I’ve been working with teenagers for nearly twenty years, I started working in treatment centers where teens were sent when they were basically kicked out of society and were deemed to be in need of behavior corrections. As a therapist, I have never been so concerned at the mental health and behavior problems of our youth as I am now. In the last seven to eight months or so I’ve been taking on the issue of teen suicide and I have started a non-profit organization that is dedicated to reversing this troubling trend.
Statistically, our boys are in trouble. They are consistently failing in many areas. The teenagers that are failing or dropping out of school are mostly boys. Boys are far more likely to become addicted, homeless and incarcerated. Boys are also experiencing a higher level of failure to launch and I can’t tell you how many parents tell me that they are afraid that one day they are are going to have a 40 year son old living in their basement playing video games all day. They are also more than three and a half times more likely to complete suicide than girls. On a global scale, some numbers suggest that as high as 80% of completed suicides are done by males. One thing is clear, our boys are in trouble
If you have a teenage son, you may be really worried about him. I’m not going to lie, you probably should be. Trust your instincts, if your son seems like he’s struggling than he probably is. I find it discouraging that there are many narratives out there that paint males using broad strokes. Many of our boys are given the message that they are inherently bad and they feel like there is nothing that they can do to escape those labels. People tend to act how they see themselves but more on that later.
I will admit that many of our boys are acting out. I’m unhappy with a lot of their behaviors too. I see them being dishonest, mean and aggressive. I see them doing drugs, cheating in school, drinking beer that they stole from a grocery store, engaging in nasty cyber bullying and trying to coerce young girls into doing inappropriate things. I’m not happy with these things either.
A Different Approach
When I was a kid, my parents showed me an old black and white movie called “Boys Town” starring Spencer Tracy. It was a true story about Father Flanagan, a priest that saw good in boys that were acting out. I just pulled a quote from the official boys town website. He once said “There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking.” Father Flanagan saw good in boys and believed that the solution to helping troubled boys back in his day was to teach them, mentor them and support them. And I wholeheartedly agree and it troubles me that some of us believe that all boys are born bad.
As I said before, people tend to act according to how they view themselves. And kids have a tendency to view themselves in a way that is consistent with how their parents and other adults view and treat them. I learned and believed years ago that teens will often act in a way that is consistent with how I treated them. I learned that if I treated them like punks and delinquents, that’s exactly how they would act. So many kids that I have worked with have showed up acting like punks and delinquents but after a certain amount of time of treating them like respectable people, that’s exactly how they would start acting. This is a working principle in my resiliency program called mutual respect.
My resiliency program is my response to high rates of suicide. I work with kids to help them be more resilient, I teach them skills to help them be more resilient and it works. As I’ve been doing this, my concern for boys has always persisted but other people that support my resiliency program started to ask about what I thought about boys and what could be done to help them more. This was happening around the time that I was listening to a self-help book while cooking breakfast and it mentioned something about the first principle of the warrior in Hawaiian culture was to first win the battles within. And that is when I came up with The Young Warrior Project.
I have helped more boys by teaching them, supporting them, mentoring them and caring about them than I have by putting them down and I can prove this with almost twenty years of experience. The young warrior project is a therapeutic program for boys that is based on some of these principles. First, that we help our boys be better by providing them with a more supportive approach. Some people thinks that this means tolerating bad behavior or disrespect. I have never tolerated it but I prefer to approach problems of acting out and disrespect in a teaching, mentoring and respectful way. I have always gotten much more positive results by doing it this way.
As I already stated, the young warrior project is about fighting and winning inner battles. This is the main objective. Respect, self-esteem, purpose, pride; all of this is part of what boys are lacking and need to learn. Boys also connect with ideas that are connected to strength and power; they like feeling strong and powerful. Boys also band together well, they can help each other be better just as well as they can help each other do worse. The bottom line is that boys in trouble can make positive changes when they are taught, cared about and supported in positive ways.
Our boys our worth it, but frankly, they don’t feel that way these days. They feel worthless and powerless. I’m going to end this article with a request and a plea. If you care about our kids, if you care about suicide, if you are worried about the high rates of suicide among boys, please make a commitment to helping them. Make a commitment to mentor them, teach them, support them and love them. Here is my plea. Please do not tell them that they are toxic. Please don’t give them negative labels. Please don’t tell them that they are a screw up. This only makes it worse.