Boys Need Their Friends

Brad M. Griffin | Sep 27, 2011

Last week the NY Times ran an article by Jan Hoffman on Dr. Niobe Ways research on teen boys, leading to Ways latest book Deep Secrets: Boys Friendships and the Crisis of Connection.

Her exploration of male friendships takes a perspective unlike most assessments of adolescent boys. Excerpting from the article (emphasis mine):

Despite stereotypes of teenage boys as grunting, emotionally tone-deaf creatures who bond over sports talk and risk-taking, [Way] said, their need for intimate friendship is as potent as it is for girls. Boys in early adolescence would speak candidly about those friendships to Dr. Way and her researchers, acknowledging the importance of having a best friend who was both repository and guard for their most private feelings.

But as the boys grew older, the intensity of those relationships faded. Boys feared being seen as too girly or even gay for expressing attachments to one another, even just for feeling them.

She leaned forward with evident urgency: This is not some academic read Im doing. The boys are aware of the power of their relationships. They are overtly saying, I want him, I need him, I miss him no homo! And then they grow up and become depressed.

She added: Parents reinforce those stereotypes. Theyll tell me, My son is supersensitive but he plays sports!

I havent read Ways book. But this is a powerful take on what happens to boys across the journey from early to mid-adolescence. Echoing research by sociologist Michael Kimmel (discussed in this article), from about ages 16 to 26 boys live in a sort of Guyland ruled by a secret code. The top rule is boys dont cry, followed by the terrifying need to prove to other guys that you arent gay. Clearly, saying you need other guy friends for emotional support violates both of those rules pretty heavily.

How can we best support guys relationships in ways that offer a countercultural script to the guy code? We offered some ideas in this article a couple of years ago. This new research begs the question again. What new thoughts do you have about guys, friendships, and helping them navigate the journey through adolescence?

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books, including 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and Can I Ask That? Brad and his family live in Southern California, where he serves as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries at Mountainside Communion.


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