April 29, 2011

That Clumsy Teen Brain

Do you remember being clumsy as a teen? When you were growing so fast you didn't know what your various body parts were going to look like this week. Then there was the additional challenge of trying to get them to all move in the right direction together at the same time.

In the Man-Making book, Steve, a man now in his forty's described what it was like to endure the painful experience of adolescent clumsiness:
When I began 9th grade in September of 1962 I was 5'6" tall and weighed less than 100 pounds. By the June graduation from junior high school, I had grown to 6'1", weighing only fifteen pounds more. I recall walking into English class one day, and for no discernible reason, I just fell over. No one pushed me, I did not trip on something, as best as I can recall, I just fell over.

I apparently collapsed under the weight of my growing bones. As I lay on the floor trying to disentangle myself from my own limbs, I could hear my classmates and teacher howl in laughter. Tears burned my eyes as I righted myself and slunk toward the way-to-small desk in the last row. It was a year full of pain and embarrassment.
The title of an article in a recent issue of the NY Times, Health section asks, Are Gawky Adolescents More Injury Prone? Parents of teens everywhere have felt the correct answer is a resounding yes, but it turns out that notion has been hard to prove... until now.

The Times article quotes research from The British Journal of Sports Medicine claiming that the teenage awkward phase is not just about hormones and the growing and changing body, but also that under-developed teen brain. Researchers studied the complex responses and many different parts of the brain involved as adolescents and adults manage and position their bodies. Apparently, while we adults have the luxury of relying on, "the more sophisticated cortical regions of the brain to direct and integrate movements . . .," the parts of the brain that control body movements through space are not yet fully formed for teens.

So the research is in! Tripping over your feet as a teen is pretty normal! The Times article even offers up a test you can try with your teen to see if they've hit that, "gawky phase."

If you have an awkward teen at home, you can now, with science behind you, assure them that they will indeed pass through these trying times and eventually get control of themselves. In the meantime however, they should be a little careful!

Do you have a story about a moment in time when you felt physically "gawky," uncoordinated, or mad at your growing/changing body. Send it along or put it in the comments section of this post.

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April 25, 2011

Boys, Bulldogs, and Never Surrender!

Guest Blogger, Tim Wernette, is a Gender Equity Educational Specialist with the University of Arizona. He speaks most often to high school audiences in the hopes of changing the destructive aspects of gender stereotypes overlaid on young boys and girls these days. Here he tells how he was deeply moved at one High School assembly.

Earl, I want to share a powerful experience I recently had at Kingman High School in north-western Arizona. I think it will be relevant to the readers of your Man-Making Blog.

I had been invited to participate in a morning school assembly program for 500 students. The program addressed a variety of violence issues. My presentation on sexual harassment prevention was first. It was followed by a police officer and a District Attorney discussing legal aspects of domestic violence/sexual assault, and the cycle of violence (honeymoon, tension, violence, honeymoon...) in relationships. After that presentation a young woman in her 30's spoke about surviving a violent relationship and her sister being killed by her abusive husband (who then committed suicide). Finally, a young woman who survived an abusive relationship sang songs about her experience of abuse. It was an amazing program and I was quite moved by all the stories.

At the end of the program all of the presenters came back on stage and answered questions from the students. As the event was coming to a close, I requested some time to end with a few comments. I told the students I wanted to share something very personal with them, and waited until they were quiet.

I told them I sat in the back of the auditorium and cried when I listened to the woman talk about losing her sister to domestic violence. I told them how incredibly sad/broken-hearted and angry I am that there is so much violence in our society. I said I feel it’s tragic that as a country, we imprison more people than any other country. I explained I was angry our country spends more money on our military and wars than the next 8-10 similarly sized countries combined. I said it embarrasses me to live in one of the most violent, gun-toting countries in the world, and that we are surrounded by so much violence of all kinds we almost take it for granted.

"No Fear" and "Never Surrender."

