It’s Men’s Health Week this week – and at our Senior Boys campus this provides us with an opportunity to consider some vital issues facing young men today.
As boys are natural problem solvers, and often less communicative than girls, it can be harder to recognise the issues that face them – but there are plenty of challenges facing young men today. My own research and work with the boys at Berwick Grammar School indicates some of the following are issues:
We expect that all boys like sport – but this does not apply to everyone. And it is worth noting that we live at a time whereby gaming is another popular way in which boys relate to each other – and a very addictive pastime – as is Netflix.
We need to keep encouraging boys to look after themselves by embracing some kind of physical activity that they enjoy, whilst demystifying masculine stereotypes about how this should look. You can be active without playing football or basketball. While team sports can be tremendous fun, some young men might prefer individual pursuits such as cycling, running or even walking, dancing or yoga.
Any activity contributes to physical health and fitness – but also to our wellbeing. A walk in the fresh air away from laptops and computer screens could do a young man the world of good.
It is a mistake to think that eating disorders are exclusively female issues. If we look at how men are often portrayed in the media as muscle-bound and super-fit, we need to acknowledge the pressure this places on young men to appear the same way. Some will over-exercise, use supplements, or be attracted to steroid use to attain that muscular physique they think is expected of them. Others will restrict their eating when a thoughtless person calls them ‘tubby’ or ‘flabby’.
In addition, even if your body does not appear outwardly impacted by eating fast foods – we need to teach young men there are long-term physical and mood impacts of too much sugar and a lack of vitamins. Our bodies need to feel good in order for us to focus and be happy.
It’s a world full of distraction – and even as adults we may find ourselves reaching for our phones in every quiet moment.
And yet how do we show young men that some of the key thinkers and leaders today are embracing mindfulness as a daily habit? That workplaces of the future may even insist their employees have a daily mindfulness focus?
If we encourage boys to read (another wonderful quiet habit in the midst of a loud world) we can expose them to authors like Ryan Holiday, whose book Stillness is the Key strongly proposes that a quiet mind is the key to balance, good decision-making and positive mental health. While quiet thoughtfulness can sometimes be misconstrued as weakness, often we need quiet to fully evaluate a situation without ego, prejudice or preconceptions.
In addition, quiet is crucial for creativity and our best ideas. Recently I finished a book called Bored and Brilliant by podcaster Manoush Zomorodi who focused mainly on the ways in which we use devices to fill every spare second – even while lining up in queues, travelling on public transport, and I hate to say it, while on the toilet. But if we encouraged all young people to be open to moments of quiet and even boredom, we leave more space for… you guessed it… great ideas. That’s when inspiration strikes.
One of the reasons to take opportunities to focus on Men’s Health, is to allow safe spaces for young men to ask questions and seek help. Men and boys are much less likely to seek help for a medical issue, or to admit to the need for assistance with their mental health. Why? Because society teaches young men to see vulnerability and asking for help as a weakness.
Both men and women police these behaviours in young men and play a role in perpetuating the stereotype that men must be tough, silent and self-sufficient. We need spaces like this to reinforce that self-care and help-seeking can indeed be signals of responsibility, self-awareness and a different kind of mental toughness that we need to applaud.
As our world gets more and more complex, there are more and more reasons all of us should take some time to focus on mental and physical health and the connection between them.
The Growing Good Men Project at Berwick Grammar School aims to reinforce positive masculine ideals and to break down stereotypes that lead to lives lived without emotional support and awareness. To do that, we have to both take care of the young men in our charge, and teach them to care for themselves so they can also care for others. And this is what good men (and good people) do.
Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU