What our boys are really thinking

The Man Cave works with boys and young men to embrace a healthy masculinity. In Term Three, deep in lockdown, they asked 500 boys a few questions about their lives. The results, detailed here by The Man Cave's Matt Defina, are a must-read for any parent and educator.

What are boys really thinking right now?

We asked them.

In Term Three, we delivered our online workshop to almost 500 boys across five regional and metropolitan Victorian schools. At the end of the workshop, we asked them a few questions, and they didn’t hold back with their answers! We’re now sharing their answers with you because we see ourselves as the conduit between worlds – from their world as boys and our world as adults and educators.

The results below are from boys in Year 7 (34 per cent), Year 8 (44 per cent), Year 9 (19 per cent) and Year 10 (3 per cent). Boys were able to respond openly to each of the questions and our team categorised their answers into similar themes/categories. All responses were anonymous and are securely stored with us.

What do you want adults to know right now is hard for you?

Boys want adults to know they’re struggling in three key areas: 

  • School pressure, homework and learning (24 per cent)
  • Being isolated from their mates and family (19 per cent)
  • Their personal mental health and wellbeing (16 per cent)

This won’t surprise you and it didn’t surprise us either. However, their actual responses to this question provide a real insight into their experience right now. Here’s what a few of them said: 

  • ‘Being able to keep up with all the school work at home’
  • ‘How hard and stressful online school is’
  • ‘I don’t know if I’m ready to take on my responsibilities growing up’
  • ‘Performing to their standards’

It’s heartbreaking to read but it shows us that behind the mask, many of them are are really struggling (59 per cent to be exact). We’ve heard these same themes from the boys during our programs as well, which is why one of the key outcomes of our online programs was to create a space for the boys to have fun and connect.

Even if I look like I'm enjoying my life, that sometimes I'm not.

On the positive side of things, 41 per cent of the boys told us there was either ‘nothing’ they needed adults to know right now or that they were doing completely fine.

What do you want adults to chill about?

The boys really didn’t hold back with their answers on this one!

This time, four really distinct themes emerged from their answers. They want adults to chill about: 

  • Expectations, rules and being treated like babies (32 per cent 
  • Schoolwork, study, tests and grades (24 per cent 
  • Gaming, devices and screen time (15 per cent)

Overwhelmingly, the boys told us they wanted adults to chill about the expectations adults place on them, both at school and in their personal lives. Most of the boys made comments about the expectations their parents place on them, which gives us an insight into the pressure boys are feeling about study and performance while at home with their families. This is a completely new experience for them as much as it is for us! Here’s a few responses: 

  • ‘I can’t do everything perfectly’
  • ‘Always wanting me to do useful things’
  • ‘Academic results’
  • ‘School!! Too much school!’
  • ‘Being on technology… that’s how we communicate with our friends at the moment’

And here’s one that hit us right in the feels:

I think the adults are doing the best for us and there is nothing to chill out about.

As a young male, what's something you wish you could talk about that you usually can't?

Forty-nine per cent of the boys told us they want to talk more about their mental health, personal challenges, problems in life and personal struggles. 

Their request doesn’t surprise us. They don’t want advice, they just want to have the space to speak openly and be heard. One boy summarised his experience of being a teenage boy quite well:

I feel like as a male my emotions are slightly oppressed, and I am not looked out for as much as I should (and that’s for young males as a whole). Everybody feels emotion, and emotion should be acknowledged equally.

Eight per cent of boys also told us they want to talk more about romantic relationships, sex, how to talk to girls, how to date and puberty. One boy also mentioned a word that we wanted to explain a little more:

There’s a real simp culture around young guys… so you can’t really talk about girls or how your feeling around your mates.

A ‘simp’ is a derogatory word used to describe a guy that is seen as submissive or overly desperate for women. Unfortunately this word is quite prevalent amongst young people and it reinforces many of the stereotypical and toxic masculinity characteristics that we’re trying to deconstruct. You can read more about the concept here if you’re interested.

We hope you’re able to use this information to open up conversations and discussions with your boys that extend beyond their academic challenges. Indeed, they are telling us they want to have these conversations and just need the permission, the skills and the role models.

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Find out more

This is an edited version of a recent email to its community from The Man Cave’s Matt Defina, Head of Programs. We thank The Man Cave for allowing us to share it.

You can find out more by visiting The Man Cave website, where you can also access their free resources.

You can also read our interview with Hunter Johnson, co-founder of The Man Cave, from 2019.

Colour images in this post courtesy of The Man Cave.

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