Imagine a 12-year-old boy with a chip on his shoulder. He moves from an inner-city school in a large metropolis to a well-to-do urban school in a much smaller city.
He has been moved, for the most part, because his mom doesn’t have a clue how to control or improve his behaviour. The administration at the previous school has warned: this kid is a “high flier” – in other words, a “bad” kid.
He begins at his new school right after Christmas break. It is completely foreign to him, but he does his best to find some friends to hang out with.
He must, indeed, be a higher flier than his new peers. He knows how to be quiet, but when provoked, he displays the kind of hardened anger that shouldn’t exist in a kid so young.
After a semi-violent incident in the cloak room, the likes of which his classmates never instigate, he gets a talking-to by his classroom teacher. She’s known for being tough but fair, with no tolerance for bad behaviour.
He confesses that he’s never been in a place like this. At his old school, the boys who were really tight, really close friends, were always the “bad kids”. He has tried to find these bad kids, this niche, at his new school – and it simply doesn’t exist.
Sure, there are kids who are annoying, kids who aren’t always nice to each other, kids who goof off in class sometimes, kids who break minor rules. In some classrooms, kids occasionally say bad words; there are a few kids at the school who are known to be hitters or biters.
But his class is not bad enough. For example, they don’t tell each other to f— off. He tried that, and instead of giving him street cred, the other kids looked at him as if he were a complete weirdo. Also, they do not put their anger into action and pin each other to walls or punch each other in the face. Children with these kinds of tendencies, at this school, are subject to early and frequent intervention to teach them new ways of dealing with things.
Instead, the kids in his class do what they are expected to do, overall. They do their work. They play friendly competitive games at recess. They join in school activities and attend school events. They haves squabbles and eventually work them out.
Our jaded 12-year-old has to find a new way of functioning, if he is to remain and fit in at his new school.
[Yes, I’m referring to my own school. We’re not perfect, but we’re known for being “soft” – relatively high rates of student success, relatively low needs. Nice kids, fun to teach, for the most part. My colleagues are wonderful educators and I’m proud to work there.]
This makes me think we need to find more ways for boys to bond.
For some reason, most girls seem to have the innate ability to forge close and lasting friendships. They are natural confiders and confidants. They are proud of the bonds they form. They are comfortable with the language of best-friendhood.
What about boys? It makes total sense to me: boys want to be tight, too, and find camaraderie, brotherhood. Why shouldn’t they? Social connections are part of what makes us people. But somehow, from where I’m standing, it doesn’t seem as easy for them. It seems as if, for boys, love for your friend isn’t a good enough reason for closeness; there needs to be a social structure, an affiliation, an excuse for being tight with your boys.
Have I misinterpreted?
Team sports are the most obvious example. You’re allowed to love your teammates, right? You’re a unit, you work for common goals, the configuration of friendship is already there.
I’m pretty sure you’re allowed to love your frat brothers, too, even if your goals aren’t quite so lofty. (Or are they?)
I know a little about guy bonding from my husband. It’s definitely not the same for guys, but he has been lucky enough to have some very close, dear friends over the years.
He told me that one of the things that has always drawn him to The Lord of the Rings is the friendship between Frodo and Sam. They go through everything together, they make sacrifices for each other, their love runs deep and it’s all good. They exemplify guy bonding at its finest.
He also told me that the same thing drew him to the military, back when he was still active: camaraderie. (Well, initially I think it was more about blowing stuff up. But later, it was the camaraderie.) You slog through mud together for long enough, sleep in a hole together enough times, confront danger often enough with your fellow soldiers, and bonding is inevitable. It’s the part you miss, the reason you get nostalgic for time spent in the service – with your brothers in arms.
(Kind of ironic, considering what a soldier is trained to do.)
What happens if you’re a boy without a sport? Without a frat, or a platoon? You might start up a rock band… or you might find yourself a gang.
This incident with our young student was not the first time I have heard talk of gangs as a source of comradeship and support. If you’re lost, get found. If you don’t fit in, be fiercely loyal. If you have a bone to pick, pick it as a group. Again, it makes total sense. Scary as it is.
We all just want love.
So, what to do for the boys? How to tell them that it’s okay to love and bond with your friends? That the love is its own reason for being? You don’t need a common enemy. You don’t need an objective. It doesn’t mean you’re gay (well, unless you are – but that’s a different blog post). Go ahead and love, because that’s what life’s about.
We’re starting with our son. The message is even more powerful coming from my Hubbibi – he shows E every day that giving love is one of the best things in life. He kisses him all over and snuggles with him and wrestles and tickles and tells him he loves him – many times a day. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to witness the conversations that go like this:
E (cuddling on Daddy’s lap): I love you. Daddy, how much do you love me?
Daddy (arms out as wide as they will go): I love you THIS much! Even more than this much!
E (arms out as wide as they will go): I love you THIS much too!
And I’m hoping that in the case of this one 12-year-old student, peer pressure will work in a positive way. If his life’s trajectory shifts, even a little, from being around nice kids for a while… I consider that a success.
I’d like to leave you two songs – one sublime, and one ridiculous, but with equally great messages.
When I Was A Boy, by Dar Williams – so beautiful and perfect, it makes me cry every time. In a good way.
Guy Love, from Scrubs – Frodo and Sam for the TV generation.