The boys are not all right; and why they need gentleness and stability to thrive

  • Family
  • Friday, 08 Dec 2023

Duffy argues that boys need our help in discovering who they are and how they fit in this world. — TNS

John Duffy wrote his new book with a hopeful, broken heart.

Rescuing Our Sons: 8 Solutions to Our Crisis of Disaffected Teen Boys is a plea for action based on Duffy’s 25 years as a family therapist, based on thousands of conversations, based on what he witnesses in boys’ eyes when they see and feel their own worth – and what he witnesses when they don’t.

“The lights are going out fast for boys,” Duffy told me. “It’s important to recognise that and repair that and try to put a halt to that.”

The book was scheduled to be released in fall 2024, but Duffy and his publisher decided to fast-track it. It was released on Dec 5.

“I suspect there are very few of us who understand the depth, breadth, and degree of the crisis boys are going through,” Duffy writes. “They need our help in discovering who they are and how they fit in this world. They need our gentleness amidst the harshness that makes up so much of their lives.

“They need our absolute and unconditional positive regard so that they can see the beauty and character and strength they carry within them,” he continues. “They need us to lead a paradigm shift in the way we look at them, and certainly in the way they look at themselves.”

I approached this book already believing in Duffy’s work. I read and recommended his first two books, The Available Parent and Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxiety. We used to co-host a podcast together. I trust his hopeful, broken heart.

I finished this book wanting to text everyone I know to go secure a copy.

The book is based on thousands of conversations in Duffy's 25 years of work. — HandoutThe book is based on thousands of conversations in Duffy's 25 years of work. — Handout

Hurting boys

“Sometimes, hurting boys and men turn their self-loathing, hopelessness, loneliness, and lack of a sense of belonging inward,” Duffy writes. “But far more often, boys and young men cause harm to themselves, sometimes overtly, and at other times quite covertly."

Six boys Duffy works with have had friends attempt or complete suicide since the current school year began. Six.

“But they also turn this angst outward toward the world,” Duffy writes. “Lacking the full vocabulary and set of tools to find the help to heal and become emotionally healthy, they turn outward with the limited tools they have. The result of their anger and hurt may make headlines, or it may seethe quietly, almost certainly going on to infect another generation.”

And they’re not sure, Duffy writes, they deserve to feel better.

“They are hearing a couple of clear messages from the culture at large,” Duffy writes. “The first is that this is not their time. The idea here is that men have held nearly the entirety of the cultural focus forever, and it is now time for girls and women to shine. And honestly, most of the young guys I work with understand this notion, and by and large, they support this idea. But along with that support for their female counterparts, boys are understandably confused about what their role now ought to be. Do they remain on the sidelines? Do they march in support? Should they just shut up?”

It might be tempting, especially if you are raising daughters, to receive this book as an indictment of the strides girls have made in recent decades – or a dismissal of the challenges they still face. Resist that temptation.

“Make no mistake,” Duffy writes. “Teenage girls and young women suffer and struggle mentally and emotionally every bit as much as boys and young men.”

Perfectionism, ludicrous beauty standards, online hate, the threat of sexual violence, social, emotional and academic stressors. Duffy sees and treats those issues weekly.

'Shine bright'

“To my thinking,” he writes, “if women win and are successful, and all of their strength and brilliance is absorbed by our society and utilised for the good that it brings, not only are women winning, but we are all winning. The world is a better place.

“But from the chair in my office,” he continues, “I can see that if we declare winners and losers, then we will usher in a whole set of new problems, even if some of the old problems are resolved. Women and men, girls and boys, all need a seat at the table in order for our society to work the way it needs to. We don’t have to dim one light to brighten another. They can all shine bright.”

Importantly, this book doesn’t stop at pointing out the crisis in our midst. Duffy spends equal time on solutions, including a jam-packed resource guide filled with sites, seminars, apps and experts to help boys with everything from finances to physical health to job searches to internet safety.

He also doubles down on gentle, consistent nudges toward grace and empathy.

“Listen more than you speak,” Duffy writes. “Use emotional language when you talk with your boys. Encourage them to keep an open mind by doing so yourself. Hug them frequently. Show them your unconditional positive regard for them on the most trying day. Bring gentleness, quiet, and stability into their loud, harsh, unpredictable world.”

They’re shaped by that world, after all, and they’re shaping it. And it’s on us to help them remember how much the world needs and wants their full, whole, healthy, complicated, beautiful selves around. – Tribune News Service

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