I challenged them to think about the gender stereotyping that encourages young men to be aggressive, controlling, and violent, while encouraging young women to be sexy, passive and to accept abusive relationships. I shared with them my reaction to the back of a student's t-shirt I had seen that morning in the school with the school’s mascot the bulldog and the words, "Bulldog's Laws,” "No Fear" and "Never Surrender." I asked the students to think about what that teaches boys and young men about being a man.

I told them that I had never met Amy's brother-in-law (who killed her sister and committed suicide), but in a way, I knew him well. Like so many boys and men who have been taught to be tough and never express feelings or appear vulnerable, beneath his anger and violence was a scared little boy who feared losing his wife (she had filed for divorce), and was scared about how to live without her, yet had no way to communicate what he felt. I told them that all of us, boys and girls, women and men, are victims of these gender stereotypes. I invited them to examine the impact of these stereotypes on their lives and perhaps reconsider what kind of woman and man they wanted to become.

In that assembly, I hope I was able to give permission to boys and girls to express the full range of who they are as people. The challenge of  combating the powerful influences of gender stereotypes has to be everyone's work. We’ve lost enough young people to violence in all forms.

You can respond to Tim by email at timwernette@msn.com.

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April 20, 2011

Follow Me Boys

Guest blogger Rick Livingood has sent along this review of the film Follow Me Boys as a suggestion for any man who wants to "lead and influence boys."

Follow Me Boys - This Disney movie from the early 70's tells the story of a former band member's transition to small town living. When he takes a job in a rural village, he finds the boys in the community have no organized program to keep them out of trouble. During a town meeting to discuss the problem, he suggests scouting and takes on the post of Boy Scout leader. The movie then follows the events that shape the young men (in particular the influence of their scout leader on them). Full of typical Disney storyline, the movie does provide a great overview of the influence on kids, by adults who care.

Fred MacMurray portrays Lemmuel Siddens, a local salesman who marries his girlfriend. The couple soon find out they cannot have their own children. Lemmuel and Vita adopt the "scouts" as their kids. The years of Lemmuel's scout mastering have a huge impact on the "boys".

Follow Me Boys is good old Disney at its finest, with a great story of a man's heart-felt love of the boys...and the long-term shaping of their character. This could easily become a favorite of every man who aspires to lead and influence boys.

Follow Me Boys, released on DVD in 2004, starring Fred MacMurray, Vera Miles, and Kurt Russell (a young Kurt, for sure). You can order Follow Me Boys from Amazon at this link.

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April 17, 2011

Sir Dude!

I've been traveling a lot these last few weeks, but am back and posting again. On my travels I had occasion to speak to a great group of men in Carson City, Nevada where they are in the early stages of forming a group mentoring / activity based organization called Str8 Street. It's an operation which, in addition to developing strong boys, intends to minimize the call to the gangs in their community. I'll post more about Str8 Street down the road.

In my presentation we had young guys as young as 12 up to Elders in their 70's. I you know me you know I love being in a room with a multi-generational male tribe. During my presentation, I address one very young man as "dude" when asking him a question. It was amazing to me that this young guy had to courage to speak up in a room full of his elders, and I made sure he got a round of applause for being seen and heard. After the program I got an email from an older man who felt that "sir" might have been a more respectful way to address the boy.

I do like that term "Sir." Originating in the days of Knighthood, and still awarded as a title of honor in England, it certainly is an elevating expression. Yet I believe in some circles, like the work "man" so many adolescent males use to address each other, "dude" is a way of saying, "I see the man in you." It is an honoring expression.

After a few exchanges, it turned out that the man who sent me the email had been an Eagle Scout, and later in his life attended the U. S. Naval Academy. Both of those experiences are powerful forces for instilling a strong sense of respect for others.

Personally, after this "wake up call," I'm thinking I'm just going to pay more attention to the word "Sir," in my vocabulary when addressing males of any age. As I've gotten older, I'm hearing it pointed at me more often and liking it. Can't imagine other men wouldn't also.

Then there is always Sir Dude!

What do you think?

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