Social commentator, Celia Lashlie, is deeply concerned that so many teenage boys go off the rails and end up not fulfilling their potential, in trouble with the law, in prison or worse still killed in car accidents or committing suicide. She uses the image of the bridge of adolescence which leads to manhood and urges mothers to get off the bridge and fathers to get on the bridge with their sons. School principals and parents have told her that it is usually mothers who come to the school to complain about the treatment of their sons, and even if the father is present it is the mother who does the talking.
Once I started reading He'll be Okay: growing gorgeous boys into good men I found it difficult to put it down. This has been the experience of other people I know who have been reading it - both parents and grandparents! This remarkable book is based on the author's experience bringing up her own son as a sole parent and more recently talking to hundreds of boys, teachers and parents at twenty five boys' single-sex schools throughout New Zealand. That is one explanation for the immediacy of its impact.
Another reason for its strength is the author's background and her keen desire to see people fulfilling their potential rather than being killed in a speeding car or spending long years in prison. As the first female warder in a men's prison in New Zealand she saw the suffering and frustration caused for the prisoners and their families. As manager of the Christchurch Women's Prison she worked to awaken among the general public increased awareness of the difficult lives and problems which had brought women to the point of committing crime.
Now as a social justice advocate she has been asked by the principals of the boys' schools to talk with boys and often their parents, and throw some light on the problems occurring in what she calls "the dangerous years" and share her ideas on how boys could "cross the bridge of adolescence" with fewer traumas and come off the bridge ready to develop into good men.
Celia Lashlie outlines the common characteristics of teenage boys which mothers in particular find it difficult to come to terms with.
In the second year at secondary school most of the boys turn into what she describes as "a monosyllabic grunter". Mothers think that their boys have grown up and talk to them as to adults but they are not yet grown up and are going through what she describes as "the most dangerous year". They are very self-absorbed at this time and everything they choose to say or do is selected because they see it as to their advantage. It is a crucial time to impose restrictions on their freedom, and they are very ready to declare that other parents allow their sons more freedom. Lashlie recommends that parents confer with each other about what freedom the boys should be given, especially with regard to parties and the time they are expected to be home.
At this stage the opinions and approval of their peers are all-important to boys, and the views of teachers and parents are given a low rating. If their peers want them to take drugs or drive dangerously fast that is likely to be what they will do - and they are not mature enough to consider the consequences. Many have not had practice in making decisions, but have been cosseted up to this point.
Lashlie believes that middle class parents in particular are bringing their children up in such a protected environment that they have no experience of decision making until they are behind the wheel of the car being urged by their peers to drive really fast. This has led to a number of horrific crashes where the driver and the passengers have died.
She asks whether mothers still make their sons lunches to take to school even when they are at secondary school and urges them to stop so that the boys experience decision making - to get up in time to make a lunch or to spend all their allowance on lunches and run out of funds.
The issue of getting up in the morning and of keeping their rooms tidy is a common cause of argument with mothers. Boys are pragmatic in their approach to using their time. Tidying away things they may want later - even weeks later - is regarded as a waste of time.
Similarly they see no point in starting a project or essay until the night before it has to be handed in. It might not be needed - the assignment might be cancelled or there might even be an earthquake!
The attitude of girls to assignments is in strong contrast. They begin early and they present their ideas neatly and pay attention to layout whereas the boys see no shame in messy writing.
Lashlie inserts boys' comments in dark type in the sides of pages where new topics are being discussed. Reading these should stimulate even reluctant readers to read the whole text.
In discussing relationships with chicks (girls) and contrasting their attitudes with girls' views -
"Girls are always wanting you to commit. Boys like to live in the moment." (p. 54)
When asked to comment on their attitude to grief and comparing their reactions to those of girls and women -
"We do feel emotions deeply, but we actually don't need to always be talking about it." (p. 64)
In defending procrastination about planning for life -
"Do you think you'll ever have a life plan?" "No." "So how will your life sort itself out?" "Oh that's easy. I'll be about 25 and some gorgeous-looking chick will walk past. She'll have a great plan, so I'll just hook onto her." (p. 55)
"The job you want mightn't be there when you've finished studying, so it's best not to think too far ahead." (p. 62)
In explaining their monosyllabic communication with their mothers in particular -
"If you tell your mum something voluntarily, she'll just ask a whole lot of questions. It's rude to say "Enough", so it's best just not to talk at all." (p.156)
This book will make readers smile and recognise issues in their own lives, but above all it should make both women and men evaluate their attitudes to parenting and hopefully improve the lives of the gorgeous boys and their relationships with their parents.
He'll Be Okay - Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men is published
Among NZine readers there will be people from different backgrounds and cultures. Do share with us your experiences of different attitudes to adolescence and some of your reactions to that time in your life. If you join NZine now you can add your views to the forum