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Preparing Teens for Fatherhood with Boyz2Dads

The following is a guest post by Shawn O'Keefe, Youth Programs Specialist for Newport News Department of Human Services. If you would like to guest blog for us, email here.

As a Youth Program Specialist, it is my job to provide prevention, education, leadership, and youth development programming and opportunities to young people in the middle and high school age range.boyz2dads blog pic

One of the curricula I researched was the Boyz2Dads™ program, which I have been using now for the last three years. I like the Boyz2Dads™ program for many reasons:

  • It has a pregnancy prevention component focused on young boys instead of girls
  • It is computer based
  • It allows for discussion about the roles/responsibilities of fathers, as well as the characteristics that make good fathers

I have had the opportunity to implement the program several different ways and in various venues. I have facilitated the program in a high school, at a Boys and Girls Club, a middle school summer enrichment program, and inside the city’s Juvenile Detention Facility. Through trial and error, I have found that the best practices for the most effective implementation of Boyz2Dads is for the group to be limited to no more than 10-15 participants; individual access to a computer; headphones for each participant; and scheduling the program in six 45 minute to one hour sessions once per week.

Interestingly, I have had the most success with the young men in the city’s Juvenile Detention Facility, which was really a big surprise. I thought of any of the young men I was working with that this group would think the program was “whack” or “corny” or just a waste of time. I have found quite the opposite. These young men don’t want to wait for me to come back the following week to complete the next level-they want to complete all six levels that day! They say, “The graphics aren’t as good as the Playstation or XBOX games, but the levels are interesting” and they love the discussion afterwards. That’s right…a group of 10-15 teen boys that I sometimes have a hard time getting to shut up!

As a single father of two sons, it is a joy for me to see these young men I work with start to redefine what it means to be a dad and a man.  You hear them say things such as, “When I’m a dad, I’m gonna make sure my kids know I love them,” or, “I used to think it was gay for a man to kiss another man, but if you really love your dad or son, there’s nothing wrong with kissing them,” and, “My kids might not get everything they want, but I’m going to be there for them and spend time with them.” 

One of our funding sources was impressed with the work I was doing with the young men and the Boyz2Dads program. He had been reading my reports and wanted to know exactly how and what I was doing. After speaking to my Supervisor and her telling him that I have impacted 170 young men who have all shown an increase in the knowledge of the impact fathers have on their children and families and what characteristics make a good father, he asked, “How would you like some more money so you can offer some more fatherhood programs?” 

WHAT!??! More money to make more of an impact!? You know we said, "YES"!

Photo credit here.

Most Popular Post of 2012 — The Difference Between a Man and a Boy

The Father Factor Blog closes the year by reposting our most popular blog post of 2012! Thank you for reading and connecting with us this year. We've enjoyed talking parenting tips and tools. Today, without further delay, we give you our most popular blog post of 2012!

Adapted from the original blog: 
You know the guy. He’s a friend of yours. Everyone knows the guy who’d rather play video games 24/7 and live in his parents’ basement. You know, the guy who takes the storyline behind his favorite board game a wee bit too seriously. Yeah, you know the guy, as do I. I think I’ve figured out what makes this guy different from the one not living in his parents’ basement.

difference between man and boy

This difference is explored in Philip G. Zimbardo’s new research and book The Demise of Guys, which reveals things we’ve thought for years, but just haven’t talked about - that guys are “flaming out.”

So what’s behind this research? Zimbardo’s complaining brings great insight into the core issue. Zimbardo says media and education and society at large are the problems. Society is the “major contributor to this demise because [it is] inhibiting guys’ intellectual, creative and social abilities right from the start.” The result is young men with a lack of purpose, basic social skills, who live off of their parents.

While I think Zimbardo’s research does well to reveal the problem, the solution isn’t adapting some societal strategy to make men out of boys by retraining society to not inhibit them. Society has its issues, of course. But the problem, in my eyes, lies with the boy. There’s a difference between a boy and a man. Always has been, always will be. If you have no plan to leave your parents’ house, you’re a boy. If you don’t relate to women as equals, you’re a boy. If you aren’t emotionally able to cherish your wife, you’re a boy. If you play video games 24/7 and you’re not actually designing the games, you’re just a boy without a purpose.

