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Protecting the boy child

The Bahamas Crisis Centre sponsored a symposium on protecting the boy child. The purpose of the symposium was to discuss what can be done to prevent Bahamian boys from growing up and becoming emotional and/or physically violent men. Attending the symposium were social workers, educators, police offices, counselors, and leaders from youth groups in The Bahamas.

Presentations were given by Dr. Annalease Richards, child psychiatrist who spoke on “understanding the emotional life of a boy child; Dr. Ian Strachan, president of the Northern Campus of the University of the Bahamas who spoke on masculinity and the boy child; Dr. Sean Knowles, medical doctor in psychiatry, who spoke on protecting the emotional Health of the Boy Child” and myself – a marriage and family therapist who spoke on parenting the boy child.”

A common thread through the presentations was that the Bahamian boy needs help, and is not being raised in an environment that produces an emotionally healthy adult male who will not become violent. The slide presentations for this symposium can be found at www.soencouragement.org/boychild.

Dr. Strachan began the symposium talking about masculinity. He shared that males are raised to be masculine. And that it is about strength, loudness, being in charge, and more. He stressed that masculinity in The Bahamas in not about being close to another male physically or emotionally.

Dr. Richards shared that “supportive environments and relationships are crucial to strengthening a child’s emotional health. The conditions in which a child lives, learns and play can add stress and have negative effect on emotional health. Children who are mentally healthy tend to be happier, more motivated to learn, and are more likely to do well academically. A child’s social and emotional health is equally important to physical health and greatly impacts his/her capacity to develop and lead a fulfilling life.”

She also stressed that “boys are more likely to externalize their problems with outbursts, anger and even violence. And the tendency for boys to lack or feel uncomfortable with emotional language – behavior becomes their communication.” She noted the sad truth that children exposed to violence are more likely to be violent.

Dr. Richards noted these two facts: Males represent the majority of admissions at Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre. She also stressed that disruptive behavior disorders and cannabis use disorders are key issues today, contributing to public health and safety issues in The Bahamas.

Dr. Knowles, who spoke on protecting the emotional health of the boy child, emphasized how poor mental health of boys can lead to suicide. He referenced research done in 2018 that revealed that 17,000 Bahamians seriously considered attempting suicide. This is a major concern.

He also spoke about the major problem of bullying in The Bahamas. “Bullied students are a greater risk of attempting or committing suicide if they are depressed, have problems at home, or have experienced trauma (abuse, assault, or natural disaster). This risk can also be greater when the bullied student is not supported by parents, peers and schools.” He emphasized that “children and teens who are bullied live in a constant state of fear and confusion in their lives. This can lead to suicide.”

Dr. Knowles pointed out this sad truth about male violence in The Bahamas. “Violence against men and boys consists of violent acts that are disproportionately or exclusively committed against men or boys. Men are over-represented as both victims and perpetrators of violence.”

In speaking about parenting the boy child, I noted that poor parenting styles in The Bahamas is causing serious harm to our boys and that it starts from the minute they are born. I stressed that boys are required to act a certain way to be a man, but these behaviors are destructive and are creating emotionally unhealthy men. I emphasized that to have emotionally healthy boys we need to first start by raising parents.

A common myth in our society is that boys will be boys. It cripples the way boys are raised and what we expect from boys. This message makes one question whether certain troublesome behaviors and attitudes are just part of the male makeup. Experts say the answer is no. Boys’ behaviors are more cultural than biological. Parents, relatives, peers, teachers, and (the media) send messages to boys that they should be tough, unemotional, competitive, strong, and powerful.” (Emily W. Kane, sociologist). Parents begin by choosing colors, deciding who will cook and wash dishes, who can go out alone, etc. In other words, they begin by putting their children in boxes. This is a recipe for disaster.

It was clear during the symposium that a high percentage of Bahamian boys are living in dysfunctional families and many without a guardian. They do not have the opportunity of experiencing healthy family/individual dynamics. Therefore, it is vital to value the importance of an effective school system, social services, youth clubs, religious organizations, community help groups, parenting classes, etc. We must begin now to save our boys from a life of violence to ensure that our country remains a peaceful one.

• Barrington Brennen is a marriage and family therapist. Send your questions or comments to question@soencouragment.org, telephone 327-1980 or visit www.soencouragement.org.  

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