Boys to men – supporting the next generation of men

Graham Goulden is a former police officer of 30 years’ service, including eight years in the renowned Violence Reduction Unit in Glasgow. He now specialises in tackling men’s violence in his role delivering leadership and bystander training to men across education, law enforcement and other areas, nationally and internationally. Here, he looks at practical ways of helping boys learn how to treat women and look after themselves.

What I’ve learned about prevention of violence is that we require many different approaches. When you simply focus on one area, you may have short term success, but it will be just that, short term.

We need approaches that address victims and perpetrators of violence. We need strategies that look at where the risks lie. When it comes to preventing sexual violence we need to work with young people, educating them about abuse and sometimes providing practical tools to both support friends and also challenge them on their behaviour.

Another approach is to work with even younger children. In many ways, the best way to end male sexual entitlement is to keep it from spreading to the next generation. Obviously, telling a 5-year-old that he’s expressing “sexist entitlement to girls’ bodies” when he pushes over that little girl, to take the tricycle she’s riding, isn’t going to help. But talking to him about why it is important to respect all people’s bodies is vital.

Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a sports coach or someone who works with young boys and men, you have a role in helping our boys.

Currently our boys are flaming out. They’re struggling academically, in their relationships as well as sexually. They are growing up in a world where the messages of manhood and masculinity are deeply confusing. In the virtual world they receive messages that men are dominant and in control. This is bad for girls and women but, you know what, it’s bad for boys also. While I agree we need safe schools for girls, we also need safe schools for boys.

So, what can we do to help our boys?

First, see the challenges they face. Next role-model respect in everything you do. As men we are guideposts for the next generation. Show and discuss respect towards girls and women. I really think our boys possess healthy views and attitudes, it’s just that they don’t grow up in a vacuum. They grow up in a world of sexist and abusive men. Many boys have never had respect role-modelled before. Over to you.

As a sports coach, a scout leader, you can help develop character. Did you know the All-Blacks rugby team recruit players not just on their ability but on their character also, both on and off the field? Start helping young people develop their character. Speak to them about what they stand for, their values as an individual. Yes, these values will, just like your signature, change over time but it’s good to start early. I call this their brand. Help them build their brand, their presence. Character matters.

Are you a father or an uncle? Think of fun and creative ways to teach the little boys in your life about asking for consent. Discussing consent starts with not forcing any child to do something they don’t want to do, even kissing Granny at Christmas. Sorry Granny.

For anyone working with or living with young boys, think of the skills they may need to be a good man when the time comes. For me, how we help provide these skills will go a long way to addressing male sexual entitlement as well as addressing many of the other issues that disproportionately impact on men. How we work with young boys will help reduce male suicide, drug and alcohol addiction.

For me, skills would include some of the following:

·       Finding and keeping friends

·       Knowing it’s ok to ask for help

·       Being able to walk away from negative peer influence

·       Being strong and gentle at the appropriate time

·       Taking responsibility

·       Relaxing

·       Understanding the feelings of others and your own

·       Emotional Intelligence

·       Being a good partner

·       Challenging bad things

·       Controlling anger

·       Keeping healthy and strong

You know better than me the young boys and men you live or work with. Invest in the relationships you have with them. It’s in these relationships that the magic happens. It’s here we can make a real difference, in helping our boys in their lives and in reducing levels of sexual violence in our country.