It’s time to talk about the boys.
The unique, and often overlooked, plight of today’s boys and young men will be the subject of an interactive workshop Saturday at the YWCA of Tucson.
A changing social landscape coupled with absentee fathers and a lack of male role models are among the topics to be discussed at “Raising Healthy Sons,” which is for parents, teachers and anybody who cares about young people, said Kelly Fryer, executive director of the YWCA Tucson.
“Creating a world where everybody has equal value, equal opportunity and equal voice is the YWCA’s largest mission,” she said. The organization’s emphasis for years has been helping women, ending racism and, more recently, fighting to uphold the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
“None of these issues are niche issues. Creating a more just world is something that concerns all of us.”
The workshop will include three local speakers who work in areas connected to — and invested in — children and young adults.
“A lot of people are calling this time a crisis for boys and young men,” said speaker Tim Wernette, who works for the University of Arizona’s Southwest Institute for Research on Women.
“The old messages for boys to be tough and aggressive are really counterproductive for the changes going on in our society.”
Wernette has been doing gender-equity education for nearly 30 years at middle schools and high schools statewide by helping teens recognize gender-role stereotyping and by encouraging nontraditional careers and interests for both genders.
Today’s marriages often include two working partners, he said, and boys need to be prepared to co-parent and help with household tasks.
Earl Hipp, a retired clinical therapist and co-founder of the Desert Men’s Council, believes there is “an epidemic of under-male-nourished boys in this country.”
Hipp and men in the council work in local high schools to provide “journey to manhood” circles and off-set what many young men today face: childhoods and young adulthood without a positive male influence, which makes them more susceptible to gang involvement and violence.
Ideally, Hipp said, boys learn from their fathers or men in their neighborhoods and communities. Boys are “propelled by biology to test and push and compete,” he said, but without positive direction, chaos and tragedy can arise.
“We see the results of this on the news every night. And these same issues are going on globally,” said Hipp, also author of “Man-Making: Men Helping Boys on Their Journey to Manhood.” (Learn more online at man-making.com).
Hipp said there’s a long waiting list of Tucson teen boys who want a mentor because volunteers are scarce.
“Where is the adolescent male place in Tucson? The Boys and Girls Club does great work, but it’s a drop in the bucket,” he said. “Mostly it’s stay invisible, out of trouble and don’t bother us.”
The time has come to decide what kind of future we want for our children, said presenter Marilyn Heins, a retired pediatrician, author and Arizona Daily Star parenting columnist. Heins will offer parenting tips on raising boys to be good fathers, friends and partners.
“We don’t just want our kids to grow up, we want them to grow up to be good citizens and mature, kind human beings,” she said.
Parenting today is particularly difficult, she said, and likely to become more difficult as our culture is “increasingly toxic.”
“It’s not your castle anymore,” she said of parents and the homes they share with their children. “The world comes into your house through every screen that you have.”