April 21, 2017

Grief and Gifts For Boys in Schools

As the school semester winds down, in the boy's support group circles I've been in, we've begun the process of talking about endings and transitions. The end of a school year is coming on fast and in addition, some of the seniors will be leaving and never returning. We want to support the young men through the natural feelings of loss and grief that accompany any form of moving forward in life.

In a culture that doesn't offer us much training in healthy ways to deal with endings, creating a space where it's safe for young men to express sadness, and then help them give a voice to talk about their sense of loss, is really important. It helps them grow their emotional vocabulary and helps them release some of the internal pressure they feel but often can't explain. These are important skills for a young man to have in his tool kit on his journey toward manhood.

... we don't have to teach them to have feelings.
They are full of feelings!

I've written a number of Man-Making Blog posts about helping young males deal with grief and loss. My common reply when asked about boys and emotionality is that we don't have to teach them to have feelings. They are full of feelings! We have to help them find language to sort out and then describe their complex and often pressurized internal emotional experience.

As one early step in the group's transition process, we asked them to answer the question, "What will you miss about our meetings?" Many of the young guys check in saying things like, "I'll miss the brotherhood...," "This is the only place I feel really safe...," "You guys are like family to me...," and "I'm going to come back and visit this group next fall." These are powerful statements about the impact the group has had on them and the sense of loss they are beginning to feel.

In addition to helping young guys develop their emotional vocabulary, here's my list of "gifts" young guys get from being in a support group with caring men. There are many more, but this is a good start.

Ten Gifts Boys Get in Support Groups with Men
  • A safe place to speak their uncensored truth.
  • Adult male allies.
  • Support for their existing life challenges.
  • Good information about life/being a man.
  • An evolving vision of positive manhood.
  • Development of emotional vocabulary – language to describe the complex emotional experiences and feelings they are having.
  • Decompression: To un-shame, not be alone with the anger and pain. To talk about their real-time life challenges.
  • Belonging: Being a member of a good tribe, feeling included, valued, honored vs just a few “what’s up” friends. Experiencing "brotherhood."
  • A place to practice being a man - how they will show up in their lives (authenticity, accountability, responsibility, speaking directly/assertively, supporting others, and giving and receiving constructive feedback, etc.).
  • Praise and honoring from men for who they are, their courage, creativity, intelligence, playful humor, victories, and their aspirations.

A very special thanks to Boys to Men Mentoring of San Diego for this beautiful video, and to the boys from their school circles who are speaking their truth.

If this clip doesn't show up use this link.

If you are interested in launching a support group for young men in a school or church in your community, give me a shout. It's amazing the difference a few caring men can make.

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