Resources to Help Boys Thrive

Raising Up Teens with Moving Traditions – a webinar for parents and educators

Hosted on Wednesday, October 26, 2022 @ 8 – 9:15 p.m. ET / 5 – 6:15 p.m. PT

The following tips & resources are intended to help apply some of the concepts from the Helping Boys Thrive webinar to your day-to-day interactions with the teen boys* in your life.

As mentioned at the webinar, what we are looking at is some of the unspoken messages teens get about gender norms impact them as individuals. The assumption that “boys are not emotive” is a message that they receive in various ways which in turn impacts them. Every individual teen is different and how those messages and biases impact them may vary.

*Inclusive of trans boys, gender expansive teens, and any teen impacted by society’s perception of masculine norms. We use the term “boys” throughout to indicate we are talking about teens who are impacted by the norms that society uses to define “masculinity.”

Take-Aways from Jason Ablin, author of “The Gender Equation in Schools”

Boys are socialized—and receive messages throughout their day to day—to compartmentalize their emotional experience from their school experiences. Their experience of school is defined by how “successful” they are in any number of ways, not how they feel in those settings. We can help support them build their “emotional connective tissues” in a variety of ways:

  • Look for the signals they give us that they are experiencing something as hard, overwhelming, or, that they are failing to succeed by the standards expected of them. When we get those signals, make observations about their emotional experience, and ask them to respond to those observations:
    • “I think you are hurting right now. Am I reading it wrong?”
  • A response of “I don’t care” is an emotional shield—it allows them to hold onto their masculinity (“boys don’t feel that way or talk about their feelings”), and dismiss you emotionally from engaging with them, and turn the conversation to something other than their emotional state. We can challenge this, and respond with curiosity:
    • “Can you tell me what that means, ‘I don’t care?’ What do you mean? I’m okay with whatever answer you give me—I just want to better understand what you mean by it.”
  • “Toxic masculinity” and “masculine norms” are negative-sounding stand-in terms for systemic issues that teens boys might tune out.  When talking to your boys, focus on them as individuals, and their own personal, lived experiences.

Learn more on Jason’s blog, Educating Gender.

Take-Aways from Moving Traditions’ Shevet Program

  • Discuss the idea of “achievement” and how boys navigate external standards. In the PERMA model from positive psychology, “Accomplishment/Achievement” is described as a way of reflecting on the attempts of doing something, and the degree in which it provides a positive sense of accomplishment or achievement. Rather than focusing on whether or not boys achieve by the external standards of success placed on them, we can ask them – Where have you felt a a sense of accomplishment over something meaningful for you? What are the things that you want to accomplish or achieve as opposed to the things that you feel like parents or teachers want you to achieve?
  • Connect to boys around the media that they enjoy—games, movies, tv shows—have a shared experience together, and use these for conversations about the boys/men they see depicted. Be curious about what they think about those depictions. “What do you admire about this character? What don’t you like? Is there anything you identify with?” Etc.
  • Ask boys about what they are seeing and watching on social media, and their thoughts and feelings about it.

Excerpt from Shevet Session on “Stress”

In studies on stress and its impact on boys, stress stemmed from their relationships with teachers and other people with authority over them. The older they get, the more stress they experience.

On average, boys report more frequent use of avoidance and distraction coping strategies than girls. Avoidance strategies involve not dealing with the stress at all. Distraction involves temporarily getting one’s mind off the stress. Teen boys try to deal with stress by either distracting themselves from it or ignoring it. A teenage boy might go out with friends, listen to some music or play a video game. This type of strategy is not necessarily unhealthy, but it only provides temporary relief from stress. Ignoring stress — or the avoidance strategy — can have long-term mental and physical health consequences. Dysfunctional strategies amongst boys include turning to alcohol, drugs, fighting or reckless behavior. 

When you notice the boys in your life experiencing stress, try the following:

  • “You seem stressed. Am I reading that right?
  • Share the above information about boys and stress.
    • “What is interesting, troubling, or surprising about this?”
    • From your experience, do you think this is accurate? Why or why not?
    • What are some things that you have noticed about guys and stress or about your own responses to stress?
  • Three Senses Activity
    • Notice what you are experiencing right now through three senses – sound, sight, touch. Take a few slow breaths and ask yourself:
      What are three things I can hear? (clock on the wall, car going by, music in the next room, my breath)
      What are three things I can see? (this table, that sign, that person walking by)
      What are three things I can feel? (the chair under me, the floor under my feet, my phone in my pocket)
      What, related to your senses has the ability to calm and ground you? What did you like
  • Jewish Texts on stress
    • “Guard yourself and guard your soul very carefully” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10)
    • “Be as careful with the health of your soul as you are with the health of your body” (Jacob Isaac of Lublin)
    • Questions:
      • What does it mean to “guard” something? Other translations of the Hebrew word here (root, shin mem resh) is “protect”, “take care of”, “watch.” Do any of these definitions fit better for you than others?
      • What is the difference between yourself and your soul? Why does the Torah say we need to guard both?
      • What’s the difference between what these two texts are saying? What is the same?
      • Do any of these ideas resonate with you?

Raising Up Jewish Teens with Moving Traditions is a series of free webinars geared toward parents, educators, and all those who guide Jewish preteens and teens. All are welcome.