Moving into manhood
Adolescence has always been a tricky time, for both the young person and for their parents or care-givers. This short article focuses particularly on boys and men, and reflects the view that adolescence often extends beyond the teenage years and is about transition rather than age.
Young men sometimes seek counselling when they find life difficult in their late teens or early twenties. They may have been stuck in some way, or feeling anxious or depressed. Work, studies, relationships or home life may not have been working out as they had hoped. Some, but not all, are still living at home with mum and dad, or possibly just mum. What links them is that they are each negotiating the choppy waters between boyhood at home and manhood out in the world.
The transition from boy to man has perhaps always been different for each generation – the worlds that the parents moved between were very different from the ones their children experience. And yet the process has received relatively little attention, and parents have to get on with it as best they can. This is either based on how it was for them, or simply a process of leaving it to happen and hoping it works out.
Hopefully that works for many families, but unfortunately sometimes it doesn’t. The patterns and assumptions of childhood are not easy to let go of, for both child and parent. Both need to engage in the process of letting go of each other, and of finding new ways of relating that will serve them appropriately as adults.
It may not be any harder for boys than for girls, it is just different. And it is different for them with their fathers and with their mothers. Even where ‘modern’ dads feel more able to speak about and support their sons emotionally, they may not have had that with their own dad, so it is new territory. And mums had their own, different experience of the transition, which may or may not help them to work out how to be with their sons. Both may fear ‘losing’ their lovely little boy.
It is unlikely that there some sort of prescribed therapeutic approach for supporting adolescent men of whatever age. We need to listen to what is going on for each individual, and do what we can to help them find a path through that works for them and their parents and care-givers. Hopefully this will involve discovering and building new and sustainable adult-to-adult relationships.
Young people, and young men in particular, need to be encouraged not to see the potentially lengthy period of ‘adolescence’ as something they are supposed to muddle through on their own and in isolation. Parents can have a proactive role in it all, just as they did when their boys were infants or at school. Just because a young man is in his twenties, it may not be helpful to assume that he has somehow ‘got there’!
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