Therefore, I don’t blame media, society or women – I blame father absence.

Boys learn the kinds of behaviors Zimbardo talks about from their fathers. We live in an age of mass father absence. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America -- one out of three -- live in biological father-absent homes. Two in three African American children live in father-absent homes. Consequently, there is a "father factor" in nearly all of the social issues facing America today. From poverty, maternal and child health, incarceration, crime, teen pregnancy, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, education, and childhood obesity – fatherhood changes these issues, for good or ill.

Every generation has its things for which to watch out. Sure, this generation has seen a “rise of technology enchantment” as Zimbardo points out. I certainly have more technology-related temptations than my father did. Each generation has its forms of seduction. This generation’s may be video games and online porn. My father’s temptations may have been print magazines and watching too many sports on TV. All I know is that the temptation to live for oneself will always be with us – it is part of the human condition.

The difference, though, today is that fewer and fewer boys have the stabilizing presence of an involved, responsible, and committed father in their lives to help them navigate a world of temptations and make the transition from self-centeredness to other-centeredness – the transition from boyhood to manhood. The “demise of guys” is really, at its root, the absence of fathers.

Read the original blog post: The Difference Between a Man and a Boy

Which blog post was your favorite of 2012?

photo credit: practicalowl 

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When the Principal's Name is Dad

As a graduate of home education, I often get two common reactions when people learn that I was homeschooled through 12th grade.  "Wow, I would have never guessed - you don't act like a homeschooler!"  I believe this is meant to be a compliment on my social skills and fun, outgoing personality... I think.  Or, "How you did learn advanced math and science at home?!" 

Actually, yes; I stand before you as proof that calculus and chemistry can be successfully mastered without a full-fledged laboratory and a professor with a specialized degree.  (While my AP test scores will prove this, please don’t ask me to solve any differential equations right now.  It’s been 8 years and I’m a little rusty.)

So when I came across Quinn Cumming’s article in the Wall Street Journal about her experience home-schooling her daughter, I resonated with what she shared about the evolving nature of homeschooling.  It is becoming a more widespread and respected form of education.  There are countless resources and opportunities available to amplify home education curricula and extra-curricular activities. 

describe the imageAnd just because a child spends normal school hours at home does not mean that he or she is deprived of all opportunity for socialization with peers.  Church activities, neighborhood playmates, and competition in sports leagues afforded lots of interaction with other kids.  I turned out fine, and so did my brother.  (That's him on the right at his high school graduation in 2007. He's now a 2nd Lieutenant serving in the U.S. Air Force. Please humor my proud-big-sister bragging indulgence!)

But, what stood out to me in Ms. Cumming’s article was the role that her husband played in the decision to homeschool their middle school daughter and in the day-to-day responsibility of educating her.  Together, the couple reviewed a variety of educational programs for their daughter, and after settling on home-schooling, the father plays a continued role in teaching.  Ms. Cummings admitted that math is not her forte, so her daughter takes an online math class “with great lashings of help from her father.”

As a homeschool graduate, I am familiar with “great lashings of help from dad,” administered graciously and patiently to me and my siblings.  While Mom was heavily invested in hands-on teaching during elementary school, Dad always said that Mom was the teacher and he was the principal.  That was code for “If you give Mom a hard time with school, you’ll have to answer to me.” 

Then, as we advanced to the more challenging aspects of school, Dad became more involved.  It wasn’t that Mom couldn’t handle the advanced subjects, but with seven children, she and Dad took a “divide and conquer” approach.  Dad has been our math tutor, proofread our papers, and coached the sports teams we played on (our “P.E. credit”). When the time came to look for a different form of education for another younger brother to meet his unique needs, my dad played a leading role along with my mom in determining that public school was the best option for this particular sibling.

Research clearly shows that there’s a father factor in education.  Children who grow up with involved fathers are more likely to get A’s, less likely to repeat a grade, and more likely to be read aloud to as a child.  I appreciate the investment my Dad made in my education and that he continues to make with my younger siblings, regardless of the format of the education.  He is genuinely committed to helping us achieve the potential he sees in us.

