy. I have been on weekends, in male activity groups with young males, and sat in many a supportive circle with young and teen boys. I can assure you that if they feel safe, there is little problem “reaching” them. On the contrary, they are willing and able to speak their truth, share what they are feeling, and listen BIG to their peers and older males in the group. I’m not sure where you get your data, but my experience is that young males are quite reachable . . . under the right circumstances.

    3. I find it difficult to say anything positive about masculinity without making sweeping generalizations or saying, by default, that men are better than women. How to I extol the virtues of boy and masculinity in general without saying “boys are better than girls”?

    I have a lot of difficulty just hearing this statement. The gender issue you are describing is not a zero sum game. Girls don’t have to lose or be lessened by holding up strong young males or advocating for men and boys. What your statement says to me is that YOU have some work to do on your own masculine esteem, young male literacy, and gender issues before you consider leading this work. We can lift boys and men up with out putting down women and girls, and vica versa. If that is not what you stand for get out of this business.

    If you want to talk more about this, learn about model programs, see boy literate videos, and more, I’d be happy to talk with you. I honor the fact that you are motivated to make a world that will help support and grow your son in to a very good man. Just do some homework before you head out.

    • I agree with Earl, particularly number 3. I agree with his first two comments, but the third highlights that when we are challenging others to challenge their beliefs, their limitations and explore the world differently, we have to fundamentally do that ourselves FIRST. If you didn’t have lingering beliefs that men are in some way superior, it wouldn’t come out that way. Rathe then just knowing the appropriate thing to say is they are equal, work needs to be done so this is your belief and intuitive, and your work will reflect that. However, we are all on this journey together, this is not unique to you or in any way meant to reflect anything negative, but this is a critical part of our work as men :)

  2. 1. This program could apply equally well to girls but there are plenty of programs for girls out there and really none for boys. Is it better to make this event just for boys or to include girls as well? If we include girls how should we do that?
    With this being a somewhat new project (and even at the risk of it being called bad/irresponsible or whatever simply because it doesn’t include girls/women) I’d go for a male only approach. I think one big problem you point out when you, ” I want to help balance things a bit. I want the girls value guys as much as they value girls. We hear a lot about teaching boys to respect girls, but nothing in the other direction.” could be addressed by giving boys/men their own space to work out things like what is respect to them. If they don’t understand and respect themselves how can they expect others to understand and respect them?

    I think at this stage bringing girls/women into the mix runs the risk of turning a well intended event into yet another, “This is what we have to do in order to respect girls/women.” Not that there is anything wrong with that, but frankly there are far too many of those spaces already.

    2. Boys of this age are notoriously difficult to reach (or at least that is what their teachers say). I am concerned that a bunch of speakers may not hold their attention, so how do we make sure that this program is effective?
    Interact with them. Don’t just expect them to sit and listen to people talk to them for x number of hours. Give them a chance to speak. Let them know that there are people there that want to hear them and help them.

    3. I find it difficult to say anything positive about masculinity without making sweeping generalizations or saying, by default, that men are better than women. How to I extol the virtues of boy and masculinity in general without saying “boys are better than girls”?
    With exact positive examples of masculinity and the reinforcement that those examples are not exclusive to masculinity.

    Collect some stories of men who have done all sorts of great things from rescuing people, teaching, performing operations, etc…. And don’t just stick to celebrities and athletes, get some regular Joes in the mix to let them know that you don’t have to be a widely known person to perform a good act.

  3. 1. This program could apply equally well to girls but there are plenty of programs for girls out there and really none for boys. Is it better to make this event just for boys or to include girls as well? If we include girls how should we do that?

    ***International Women’s day just passed on March 8th. I would recommend looking into events that happened on that day and what the male alternative may be.

    This event should definitely be for women and girls as well. They have men in their lives, and they could participate by talking about the men they appreciate in their lives, be it a father, teacher, brother, or a friend. It would also do for women to hear positive messages on men and boys compared to a lot of the negative stuff that is often heard.

    2. Boys of this age are notoriously difficult to reach (or at least that is what their teachers say). I am concerned that a bunch of speakers may not hold their attention, so how do we make sure that this program is effective?

    ***Pick good speakers with interesting topics. What are career paths that may interest boys and showcase good men, such as male firefighters and police officers. If it was local to me, I would even offer to speak in regards to my life in a pink-collar job (social work) and the stuff I deal with on a daily basis.

    Male-dominated jobs aside, have talks about the positive side of masculinity. Everything we typically hear on men and masculinity comes from a doom-and-gloom perspective of men, as is often pushed forth by gender ideologues. Flip the script and highlight the positives (as well as maybe challenege some of the negatives that aren’t all negative).

