The latest Insights and Impact report from The Man Cave has highlighted the inadequacy of educators to give boys and young men key emotional and social skills that will support them throughout their lives.
Drawn from interviews with 700 males aged 12-16 over the past three months in Victoria, together with face-to-face and online wellbeing workshops, and questionnaires completed by teachers and wellbeing coordinators in 50+ schools, the report says boys are not building friendships that can support them through challenging life events.
“Young men feel their relationships are strong, but they remain shallow.
“There is a lack of permission to take the mask off and talk about how they are really going.”
A key focus of the report was male friendships. Written in partnership with Associate Professor and Clinical Psychologist from Swinburne University, Dr Katie Wood, young men and teachers were surveyed from a variety of government, private, independent and catholic schools in Victoria.
The Man Cave says the education system is still geared towards academia rather than emotional intelligence and character development. Mental health systems and people working within them are already well beyond their capacity.
“The reality is our existing systems are not working and we are not setting our young men up for success as adults. We need to prepare our young men with key emotional and social skills so they can become values-based leaders that contribute positively to the community.”
The impact of COVID lockdowns
Teachers reported that, as a result of Victoria’s extended lockdown, young men were demotivated, distracted, withdrawn, tired and anxious. 82% were thought to be faring poorly or very poorly. This contrasted with young men’s views: 59% said they felt optimistic about the future, 30% were neutral and 11% were negative.
However, mateship was seemingly stronger than ever.
86% of boys said they felt very comfortable supporting a mate when he is struggling. 95% also said they wanted to check in on their mates and find out how they were going.
But despite their willingness to help others, only 27% ‘took off the mask’ to ask for support and show vulnerability.
The Man Cave says the only way this will change is if there is a shift in the education curriculum, with integration of emotional intelligence, relationship skills and values-based decision-making.
They say young men needed role modelling and a “safe space to take off the mask, talk honestly, open up.”
Speaking at a webinar on Wednesday, where the Insights report was discussed among contributors, Man Cave facilitators and interested stakeholders, Professor Wood said schools misunderstood young men and what they need.
“This highlights how important connection is and different ways to connect with these young men. To engage with them at a level that they feel safe, and to speak about what they need.
“It starts with building that relationship. It’s meeting young men with where they are at. What are they interested in, what do they like to do with their mates, where do they hang out?”
She said learning to be vulnerable and building emotional literacy needs to start in the early years.
“Young men just don’t have the language, they just don’t know how to speak it.
"The concept of okay day is okay, but we need to go deeper. Are you really okay? It’s scaffolding and starting earlier. It takes one to take a risk, then they will follow.”
The Man Cave is a preventative mental health and emotional intelligence charity delivering programs and workshops to young males aged 12-16. “For the most part, young men feel misunderstood and confused about the world they’ve inherited and how to be a healthy man in the 21st century,” states The Man Cave, who have worked with nearly 21,000 young men since 2014.
They are rarely invited into discussions but when given an opportunity in a safe environment, they open up “and begin to express themselves and their authentic worldview.”
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