Saving the Dissolving Friendships for Our Boys and Men
By: Jay M. Greenfeld, Ph.D., C.Psych.,
Throughout the last 16 months, there have been enough changes in the day-to-day activities of our children to last them a lifetime. Their school schedules were altered, their classroom size and make up was changed, how they interacted in school or at recesses and away from school drastically changed. The ability to spend time at friend's house or the fact that organized activities started, then stopped, started, and then stopped. At one point, we limited the ability to have our children engage in what were once known as common social interactions so that when you ask them who their best friend is, they respond with my iPad! As a result of all of our changes since March of 2020, similar to many grown men, young men and boys have experienced a significant disconnect from peers and a decrease in close connections.
It is more well-known that women tend to have deeper connections with their peers not just throughout grade school but more so later in life. The type of conversations that women have are often more in-depth, more detailed, and more focused on the inner thoughts and feelings versus functional more surface-related conversations that men tend to have. Of course, these are just trends and most common does not necessarily mean all or nothing. However, the pattern that has emerged with men is to talk with less depth and focus more on a task-oriented conversation because it is not just easier and safer, but that is often how they are socialized to converse. As a result of many men engaging in this pattern, it leads the socializing of boys to be very similar as they progress through grade school. If there is conflict, they either resolve it quickly or connect with other peers on another interest, yet still lack the depth.
Our culture has turned to electronics and video games as the means of communicating, however, a lot of what you might say while gaming compared to what you would say face-to face with another peer is often entirely different. Moreover, as boys progress into adolescents and adulthood, they focus much of their attention on their jobs and their activities more than the depth of their friends. Although we continue to evolve in our socializing patterns and making every effort to shift the way in which any gender socializes, many patterns are still very similar to how they were decades ago. Thus, social distancing over the last sixteen months, has created an even greater disconnect for boys leading to less and less in-depth friendships. It is just easier to put your headphones on and focus on the screen, easier to busy yourself with work or some other functional tasks. Additionally, a lot of work much like school, shifted to some online remote learning nature which has led to even less connection. Therefore, when given the opportunity to engage with peers, boys are forgetting how to or not making it as much of a priority because it is easier to busy themselves with tasks that require very little verbal or in-depth connection.
The challenges that emerged with that include the more repression and lack of depth in their connections, the more likely they are to struggle, especially mentally and emotionally on their own. With a significant increase in individuals seeking mental health services over the last sixteen months, there is very clear need and desire for boys to begin that process of more in-depth friendships earlier. It starts with the parents, how much depth is involved in the friendships that you have for your children to see? That does not mean you need to have some type of in-depth connection with all your male friends as some may not be wanting to go to that depth or even know how to. However, their degree of closeness only increases if they know how you feel, what you think, and your willingness to support our friends, when needed. As parents, model this type of behaviour so that your children and adolescent boys grow up seeing how valuable it can be in increasing the strength of a friendship rather than relying on masking what they are thinking and feeling. Empower your sons to increase their degree of empathy, support, communication, and effort to connect as well as openness to communicate their feelings.
Thus, when they can increase the depth of their conversation and open reflection, they will seek that out as they are get older. Consequently, they will likely seek stronger, longer lasting connections that are not based on a surface-related function like their job or something they just fixed. If it is hard to reach your adolescent son, a good resource is I Hate You! How to Talk to Your Teen Boy: Guide for parents raising their teenage son, by Catherine White. The more we are able to model the importance of stronger friendships that have more depth, the less isolated, alone, and disconnected our male children will feel, especially leading into a school year that is going to return with more in-person interactions.
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