But perhaps the most poignant father factor in homeschooling that Ms. Cumming’s article pointed out was the importance of dads in socializing boys into men.

“Homo sapiens have walked the Earth for at least 130,000 years and, in this time, they learned to be human from their elders, not from their peers. Mandatory education in the U.S. is less than 150 years old. Learning to be a productive adult human by spending a third of every day with other kids might be a good idea, but it's too soon to tell. I'm still unsure that the people best equipped to teach a 14-year-old boy how to be a man are other 14-year-old boys.”

As my younger brother has begun attending public school and enjoyed increased socialization with his peers, the change in his behavior has me sharing this uncertainty Ms. Cummings expressed in the last sentence. Boys learn what it means to be a man not from their mothers, teachers, or buddies at school.  They learn this from their dads. 

Home education is certainly not the only way to socialize children into adults and to provide a robust education, and countless students of all types benefit from dads who invest in their education.  For my family, I can attest to the benefits of having a principal / teacher / coach whose name is also Dad.

What Was Missing in Sandusky Case? Fathers

SanduskyJerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse a week ago. Despite the verdict, important questions should continue to be asked. Why didn’t the assistant football coaches do something? Why didn’t the school administration do something? But the biggest, most pointed question is, “How in the world was Sandusky able to prey on so many young boys for so long?”

From our perspective, Sandusky would not have been able to do what he did had he not had access to so many boys growing up in father-absent homes.

Ronnie Polaneczky of the Philadelphia Inquirer brings up this point in her column, Sandusky case underscores importance of fathers. She asks, "What if so many of Sandusky's victims hadn't needed father figures in the first place?" She answers her own question: “This never would've happened.”

Sandusky intentionally surrounded himself with children from homes that didn’t have involved fathers by starting a foundation, The Second Mile, dedicated to helping boys from “disadvantaged” homes.

Polanecksky writes, “I'd bet my own dad's hypertension meds that Sandusky never would've groomed those Second Milers for sex had the children had active fathers whose wrath Sandusky might've feared.”

Of Sandusky's known victims, six had no father in their lives and three admitted to never having known their dads. On the witness stand, many of the boys said they thought of Sandusky as the father they'd never had.

One boy said, he (Sandusky) "treated me like a son in front of other people.” Another victim testified, "I looked at Jerry as kind of a father figure...I didn't want to lose somebody actually paying attention to me."

NFI understands children have an innate need for their fathers’ affirmation and attention. “Children have a hole in their soul the shape of their fathers,” says NFI President Roland Warren. And we know from decades of research that fathers matter. Whether a father is in the home and involved or not changes just about everything – for good or ill.

Sadly, folks like Sandusky know this and prey on children with absent fathers. Like drug dealers or gang leaders, they exploit what they recognize as a weakness or vulnerability in a child craving adult male attention.

To note, this is what DC sniper Lee Malvo said about how John Muhammad caught him up in his web: “Anything he asked me to do I'd do. He knew I didn't have a father. He knew my weaknesses and what was missing.”

We also know through social science research that children from father-absent homes are far more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse than those growing up in two-parent families.

Economics will not fix this problem. Needy children exist in wealthy homes, too. Only a society willing to educate and train up a generation on the importance of fatherhood can change this problem.

In other words, we need to get to the root by asking the most-pointed question more often: “Why were these kid’s victimized?” More often than not, the answer is going to be because their fathers weren’t there to protect them physically and emotionally.

Photo credit

The Difference Between a Man and a Boy

You know the guy. He’s a friend of yours. Everyone knows the guy who’d rather play video games 24/7 and live in his parents’ basement.

You know, the guy who takes the storyline behind his favorite board game a wee bit too seriously. Yeah, you know the guy, as do I. I think I’ve figured out what makes this guy different from the one not living in his parents’ basement.

the difference between a man and a boy, manhood, boy, men, fatherhood, father absence, fatherlessness, researchThis difference is explored in Philip G. Zimbardo’s new research and book The Demise of Guys, which reveals things we’ve thought for years, but just haven’t talked about - that guys are “flaming out.”