    3. I find it difficult to say anything positive about masculinity without making sweeping generalizations or saying, by default, that men are better than women. How to I extol the virtues of boy and masculinity in general without saying “boys are better than girls”?

    ***Men are not “better” than women, though some men are better than some women at some things (and vice versa). It is not just about gender. When talking about men as a whole, of course you’re going to make sweeping generalizations, as you are with talking about any large group. If you wish to get past that, just clarify that from your perspective and your experience, men are this…. then it is a sweeping generalization that you are owning, at least.

  4. 1. Another vote for male-only. Exclusively male events are rarely well-marketed and are rarely pushed into the mainstream. Boys and men (especially boys) need more male-only space to discuss real issues.

    2. That’s not true. If anything, young people are easier to reach than adults. Adults have learned to ‘fake it’ when it comes to appearing to be swayed by an argument, while boys will call people on their bullshit if there are issues.

    3. How about focusing on the big nearly stereotypical parts of masculinity which are positive. For example, look at men’s magazines…. Bodybuilding/fitness, activities providing an adrenaline-rush, physical sports etc. are areas where men and boys both excel (relative to women, in hard stats). There’s no need to generalise, the material showing just how awesome masculinity can be is out there – and it’s not sexist or a put-down to women to glorify the plus sides of masculinity when society is largely moving to shun it.

  5. Scott Heathcote says:

    Hi everyone,

    Thank you for your comments and suggestions. I’m working on getting some really interesting speakers who are going to describe how they came to find their passion and make it a focus of their lives. At this point I have a mountain guide, a victim services co-ordinator and a paramedic (myself) lined up as speakers.

    I’m going to talk about generalized positive male attributes while recognizing that they are that they are generalizations but not spending too much time qualifying everything.

    Since excluding boys from girls only programs built resentment in the boys I’m leaning to including the girls in the program. I think it’s also good for girls to see people giving special attention to the boys. Girls need to understand that well developed men are to their best interest as these are the men they will date and eventually marry (yes a generalization).

    I’ll let the project know how it goes.

    thanks again,

    Scott

  6. 1. This program could apply equally well to girls but there are plenty of programs for girls out there and really none for boys. Is it better to make this event just for boys or to include girls as well? If we include girls how should we do that?

    Boys will be more comfortable challenging themselves and expressing themselves in meaningful ways in men’s only spaces. I find use in co-ed spaces, but if the discussion on what men and boys want, it should be a discussion with men and boys.

    2. Boys of this age are notoriously difficult to reach (or at least that is what their teachers say). I am concerned that a bunch of speakers may not hold their attention, so how do we make sure that this program is effective?

    Think outside the box, you dont need all academic presenters or social workers… get male role models from various communities for interesting round table discussions… from the hip-hop or pop culture communities, sports teams, people working in cool professions etc…or have some great life skills workshops also… men also like workshops in between big events like how to be a dj, or how to give yourself a hot shave, how to x… where not every single thing is about learning… the hot shave one is a good way to show men they are worth them doing some good self care, they deserve to treat themselves well before they go on to other challenges.

    3. I find it difficult to say anything positive about masculinity without making sweeping generalizations or saying, by default, that men are better than women. How to I extol the virtues of boy and masculinity in general without saying “boys are better than girls”?

    You need to contextualize it. Masculinity, even “mainstream” masculinity is different in different context, are you talking about canadian working class masculinity? are you talking about masculinity and frat culture, masculinity and sports in canada, masculinity and race/culture in specific contexts, toxic masculinity and violence, healthy masculinity and fatherhood in canada etc… narrowing the focus of the discussion helps because almost all things you say about masculinity as a broad concept will almost inevitably be too sweeping.

    Also as mentioned above, it does seem it would be good to also do some reflecting on why you are having trouble not saying boys are better then girls. We must all do work on challenging those core beliefs as they are not virtues we are give from society as a whole. For example… things like self care, things like compassiona nd self love are things society constructs as feminized… but they can be powerful aspects of masculinity.. something men can posativly learn from women and girls just as women and girls can learn positive traits typically seen as masculine. It shoudl be a symbiotic relationship. what helps me.. is when i discuss something that is a strength of masculinity, I try to also talk about a strength of femininity or strength of women that can compliment it and that we should include in our definitions of masculinity, and likewise, to avoid blame and shame, when talking about some negative aspects of masculinity, also mention a positive, or a negative aspects women and girls face around femininity… to show that everyone has some challenging work in moving forward, and that we are here to talk about men, but men are not the only ones needing to do work, but rather, it is just the area we are focusing on today.

    PS: men should not feel resentment that girls have girls only spaces, just as men should feel comfortable having mens only spaces, as well as co ed spaces.

    Ron Couchman
    Community Engagement manager
    White Ribbon Campaign

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