Love the skin in which you live
While I could just bore you with a lot of statistics (and I will later in this post) to support my contention that boys should be part of the discussion on issues affecting our youth (and yes, adults) such as low self-esteem, poor body self-image and depression I will start with an anecdotal story.
My two children are both great kids and for the most part well-adjusted. My daughter Daniela exudes confidence and at this point I don’t see any issues with he self esteem. Yes, her teen years are ahead and that may change but for now there are no red flags, at least ones I have witnessed. My son Drake, who at 11 is two years older than his sister, is a different story at times. While he is happy much of the time he does have episodes which make me raise a parental eyebrow and wonder about what is going on inside his young brain.
Recently, Drake has taken to expressing that he is “fat”. Anyone who knows my son knows that this could not be further from the truth. Drake openly admits he is the lightest kid in his Grade 5 class. He is extremely active. Drake practices with his school track team twice a day and skates up to six times per week during the hockey season and once or twice a week in the off-season. He is a model of fitness as a pre-adolescent yet he suffers from a below average image of his own body.
This is becoming a more common belief among young boys. Just like young women are bombarded by images of the “perfect” female form boys are equally served a healthy dose of “ripped” men in movies, television and other forms of media. The difference in my opinion? The push-back on the portrayal of the Victoria Secret type model is clearly evident throughout the mainstream media. Campaigns such as Dove’s Self Esteem Project or the move this year by Sports Illustrated to include plus size model Ashley Graham as one of the magazine’s cover models for the annual swimsuit issue are laudable indeed. The issue I have is not with this push to make young women more comfortable in their own skin but the lack of any move to include boys/men in the discussion and to make them recognize that a healthy body doesn’t always come with a six-pack and 20-inch pythons. The discussion of body self-image, like many issues that seemingly effect both girls and boys more or less equally, seems to be gender-focused on young girls.
Caroline Knorr who is the Senior Parenting Editor for Common Sense Media recognized that boys were having issues with loving their bodies just as much as their female counterparts. Her recent article cited evidence that indicates that 30-35% of boys age 6 to 8 “indicate their ideal body is thinner than their current body”. Those numbers should set off alarm bells but that does not appear to be the case in society. (to read the article click on the following link Boys and body image ).
A cry for help?
Some people may not be buying into my belief that boys are just as much risk as young girls when it comes to some of the issues with which our youth seem to struggle. However, the proof is right there in black and white for all of us to see (I warned you, here comes the boring statistical part!). Statistics indicate that suicide is the third leading cause of death among males age 10 to 24 in our country. Further, in 2012 in Canada, 398 males in the same age groups listed above took their own lives versus 154 females. While the female rate of suicide among 15 to 19 year-olds has remained virtually flat between 2008 and 2012 (68 vs. 67) the rate among the same group of males has risen over 14% over the same period (140 vs. 160). This screams out loud and clear that there are many issues with our young boys. The question is, why does nobody seem to care?
The Lost Boys – a disenfranchised generation of young men
When looking deeper into this topic I believe that society can set its sites on many factors which are contributing to our failing of our young boys but I will train my figurative howitzer directly on our school system.
Michael Thompson, who is a noted expert on the emotional well-being of boys and the author of the book Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys has shed light on the issue which he believes is a crisis in the western world. Thompson speaks to how we (yes, we) are failing our young boys and he makes no issue with calling out our educators for being at the front of the line on the list of those leading the way in dropping the ball when it comes to raising our young men. I consider Raising Cain a must read for any parent raising a young boy. When I read this book a lot of memories/emotions regarding school began rushing back.
Again, like many other issues affecting young boys the crisis of how boys are not being engaged by our educators is very apparent. Think about the fact that post-secondary institutions in the United States are struggling to maintain a 60/40 female:male split. Look at the shocking statistics related to the male drop-out rate in our high schools (36 per cent of boys who start Grade 9 in New York City will not graduate high school). Focus on the statistics that indicate that in most western countries that 70 percent of the top students in our schools are girls and 70 per cent of the bottom students are boys and it becomes apparent that we have a crisis on our hands.
As many experts on the subject of boys well-being believe, we can either ignore these obvious issues or choose to address them in a meaningful manner. If we choose the former, it will come with significant consequences for all of society in the very near future.