Zimbardo’s most recent article in Psychology Today and his TedTalksay much about this generation of boys. Zimbardo uses vocabulary like “undermotivated” and “emotional disturbances” and points out the guy we all know, the guy who doesn’t play well with others, has no girlfriend or very little friends at all. This is tragic for sure. Guys who aren’t doing well in school and are socially inept probably aren’t on the fast track to success.

So what’s behind this research? Zimbardo says in his talk he doesn’t have the answers; he’s simply done the research and can now reserves the right to complain about this phenomenon. However, in Zimbardo’s complaining, he brings great insight into the core issue.

Zimbardo says we’re not asking the right questions when it comes to these young men and their motivations. The fact is, it’s not that these young men aren’t motivated at all, they’re just not “motivated the same way guys used to be,” says Zimbardo. He says society wants guys to be “upstanding, proactive citizens who take responsibility for themselves, who work with others to improve their communities and nation as a whole.”  

Commenting on his own research, Zimbardo continues, “The irony is that society is not giving the support, means or places for these young men to even be motivated or interested in aspiring to these things.” He says media and education and society at large are the problems. Society is the “major contributor to this demise because [it is] inhibiting guys’ intellectual, creative and social abilities right from the start.” The result is young men with a lack of purpose, basic social skills, who live off of their parents.

Once a man finds a mate, problems really start. Many young men who manage to find a spouse carry entitlement issues and add little value to the relationship. Zimbardo rightly points to Hollywood films to describe these boys. Films like Failure to Launch, Hall Pass and Role Models (I added Role Models, Zimbardo hasn’t seen that movie yet!) present men as “living only for mindless fun and intricate but never-realized plans to get laid,” says Zimbardo.

While I think Zimbardo’s research does well to reveal the problem, the solution isn’t adapting some societal strategy to make men out of boys by retraining society to not inhibit them. Society has its issues, of course. But the problem, in my eyes, lies with the boy. There’s a difference between a boy and a man. Always has been, always will be. If you have no plan to leave your parents’ house, you’re a boy. If you don’t relate to women as equals, you’re a boy. If you aren’t emotionally able to cherish your wife, you’re a boy. If you play video games 24/7 and you’re not actually designing the games, you’re just a boy without a purpose.

Therefore, I don’t blame media, society or women – I blame father absence.

Boys learn the kinds of behaviors Zimbardo talks about from their fathers. We live in an age of mass father absence. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America -- one out of three -- live in biological father-absent homes. Two in three African American children live in father-absent homes. Consequently, there is a "father factor" in nearly all of the social issues facing America today. From poverty, maternal and child health, incarceration, crime, teen pregnancy, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, education, and childhood obesity – fatherhood changes these issues, for good or ill.

Every generation has its things to watch out for. Sure, this generation has seen a “rise of technology enchantment” as Zimbardo points out. I certainly have more technology-related temptations than my father did. Each generation has its forms of seduction. This generation’s may be video games and online porn. My father’s temptations may have been print magazines or watching too many sports on TV. I don't know. What I know is that the temptation to live for oneself will always be with us – it is part of the human condition.

The difference, though, today is that fewer and fewer boys have the stabilizing presence of an involved, responsible, and committed father in their lives to help them navigate a world of temptations and make the transition from self-centeredness to other-centeredness – the transition from boyhood to manhood. The “demise of guys” is really, at its root, the absence of fathers.

Think about it: What would your dad say was the difference between a man and a boy?

Penn State Taking Positive Action on Child Sexual Abuse

On Tuesday, Roland wrote this post on the Penn State sex abuse scandal. In it, he asked what Penn State will do to address the sexual abuse of boys on their campus and elsewhere.

We are glad to report that Penn State is taking some early action. Tonight, they are hosting a live, call-in radio program to address child sexual abuse.

We applaud Penn State for taking this action. As they say in the announcement, the sexual abuse of children is underreported and more needs to be done about it.

However, a word of caution about the approach that Penn State appears to be taking. Let's be clear that these were boys who were being abused, not "children" generically. And, as Roland mentioned in his blog post, there are several special circumstances surrounding the abuse of boys (it is even more underreported and understudied than the abuse of girls, and there appear to be more complex and damaging consequences for abused boys than for abused girls).

