Adolescent boys don’t understand that becoming a man, at its core, means stepping up and accepting responsibility. They don’t even know what that means.
Adolescents are fresh human beings. The weird feelings and changes they experience are new, they’re scary, and they’re painful. No wonder your son wants you to keep taking care of him, just as you always have. The unknown is frightening, especially if there’s no one ahead of him showing him the ropes and letting him know that what he’s feeling is normal and surmountable and that he can do it.
Despite the pitfalls, a lot of our boys make the transition to manhood without the support they need. As a consequence, more and more young men grow older without growing up. They lack the guidance of mentors to show them how to be responsible men. They don’t learn what they need to know to function in the adult world.
The situation is not unique to this generation of young men. Those perpetual adolescents I mentioned in the last chapter? There’s a good chance that, when they were teenagers, no one taught them how to be men either.
The failure of adult males to mature is more pronounced now than ever, but the problem has been building for generations. We see fathers scream at each other on the Little League diamond. We see our leaders scream at each other on the Senate floor. We’re looking at a bunch of—and this is not a clinical term—adult babies. Our world is being run by two or three generations of men who grew up without learning the skills adult men need to have. They are losing pieces of themselves and of what it means to be a man.
Our boys are the latest casualty of this phenomenon.
The change has been gradual, over decades. It started with the Industrial Revolution, picked up speed after World War II, and has continued to worsen decade by decade. The initial reason for the change was economic. Our society changed from a predominantly agrarian economy, where most people lived and worked on farms or in small communities, to an industrial economy, where more people live in cities. In the industrial economy, people tend to leave their home and family, and sometimes their hometown and support systems, to work in factories and office buildings.
Over the years, more and more men have made this move away from the farm and the shop into factories and offices to earn their living. Prior to industrialization, boys grew up working alongside their fathers, as well as their uncles, brothers, and neighbors, on the farm and in the shop. They learned how to be men by growing up with other men.
Today our boys have only each other to learn from. They don’t have the benefit of observing and interacting with other men to see what it means to be a man. They don’t see or experience how men work and relax and interact with other people. They don’t see how men handle stress and adversity and conflict. They miss the pivotal experience of learning at their father’s knee, being given tasks to accomplish, and feeling the pride and sense of responsibility boys once earned by learning and completing those tasks. That’s what “growing up” used to be.
In our present society, we find happiness in having material things rather than through accomplishing things. The transition between childhood and adulthood used to entail significant accomplishment. Both boys and girls learned to do specific tasks and accomplish things that made a difference. Once they did, they moved on to the next, bigger challenge. Growing into an adult involved learning how to be useful and how to be productive, one step at a time.
The general consensus is that without those challenges our boys have it easy. There’s talk of “entitlement” and how this generation of boys and girls feels they deserve more than they earn. But by failing to teach our boys real life skills or hold them accountable for their actions, we are not making their lives any easier—especially not in the long term. What do they gain from hiding out in the basement smoking pot and playing video games instead of having a job? They miss learning to interact with a boss, to get along with co-workers, to accomplish assigned tasks, to take criticism, to handle money. Without those skills, they will find it hard to take care of themselves and function in the adult world.
When boys don’t learn how to grow up, they simply don’t grow up. They stay stuck in adolescence.
How can you make sure this doesn’t happen to your son? What can you do to ensure your son gets what he needs, not only to grow older, but to grow up healthy, happy, and responsible?
This post is an excerpt from the book by the same name and is republished here with the permission of the author.
Photo credit: Pixabay