February 16, 2011

Connecting with "High-Risk" Boys

In response to my call to men to connect with the boys in their communities, I received a comment from Warren Ivey, who works for Family Service of Greater Boston. Based on his experience, working with inner-city youth, Warren suggests caution is in order for men who are considering a relationship with young men who don't have the same social, family, or economic backgrounds. Here’s what Warren says:

Men in urban areas do well to seriously consider their 'fears' of connecting with a boy who has a background very different from their own. The best way to insure a positive experience for both males and to "do no harm" to the young man is to get some training and have support. Each year, boys in gangs seem to reach new lows of depravity. Misled boys are not limited to inner-city gangs however. Even our suburban communities experience problems with groups of out-of-control young males. Gang socialization often results in high levels of stress and trauma-related experiences for the boys. In addition, many of those boys will exhibit aggressive behaviors, inappropriate social responses, and have inaccurate perceptions about the “real” world. A man might encounter a boy with substance use or gang affiliations, most often ‘handed down’ by older men who are negative role models of manhood. So, it's really important that men who feel led to make a positive connection with a boy, make cautious choices and get some training before getting involved with young males that are not from their part of town.

Last year my agency launched a pilot training curriculum to train staff of community centers, Boys and Girls clubs, YMCAs, etc. that work with boys (and girls) who live in “challenged” communities. The staff and directors/leaders of these organizations were grateful for the opportunity to add more insight to their work with the youth and to increase their knowledge about topics such as: The Me in Mentor, The Mentality of the Mentee, and Signs and Symptoms of Mentee Trauma. This is the type of background information that would really help any man who wants to work with high-risk boys.

For men who are considering making a difference in the life of a boy with very different socio-economic background than their own, and not wanting to let a boy down with another rejection or have big problems in the connection, some training is in order. Study this Man-Making Blog. Read Earl’s Man-Making book and other books and articles on troubled boys. Consider getting training and/or support from formal mentoring organizations. This is all part of a responsible plan of action. Sadly, the urban boys of our cities are in desperate need of relationships with men. But the men who can serve them the best are those who know who they are and the nature of their challenges.

For Bostonians, here is an invitation for the sake of our local boys. Contact us at Family Service of Greater Boston and we’ll help you get started in a productive mentoring relationship.

The suggestion from Warren to get training and support when working with boys whose lifestyles and backgrounds are very different from your own, is very good advice. However, taking a small risk to get involved with the boys from your family, neighborhood, or you community who you do “get” is a very good thing to do.

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  1. Austin8:37 AM

    Hey there, I wanted to make a comment on this last post. I just can't agree entirely with Warren Ivey about the necessity of training in order to be involved with boys of different backgrounds or experiences. In fact I disagree quite strongly with his claims.

    I have volunteered for several years in various capacities with boys in the prison system, in Vancouver's downtown east-side, and elsewhere. I have been privileged to befriend and mentor many young men who run in gangs, and almost all of whom come from broken homes with absentee or abusive fathers.

    I, on the other hand am from a very close-knit, loving, middle class family, with parents who are still married and happy. I have had no training whatsoever... And previous to beginning this work, I had never experienced anything of these guys lifestyles. Nevertheless, I have been privileged to develop some deep relationships with dozens of young men over the years, and seen great effects of the labors of myself and others.

    As I see it, this call to get more "training" will serve only to prevent men from stepping up to their duty of guiding and mentoring these broken boys
    Friends sometimes ask how they can get involved... And the absolute last thing I would dream of telling them is to get some training. In fact it is their very naivete that makes them a breath of fresh air to boys who are caught in cycles of addiction, violence and poverty.

    Now I have reached a point where I can understand (most of the time) where these boys are coming from. In fact it has become almost too familiar to me. There are times when I am rougher with a boy than I should be, because I am sick and tired of his shenanigans, and I just know how his type operates. I know when I'm being used so I don't let it happen. I become bitter and crusty... and then I have to stop and remember how loving I am with my own children, and how loving my father was with me. Then I can suddenly handle a bit more nonsense, and care a little more for a broken boy.

    The very fact that my upbringing is so different from the broken young man's, is what makes me of the most use to him. And it is the beauty of the life that I have learned to live that makes me the most attractive to him.

    I'm not claiming that being ignorant is preferable... But I just think a man is better off going out there and doing it (mentoring young men that is), and learning "on the job," rather than spending time getting "training".

  2. Greg Z.12:02 PM

    Just a few thoughts on this subject. I'm not sure I agree that formal "training" is a prerequisite to working with at risk boys. In my experience, in many cases simply being there over and over for them is a simple but effective way to see what makes them tick and to build the trust and respect that is necessary to form relationships with them. "Proving" to them that you have absolutely no agenda other than wanting to be there for them, really seems to create an excellent bond between the man and the boy. I guess you could call that type stuff, learning on the job. Sometimes formal "training" to me is trying to make one size fit all. I'd rather treat each child as an individual and try to learn the best ways to interact with that individual.
    Just my two cents.


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