Why Teenage Boys?
Every boy wants to become a successful man. Middle school is a critical time when a boy’s choices, both conscious and unconscious, begin to form the foundation of the man he will become. No boy dreams of dropping out of school, going to prison, getting hooked on drugs, or joining a gang yet millions do. Here are a few reasons why:
Whether a boy’s father died, abandoned him, or is just emotionally unavailable, a teenage boy beginning his journey to manhood with no man to guide him will likely lose his way. Once the reality that he must figure out manhood alone sets in, his hope is replaced with despair and his innocence soon turns to anger.
Fatherless boys are FOUR times more likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems. The longer he is lost and alone, the deeper the wound becomes. The difference between a 13 and 16-year-old boy with no father is shocking. Our middle school groups are full of sweet 12 and 13-year-old boys who cry when they talk of their missing fathers. The high school boys are different. Anger has replaced tears, and they stop “caring”.
Why? Because it hurts too much to care. “Why should I care? Nobody else does.” Without care, all they have left is anger. This anger affects them in every aspect of their lives and cripples their ability to maintain positive self-esteem and healthy relationships with others.
The number of boys growing up without fathers has reached epidemic proportions. High rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births have created a generation of fatherless boys. Since 1960, the rate of U.S. boys without fathers has quadrupled. One in three children are born to unmarried parents, and an estimated 24.7 million children do not live with their biological father. Currently, 43% of urban teens live away from their father, and 42% of fathers fail to see their children after divorce.
Why does this matter, you ask?
The Newsweek article The Trouble with Boys states that “one of the most reliable predictors of whether a boy will succeed or fail in high school rests on a single question: does he have a man in his life to look up to? Too often, the answer is no.”
Here are the devastating effects of fatherlessness on a teenager’s life:
In addition, fatherless boys are disproportionately more likely to end up in prison. The prison incarceration rate more than quadrupled since 1975. A boy leaving high school to enter into a life of crime or drug abuse can cost his community $1.7–$2.3 million in his lifetime. Costing taxpayers $75 billion a year, 5% of the adult male population is in or has been in prison.
In 2018, 11.9% of San Diego County residents were considered to be “living in poverty”. As of January 2019, 95% of our boys were living in a low income household.
Children living in poverty are more likely to experience hunger, and food insecurity has a lifelong effect: lower reading and math scores, more physical and mental health problems, more emotional and behavioral problems and a greater chance of obesity.
Children living in poverty also have a higher rate of absenteeism or leave school altogether because they are more likely to have to work or care for family members. Students from low-income families are SEVEN TIMES more likely to drop out than more well-off peers.
Our experience working with teenage boys has taught us that the middle school years are an important time in a boy’s development when his choices begin to ultimately shape the man he will become.
In addition, the GPA gap between middle school boys and girls is quickly growing larger. We analyzed GPA data from one San Diego middle school during the 2013-2014 academic year. The unexpected and disturbing news: this GPA gap doubled over the school year. While girls grades went up in all segments, boys grades went down in all segments. More disturbing: the gap quadrupled for boys with a GPA under 2.5. The bottom line is 25% of boys are not succeeding in middle school, and failure in middle school often makes it difficult for individuals to succeed in their adult life. In the United States, the high school dropout rate for males is 20.3%. The reality of academic failure is this: High school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely than graduates to be arrested.
We, as a society, are dealing with the outcome of a culture that is producing disconnected children. Our children are trying to hastily fill the gaps in their lives instead of creating genuine connection with their community. Many children, especially boys, turn to gangs, drugs, alcohol, stealing, cutting, and pornography to fill those gaps and numb the pains of loneliness. The average age of first drug use is 13, and the first alcohol use is 12.
We have observed several basic needs that are essential for every human being to thrive. Most of these needs are driven by primal desires that are imprinted in our DNA as social beings: the need to be connected, the need to be valued, and the need to have PURPOSE. These exist in all cultures around the planet and tap into a part of our soul that longs to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. This is the need that draws us to fiercely defend our family, religion, country, community, sports teams, etc. Simply put, we all long for a sense of purpose, belonging and connection.
Gangs are particularly good at satisfying this primal need of belonging. They provide an empty, deceptive disguise of safety, fellowship, and meaning. In principle, they fill those gaps in many disconnected, lonely boys and, in doing so, lead them to a darker sense of purpose.
In addition, we are experiencing a rapid increase of school shootings in our country’s history. We commonly find the shooter to be a teenage boy who was isolated from his community. Sometimes these boys are from fatherless homes, and other times we find them crying out for someone to listen to them online. The reality is that these young men were left to deal with their depression, frustrations, and anger by themselves without proper support.
What We’ve Learned
Since 1996, we have heard boys share their personal stories of courage and hope, and we have witnessed boys overcome incredible odds to become loving fathers, husbands, and great men of our community.
We have also grieved the tragedy of good boys lost to gang violence, suicide and drug abuse.
Good men are not born. They are built, shaped, and molded during their childhood and adolescent years by their experiences, influences, communities, and most importantly, the mentors in their lives that they look up to.
We also understand and appreciate the importance of a MOTHER on a young man’s life. Mothers are the heartbeat of the family, and they show us that we can be both sensitive and powerful. As the number of fatherless homes continues to rise, we have noticed that sons of single mothers sometimes bear the weight of wanting to be the man of the household without proper support. Our programs are intended to enrich these young men’s lives with positive male mentorship. We are proud to support all families (two parent households, single parent households, grandparents raising grandchildren, and legal guardians) who are doing everything they can do support the young men they love most.
We know that every boy wants to be a good man. They just need men to show them the way. We know that it takes a community of positive and consistent men to change a boy’s life. We are those men, and we are committed to help boys become the best men they can be. Every boy deserves this!