One of the best ways to help your son find purpose is to connect him to male mentors who can both model and guide him towards mature and healthy manhood.
The Purpose Void
In his book The Boy Crisis Warren Farrell argues that one of the reasons male suicide rates are so high in the developed world (often 4 times higher than for women) is because men have become disconnected from their sense of purpose in the world. After World War II the purpose of women expanded to include having a job, being a stay at home parent, or a combination of both. In contrast boys purpose narrowed from being either a warrior or provider, to only being a financial provider.
This has put tremendous pressure on men to make money. When they feel they cannot be successful financially they often become hopeless and suicidal. In my work as a counsellor so many young men I work with become suicidal when they feel they feel like a failure in school. They know that if they don’t get good marks they won’t get a good job and to them that is everything.
It’s more important now than ever to help connect boys to male mentors. These mentors can show them different pathways towards health manhood including potentially being a full time dad. If you see your son struggling one way you can help him is by identifying and connecting him to men in his life who can serve this function.
Boys Need male mentors to find purpose
From the dawn of time men have been molded and shaped not just by their fathers but by other men in the community. Every culture on earth has developed it’s own unique rites of passage. These rituals challenged boys to take on the responsibility and privilege of manhood in the community. The need for male mentors is the rationale behind the highly successful non-profit organizations Big Brothers (and sisters) and Boy Scouts (and girl guides). It’s essential that your boys feel connected and loved by their parents, but they can’t do it alone!
If your son has male mentors in the form of coaches, teachers, and community leaders then he is especially lucky. I know that I wouldn’t be who I was today without male role models who helped give me guidance and an example to follow at crucial periods of my adolescence. Whether or not your son has an “official mentor” he is most likely already mimicking the males who he looks up to.
Boys Copy Men They Admire
I remember my youth leader was someone who I truly wanted to be like. He was so cool, funny, athletic and, most importantly, I felt he really cared about me. Whether or not you provide your son with male mentors he will look for and emulate men that he admires, for better or worse. This is why boys who don’t have engaged male role models in their life are vulnerable to being recruited by gangs.
In addition to a sense of camaraderie, and purpose the gang also provides them with a strong male leader. Men who appear successful and strong can easily influence your son if there is an absence of adult male presence in his life. Take a moment to reflect on the following questions. Who are your son’s male role models? Who does he look up to and try to emulate?
It’s Not too Late
If your son doesn’t have any mature men he looks up to and is connected with don’t worry. You can intentionally identify and connect your son with male mentors. These mentors can help guide him through the challenging time of adolescence. While mentors are important, no mentor can replace a boys father. The amount of time fathers spend with their sons has a huge impact on their well-being and development.
Read Fathers Matter to Their Son’s to learn more about the importance of father involvement for boys. If your son isn’t connected to his dad or step-dad focus rebuilding this relationship before looking for other mentors. If this is not possible, move on to the next step of looking for people who be a father figure to him. The following steps take inspiration from a year-long rites of passage program called “Here I Am” from Michael Gurian’s Book The Purpose of Boys.
Step 1 – Identify Potential Male Mentors
Come up with an exhaustive list of all the men in your son’s life who aren’t his dad. These could be uncle’s, grandparents, coaches, youth pastors, adult brothers and family friends. Collaborate with your son to come up with this list. Next, choose the top three people that he would like to be mentored by in order of priority. These should be men he looks up to and wants to be like.
Step 2 – Reach Out to the Mentors
Starting with his top pick. Ask them if they would be willing to commit to meeting with your son every week for at least 5 weeks. During these meetings they should engage in activities your son enjoys. They should also have conversations about life and what being a man means to them and to your son. Once you have commitment from one move on to the next step.
Step 3 – Plan the Meetings
Have a meeting with the mentor and your son and plan out when they will meet and what they will do. Remember that the mere presence of other supportive adult males in his life will be beneficial. It’s not as important what they’re doing as it is that they’re connecting and building relationships. Meeting at the same day and time is best to build routine and predictability. They should meet for at least 2 hours per week for the next 5 weeks.
Look for mentors for different stages
As your son develops and matures he will go through different season and have different mentors. Look for opportunities to connect him with mentors at various life stages to meet various needs. Is he interested in a particular career? Investigate your social networks for men or women in that industry who would be willing to speak with him about their experiences.
If he isn’t doing well in school try to connect him with mentors whether online or in real life who have had success through other avenues. Above all show him that you value him for him, and not what he accomplishes. This will help him to have hope even if he’s feeling a bit lost or unsuccessful along the way. It’s the relationships he has with you and other mentors who care about him that will make all the difference.
Who have been mentors and role models to you during your adolescence? Feel free to leave a question or comment below.