Dragon Taming: Power, Conflict and Love with Teenage Boys
I set out to write a book. It cooked in me for years with occasional forays with a pencil and paper (really a Macintosh computer). A preponderance of demands and massive improvements in the digital age resulted in developing audio and video materials about teenage boys instead of a book. What I really want to do is give to the world whatever useful knowledge, wisdom, and skills Ive got about teenage boys before Im too old to do anymore.
Teenage boys behave a lot like dragons. They can act loud, boisterous, in-your-face blowing fire and smoke, stubborn, demanding, physically intimidating, obnoxious, verbally abusive, and seemingly invulnerable. Or they may act quiet, removed, keep to themselves, guarding their private horde and only aroused when faced with a threatening knight (generally a grownup making a demand). They mystify adults, both repelling and drawing them into endless and seemingly unresolvable battles. While the warriors walk around wounded, the dragons appear untouchable. It is not a lot of fun to live with one.
Im known as the dragon tamer, a catchy moniker and reputation I acquired over years of being in the trenches with teenage boys, their families, and anyone else interested in their issues and welfare.
I like to work with teenage boys. Aside from whatever personal histories that promote clinical issues, each and every one of them is faced with the perilous passage of becoming a man. As a man and a father, bringing them into manhood is my responsibility. Most of them are backing away from it. The numbers are astounding!
Frankly, I dont blame them. What do they really have to look forward to? How are their capabilities being groomed to prepare them for the world they will meet? What about becoming a man engages their souls, develops their deepest potentials and desires, and calls upon their creativity and talents to mature? What about manhood offers them a manner for being their best in the World?
The teenage boys living today face challenges that call for the best of their capabilities as mature men. In their hands lie a good deal of the fate of humanity. Yet the path we offer them more often than not short circuits their potentials developing , interferes with a positive and healthy masculinity, and deludes them with more false images than can be counted. In short, it robs them of a cultural context in which they can become their best: the men they were born to become.
Curiously, they know it and they dont want to grow up. They dont either like or believe the images of an adult man in American society. Much like Peter Pan, they dont see the fun in becoming a man. Theyd just as soon put it off for as long as possible (if ever).
If the boys dont grow up, who will the women marry? Who will face the challenges of creating a humane, sustainable society with courage, dedication, persistence, and humility?
Dragon Taming is like the Ugly Duckling story. Not only are the boys full of self doubt and misperceive themselves, but they are rejected, misunderstood and mistreated by many, perhaps most, of whom they come into contact with. Its only when they are in a social context that sees them for who they really are that they begin to own their true natures and identities. Otherwise, they move through life as pretend ducks either quietly or loudly in despair. Dont believe me? Ask any adult man about his lost youth that didnt make it into mature masculinity. Teenage boys are much much more than what they appear to be and most adults are fooled.
Their dragon-like qualities draw a lot of attention, perpetuate the games they engage the grown ups in, and most importantly distract from Reality: with smoke and fire they conceal their true natures and avoid their approaching manhood. Unfortunately, the grownups who dont know better enable them to be dragons.
Adults accomplish this by viewing them as lazy, irresponsible, and disobedient. They sure can act lazy, irresponsible and disobedient. Yet, when confrontation occurs, the grownups fall into a game with the teen that is predictable, repetitive, and unresolvable. Everybody gets angry and frustrated. Worse, they play right into an unrecognized conspiracy to ignore the obvious.
From the dragons point of view, what does the adult world offer them to be excited about? Entertainment? Good grades in school? A drivers license and a car? A good job that pays a lot of money?
These are not the things that draw upon a boys soul. It is purpose, meaning, and the successful application of his unique talents and abilities in the World that call him to fruition: the chance and risk of living his dreams and his dream having a place in larger world.
The United States Army appropriated this truth when it marketed the idea: be all that you can be because that is what boys want and everything else is gravy. It just happens that the United States Army cannot offer all boys the chance to be all that you can be.
It is important to acknowledge that boys grow up in families and social contexts that impact their development. My excellent colleagues have written eloquently on these issues. That having been said, the phenomena of their futures, the fact that they are approaching manhood, dominates everything in their development.
There are real, life threatening challenges facing humanity. The most modern understandings of consciousness make it obvious that the children, including the boys, intuitively know the fate of humanity is hanging in the balance. Each boy was born into this lifetime for a reason. He will want an opportunity to bring all he can bear to the daunting and rigorous task of continuing the human story.
Dragon Taming comes from a deep love for boys. This isnt a sexist comment or a politically correct (or incorrect for that matter) statement. It is a simple truth. Im impressed with the machinations of their minds and the depth of their hidden feelings. I delight in the energy, vitality, curiosity, cleverness, and beauty they have to offer. I love the truths, talents, skills, and creativity they give to Life and the longing, deep and mysterious, to become their very best and to belong in the World; to be their very best and have their best be meaningful and of service in the World.
Before any significant action or change can occur with a teenage boy, he has to be met by and engage with adults who understand him. No small task. Next month, I begin a series called Knowledge of the Beast: Understanding the World of a Teenage Boy.
©2012 Ted Braude
Youth is wholly experimental. - Robert Louis Stevenson