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Boys in Crisis??

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Message Bret Stephenson
What do you mean boys in America are in crisis?

After all, the System is throwing everything but the kitchen sink into youth programs and models. We've got residential treatment programs, boot camps, wilderness treatment models, rehabilitation centers, and more. Heck, we've got more approaches for our boys than everyone else put together. The question that comes to mind is this: Why do we need so many approaches and are they working?

Perhaps this is because American teen boys are five times as likely to be murdered as ALL of European boys combined. Perhaps it's because we incarcerate more boys than any other country. Maybe it's because nearly one million adolescents between 12 and 19 are victims of violent crimes each year, or that teens are twice as likely to be assaulted as 20-year-olds.

We medicate more of our boys than any other country as well. This must be a good thing, no? With almost 5% of every boy in the US on Ritalin or other mood-altering drug, there must be some great benefit happening for all these boys. Is ADHD getting any better? Was my brother, who was just "hyper," somehow diminished because he didn't have a DSM-IV diagnosis and medications to calm him down?

Are teen boys in crisis because their suicide rate has risen more than 200% in our lifetimes, or that depression now usually onsets in adolescence rather than adulthood like our parents' generations? Or maybe because the US has the highest divorce rate in the history of the world, with more than one-third of all kids living in step-families sometime in their lives?

With Harvard's Carol Gilligan leading the way, the school system in America has finally figured out how to make boys sit still in class (besides Ritalin). The new concept it to 'feminize' boys; to make them act more like girls. How are we doing this? School districts in Atlanta and elsewhere are doing away with recess because boys run around all crazy and ignore the girls. Other school systems are using only feminine colors in the classroom. Still other classrooms are removing any male influence in a classroom. Thus, boys will no longer see positive role models like JFK, FDR, MLK, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. Nope, we'll just make them look at powerful women and apparently hope to grow up to be like them. Being a boy seems to be heading toward becoming politically incorrect.

One of the places I do work for with high-risk teens, Rite of Passage (ROP) in Nevada, grosses somewhere around $3-4 million per month, having more than 1000 teen boys in placement. One of the two largest residential treatment centers in the country (probably the world), ROP's CEO talks of filling beds as "hotel management" and full beds equals higher profit margins and pay-raises for staff.

Think about this double bind common in the Youth Industry (jeez, we even have an" industry" for our damaged boys with CEO's and everything): If ROP is truly, as it says, in the business of rehabilitating boys, that conflicts with their need to have full occupancy. The double bind is if they and all other models are successful, the flow of damaged boys into placement will cease, and everyone will go bankrupt. So unconsciously, I believe, most models have a design to fail because if they truly succeed, all of us youth workers will be unemployed. Heaven forbid, we go back to what America looked like just a couple of generations ago when teens were healthily involved in families and life and we didn't spend a bazillion dollars trying to fix them. Recall the Leave it to Beaver days of the 50's and you'll recall how much of this modern "boy problem" is a new phenomenon.

Heck, adjudicated teen boys are America's program guinea pigs. Wanna experiment on a wilderness program, equine therapy, ranch setting or boot camp, get some locked up boys. Can't make a living rock-climbing, snow boarding or kayaking rivers, then work for a teen residential setting or group-home. Probation officers and judges think they're sexy, and they sell easy. Disregard the growing fact that these treatment models are not working in growing numbers. If they were, we wouldn't need so many options and we wouldn't be locking up kids in growing numbers. We'd have just one model to follow, featured on Oprah for everyone to access. Towns keep building bigger and better juvenile halls, but that hasn't stemmed the flow of boys into incarceration and treatment.

Are boys in crisis? Absolutely, and from more than one direction. We've changed the way we parent in modern times, with fatherlessness becoming more and more acceptable in the age of single-moms. We continue with models that fail year after year, like Just Say No and DARE, blaming the kids as being unworkable rather than our models and programs as unworkable. We've made an industry of damaged boys, and need that trend to continue to keep so many of us gainfully employed.

Because Americans like quick fixes, like taking pills to fix things, we keep trying to come up with an all-around cure for being a boy, and especially a bad-boy. The only cure for all of this is Prevention, keeping boys from getting so damaged, abused and neglected. That is not the responsibility of boys to fix (or be fixed) but the responsibility of us grownups, who for millennia successfully kept teens happy and successful without incarceration and/or medication. Sure, it is easy to blame boys for failing to adapt to modern society better, but do we just keep holding it against them or do we help them more successfully navigate the journey? The cure is preventing the problem in the first place, and being willing to live without such a profit-driven industry. We can keep throwing the kitchen sink at boys, but that hurts".

Bret Stephenson is an adolescent specialist who's experiences with teens from more than 100 countries and six international youth conferences has altered how he looks at and works with American teens. Utilizing archetypal, cross-cultural and universal models that have worked for millennia, he successfully works with at-risk and high-risk teens in a variety of settings. Bret is author of Slaying the Dragon: The Contemporary Struggle of Adolescent Boys-Modern Rules in an Ancient Game. More information can be found at or his nonprofit site at
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Bret Stephenson is an adolescent specialist who\'s experiences with teens from more than 100 countries and six international youth conferences has altered how he looks at and works with American teens. Utilizing archetypal, (more...)
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