When conversations about sexual abuse start to drift into the territory of "children," they inevitably refocus on girls and women. Indeed, notice that the experts who will be on hand to field calls from parents are from the Centre County Women’s Resource Center (not children's, let alone boys, resource center).

Again, we are not trying to minimize the severity of the abuse of anyone: woman, man, boy, or girl. But we are trying to keep this conversation focused on boys, the future fathers of our children, who often have no voice.

So, while Penn State is off to a good start with this radio program, we hope that future efforts will be more focused on what actually happened on their campus - the systematic rape and abuse of boys, an underserved group that needs more help than they are currently getting.

What the Penn State Scandal Tells Us: We Don't Care About the Sexual Abuse of Boys

Most of the commentary about the sex abuse scandal at Penn State University is what one would expect. Penn State football fans debate the fairness of the abrupt firing of their beloved coach; the Penn State board of directors talks about its need to hastily handle this public relations nightmare and restore the university’s storied reputation. The pundits on TV and radio pontificate while pointing their fingers and shaking their fists, questioning how Jerry Sandusky could get away with so much abuse of so many boys for so long.

Certainly, this makes good fodder for the 24-hour news cycle. And it may even assuage our collective need to understand what happened. However, this sexual abuse scandal confirms a much broader problem that has become increasingly evident to me. One that says less about Penn State than it does about our culture.

We don’t care about the sexual abuse of boys.

Consider just a few of the allegations in the Sandusky situation:

  • A janitor observed Sandusky the showers at the Penn State football building with a young boy pinned up against the wall, preforming oral sex on the boy. The janitor immediately tells others on the janitorial staff, including his supervisor. In fact, another janitor also sees Sandusky with the boy. Despite all of this, no one makes a report of the incident.
  • A 28-year-old Penn State graduate assistant enters the locker room at the football building. In the shower, he sees a naked boy, who he estimates to be about 10 years old, being sodomized by a naked Sandusky. Although he tells Paterno the next day, at the time, he does nothing to stop Sandusky.
Now, replace the word “boy” in the above instances with “girl.” Do you think that two janitors would fail to stop Sandusky from sexually assaulting a little girl? I think not. What about the graduate assistant? He was a former Penn State football player. No doubt, he would have used his best form tackling technique on Sandusky to stop him from raping a little girl.

And, consider how differently the Penn State administrators, who were told by Paterno about Sandusky’s behavior, would have responded if the victims were girls. Would they have stood idly by for years? No. They would have taken immediate action rather than risk being on the receiving end of the wrath of celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, NOW, and numerous women’s groups on campus. They would have reasoned that Penn State getting a reputation as a university that did not protect girls and women would have deeply negative consequences for years to come.

Not only that, they would probably take proactive steps to show the public that Penn State is dedicated to becoming a place that is safe for girls and women. They would start a new research center, and host forums, events, and marches to show their solidarity with the community of women. What will Penn State do to show it is a safe place for boys?

Boys have no advocacy groups to fight for them. Baby seals, pit bulls, and trees do, it seems. No matter how young and vulnerable, boys are expected to fend for themselves.

According to Prevent Child Abuse America, the sexual abuse of boys is under-reported and under-treated. Although the sexual abuse of girls has been widely studied, little research has been done on the abuse of boys. Accordingly, we don’t know nearly as much about it as we should. But, what we do know is quite troubling.

First, boys at the highest risk are younger than thirteen years of age, nonwhite, of lower socioeconomic status, and live in father-absent homes. (Alas, it is no surprise that Sandusky founded an agency that would provide him easy access to troubled boys from broken homes.) Second, sexually abused boys seem to experience more severe and complex consequences than girls in respect to emotional and behavioral problems. Yet, as a culture, much like the Penn State janitors and the graduate assistant, we see what is happening, have the ability to help, but we do nothing.

As is typical with all sex scandals, in time they move from the front page to the back page; from being the lead story to a minor mention; we move on and we forget. But our boys need our help to protect them from the Jerry Sandusky’s of the world and, when they become prey, to help them heal.

But first of all, they need us to care.

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