Anxiety in Young Boys is NOT Normal
There seems to be a growing number these days of parents concerned that their young sons are worried, overly-sensitive—even fearful—of situations at home and at school. Well-adjusted six-year-olds shouldn’t have a fear of getting dressed by themselves, pitch fits when Mom and Dad go out for the evening, or cry uncontrollably over minor hurts, yet many parents whose sons have not experienced any kind of trauma (or painful experience such as an illness or death in the family) are seeing these issues (and worse) play out.
50 years ago, psychologists were rarely consulted for children unless there was a recommendation from the school. However, today, many parents of young boys are actively seeking help for their sons, and at younger and younger ages.
Why the change? What’s causing this rise in babyish behavior?
An article in Independent School Magazine by Wendy Mogel, a practicing clinical psychologist and author, explains that there are several reasons why boys are exhibiting fearful, helpless behavior, and addresses ways that parents and schools can counter this trend. “First,” she says “by understanding that helpless boys are not born, but made.”
Boys Need to Move
The article cited observations of David Lancy, author of the book, The Anthropology of Childhood Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings, who wrote: “Boys long to run errands, patrol distant fields, hunt in the bush…and if denied this opportunity, trouble awaits.”
Lancy’s book describes how the current norms of parents in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic (WEIRD) societies are denying young boys the challenges, responsibilities and opportunities for self-discovery and adventure that non-WEIRD societies provide. These new norms disrespect and often ignore a boy’s inherent need to move. In our efforts to protect our sons, we’ve actually hurt them—by boxing them in, not giving them responsibility, and teaching in ways that don’t engage their intrinsic need to touch, explore and experience.
Boys want to be helpful from a young age. Let them. At home we can give them chores and responsibilities—and trust that they can handle the job themselves without our interference. And schools can do the same. Remember being chosen to clap the erasers and clean the chalkboard, sharpen the teacher’s pencils or take out the trash? Enlightened schools find that requiring boys to do chores does more than just get them moving. It also builds confidence and resilience.
Practice Good Listening Skills
Conversing with young boys is just as important as giving them new challenges and responsibilities. However, it requires active listening skills. Staying in the background and letting them “teach” you about their interests—even if it devolves into rambling and fantasy—is healthy. Rather than controlling the conversation, give them room to run with a topic. Ask them questions and be “present” with them when they want to tell you something or show you their newest discovery or creation.
Today’s hectic lifestyle doesn’t often lend itself to this kind of focused listening, and there is no doubt that our stress is communicated to our children. But as with any skill, practice and persistence is the key to mastery. We’re already seeing the consequences of letting a busy lifestyle supersede the emotional needs of children, and any parent of grown children will tell you, “You can’t get those years back.” Making the time necessary to “be in the moment” with your young children will pay big dividends in their confidence and happiness throughout life.
Schools and Parents Can Help Reverse the Anxiety Trend
Sending your son(s) to an all-boy school with a boy-friendly curriculum can be a way of helping to meet their unique educational and emotional needs. When a school works closely with parents, a curriculum that’s centered around a boy’s needs can be an opportunity for them to “do exciting and important physical and mental work and shoulder responsibilities beyond grades and scores.”
As the Independent School Magazine article illustrates, by working together, parents and schools can embrace the needs of boys to move and explore, set goals and accomplish them, and be bold and adventurous. Anxiety in young boys is not the new normal, and we need to work together to counter it, or something precious will be lost.
At St. Augustine Prep, we believe experiential learning is a partnership that reduces anxiety and promotes dignity and resilience in our sons. For more information, contact our Dean of Enrollment Management, Mr. Steve Cappuccio. His email is: Mr.Cappuccio@hermits.com and his direct phone is 856-697-2600 x112.