Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mentoring Boys to Men

"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men"
-- Frederick Douglass

The teenage years are both challenging and developmentally critical for teens as well as the adults in their lives. It is a time when boys look within to ask "who am I?" and look outside to explore "what does it mean to be a man?" Teenage boys look for role models to help them figure out what "being a man" actually means.

"Boys need good men in their lives as role models," notes Boys to Men Mentoring Network founder, Craig McClain. "They need men who care about them, will accept them for who they are and where they are. Rather than telling them to do things differently, they need men who will listen to them and just be there for them, and accept their journey--the faults, the grace and the glory."

Boys to men is an international non-profit educational organization with a local chapter here in New England, that provides boys/young men a safe place to talk about who they really are and to gain some tools to further them on their path towards becoming a mature man. Sadly, in our crazybusy culture, having the time to just be with other people becomes an increasingly rare experience. According to statistics gathered by the Boys to Men Mentoring Network, a teenage boy spends an average of 30 minutes of focused time each week with the male in his house, but 40 hours of time with video games.

"Even having a parent at home does not mean you get focused time with that parent," reflects Boys to Men New England founder, Dave Bolduc. "If a father comes home from a long day's work, if he hates his job, if he is tired, he just wants to sit in front of the TV and chill." If there is no father at home, there may be no steady male for focused time.

"Boys need a man in their lives," continues Bolduc. "They need to connect. My father never came to a ballgame of mine. I didn't hold it against him, but I wanted him to come see me and be proud of me. If parents are not aware of the moments that have emotional meaning in a boy's life, like a ballgame, and if a parent/father is too busy to take time for these key moments, the boy feels a gap and a yearning."

"Society has missed this, saying that boys will figure things out on their own," acknowledges McClain. "I have asked thousands of boys what kind of man they want to be, and no one has said 'a drug delaer,' 'a bum,' 'a wife beater,' or 'a gang member.'...(however) boys take the choices that are available to them, if they are not given another choice."

The space of mentoring has been lost in our society. When we lived in more of a village atmosphere, and even earlier in the 20th century when boys apprenticed, mentorship was present. As society evolved, mentorship got lost. Boys have a mentorship need. Adult men have a place inside where they yearn to mentor. Today, there is a void around the mentorship need and no clear place to fill the void. Boys look to each other, to television, to video games. Men are disconnected from each other.

One unique aspect of the Boys to Men program is that it is not just one man being a role model for one boy. It is a community of men and boys aged 11 to 90+ years old that allows us to return to a way of being where we are collectively raising our young. Boys (called Journeymen) and men (called Mentors) support one another in weekend trainings and in regular meetings called "J-groups" that work to build emotional intelligence.

"It is really important for men to teach boys emotional intelligence," underscores Bolduc. "Boys need to learn how to be able to show their feelings, how to put words to feelings and to be able to trust people. We as men learn how to tell the truth, to be who we are, to be vulnerable. We learn how to be healthier men, including with the women and children in our lives." And the boys get a healthy emotional role model of what it means to be a man and how men are constantly growing, evolving and healing in the journey of life.

When mentors work with teenage boys, they get a lot of healing for their own time as a teenager. Teenage years are often filled with pain, and most men don't wish to revisit that pain ever again. In the J-groups, mentors discover that their tought times as a teenager can help them provide an emotionally meaningful space for young men.

One man called it the "mentoring bone;" once awakened, there's a drive to do it. This applies both to men who have been successful fathers and to men who aren't fathers. Both want to be useful to other people, and feel a common calling and desire.

"It's in men's DNA to protect their family and be good men," reflects McClain. "Society has gotten away fromit. Families don't do it. We want school, television and the media to do it. They don't do it. So we do it and become better men ourselves."

When boys engage with authentic and vulnerable men, it catalyzes a spark of brilliance, genius and ingenuity that lives inside them. One Boys to Men leader observed that a switch goes on and even hardened boys come back to life. The boys experience an opportunity to become who they really are and not who society is telling them to be. Boys to Men can create a generation of authentic, grounded, emotionally literate men. And ultimately, this will create a different world than the one we are living in now.

In order to bring the spirit of their adult-teen mentoring work to a larger community, Boys to Men New England is organizing its first benefit concert on Sunday, April 22 from 7 - 9:30 pm at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston. The theme of the concert is "Voices of Boys and Men." A wide range of musical performers and speakers have been selected to provide the "voices."

Musical features include nationally known singer/songwriter David Roth, Rhode Island father-son duo Jesse and Jack Gauthier, cabaret singer Jay Uhler, poet/musician Remon Jourdan and award winning barbershop group Sounds of Concord. Barbershop singing provides a community experience of mentoring and music. Just like a sport, barbershop is a process where the more you learn and get coached, the more fun it is when you actually get on stage and perform. The group encourages high school music teachers to contact them for support in helping students sing at their schools. Youth barbershop group G20 will also be performing at the benefit.

A featured speaker that evening will be Kim Odom, whose son Stephen was tragically murdered three years ago at age 13 walking home from a basketball game. Hosted by Magic 106.7's Tina Gao, the centerpiece of the evening will be a film clip featured the Boys to Men program, showcasing the spirit, work and mission of Boys to Men.

For tickets to the "Voices of Boys and Men" Benefit at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston, contact Linda at LSMHEART@aol.com. To learn more about Boys to Men New England visit www.boystomennewengland.org.

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