Does your son need a “manhood mentor”?
Meanwhile, MensGroups, which runs men’s circles in London and online (to make men ‘get real’), has started boy groups, running ad hoc discussion circles for teens in schools, the most recently at Wellington College, Berkshire. Likewise, London-based social enterprise The Visionaries conducts ‘courageous conversations’ in schools for teenagers, boys and girls, in separate circles.
All of them promise a safe space for teenagers – awake – to “feel heard”, without moving their fingers. “You can’t just suppress and say [their behaviour] is wrong, ”says Conroy Harris, CEO of A Band of Brothers, a rehabilitation charity for young men. “Tell a kid not to put a bean in his nose and you will be in trouble.”
These circles are not meant to deal with serious mental health issues; they are aimed at ordinary boys facing the problems of ordinary teenagers. In the case of MensGroups and Visionaries, schools approach them for welcoming circles, and sometimes on specific topics, such as harassment, consent, drugs, etc.
So far, Journeyman has set up groups wherever there has been parental demand and voluntary supply of mentors; its growth is fueled only by word of mouth and internet research, and its leaders are eager to raise funds to fully deploy across the country.
The circle itself is the key – everyone is equal here. As with the male and female talking circles, these sessions are ritualized, with greetings, check-ins and other “pre-flights” to make sure everything is safe to fly off to the juicy stuff. This either happens naturally or is led by the facilitators. The boys are happy to suggest “cool” subjects: hating your parents, drugs, girls, etc. But leaders have ways to bring out the more difficult things, like sexuality and spirituality.
“It goes through modeling,” says Harney. “Or we could say, ‘You know, we haven’t talked about X in a while. “” At Journeyman, the boys have been able to meet for months, if not years, and have learned to trust the safe space. They can also ask for a “walk and talk”, always in view of the circle, but with a little more privacy.
With MensGroups, hour-long sessions quickly address questions such as, “When was the last time you cried?” And “What’s your biggest fear right now?” (Warning: do not try this at home.) All participants are allowed to forward any question, and often do so.
They may very well sit in silence for minutes – some may remain silent throughout, but they will at least have heard others share. Adults encourage boys with their own confessions – once one or two boys open up, others find it easier to be vulnerable. The sessions are then carefully closed to bring everyone back to reality.
Some say the experience is life changing. Three years ago, Archie Brooks, now 19, found himself in “a very bad situation” with alcohol. He couldn’t tell his parents for fear of being “judged,” so he tried AA, addiction therapy, art therapy… “Nothing worked until I started. to hang out with Journeyman, ”he said.