"Boys have few advocates in Canada," wrote Dr. Fred Mathews in a 2003 editorial in which he cited alarming trends in juvenile crime, learning disabilities, graduation rates and suicide.
"Girls are fortunate to have the women's movement behind them to promote their issues. No similar support exists for young males," he wrote. "By almost every measure of well-being, boys trail girls in Canada and yet we fail to acknowledge boys' issues. What keeps boys and young men off the social policy radar screen? We are, after all, speaking about children and youth."
Seven years later, has anything changed? We checked in with Dr. Mathews for a live chat and Q&A Wednesday. (Read his bio below)
Guest: My comment is that too often female critics cite the top 1 or 2% of earners (CEOs and that group) to argue that men are doing as well as ever. It's the bottom 80% of men who are hurting. And, yes, without active male voices or movements to establish this, it is a fact that seems to be routinely dismissed. Any thoughts?
Dr. Fred Mathews: I would certainly agree that the lack of an organized men's movement has hindered any real social progress in bringing boys and men's stories into the national dialogue on wellness. I am also of the opinion that such a movement would have to be very pluralistic in nature as there is no such thing as a homogeneous group called "boys" or "men". There is so much diversity in our society and the needs of boys and men will differ depending on so many other factors besides gender. For example, race, class, religion, socio-economic status, ability, mental health status, etc.
Brodie Fenlon/The Globe and Mail: I'm going to group the next two questions together because they're related. These readers basically want to know what schools should be doing to better serve male students. Jodi Mother feels physical education is key.
Fraser M.: How can our elementary and secondary schools system better serve male students to increase graduation rates and enrollment in post-secondary education?
Jodi Mother: How can we get our public schools to increase the amount of time children spend in Phys Ed class and similar activities? I am so frustrated by the lack of response to this issue and I don't know what to do!
Dr. Fred Mathews: On the subject of Phys Ed, it may require a well organized group of activist parents working alongside young people with an equally strong interest to lobby the local school board and the Ministry of Education to change the situation. Graduation rates is a much more complicated issue with many factors that must be addressed. I am of the opinion that the school system does not and has never understood completely the learning needs of male children and youth. When we focused on girls we learned what they needed, implemented it and found great success in terms of higher graduation rates. I believe the same time, energy and resources now needs to be given to boys and young men.
Ness: As a mother of a very athletic, intelligent nine year old boy who on the advice of the school was requested to take an ADHD test that turned out negative (we knew that was going to happen). We continually are looked at as being "bad" parents. Even other families in the school tend to recoil. My son does not get invited to play and does not get invited to birthdays etc. Not only does the school system let these boys down but so does the community. If your boy doesn't act like a "perfect" child you almost become a social outcast. I have had a great deal of difficulty explaining this to my son. We continually coach him about the appropriate behaviour in a social setting but it is like he can't help himself. He runs, jumps, leaps and really enjoys himself. However, he is told to sit still (basically not have fun) and behave. We have now trimmed our social circle down to a very select group of friends who help and support us with our son and "get it." I guess my question is how do I coach, support, help my son understand how to manage being somewhat of a social outcast?
Dr. Fred Mathews: It sounds like you love your son very much and have given him opportunities to understand himself and how those around him react. The most important message you can give your son is that he is not the "problem" but that he is dealing with others' ignorance and intolerance. Keep loving him, keep supporting him, keep the focus on his gifts and abilities and he will eventually find welcome and his "place" in the world. I think it is important that the responsibility be placed where it belongs which is on all the adults outside of your family and friends that are failing this child.
Brodie Fenlon/The Globe and Mail: To Ness, if you haven't already, be sure to read today's installment 'Red-flagged as problem pupils, are boys misunderstood?'
Read more by replaying the live chat in the box below. Smartphone users can view a mobile-friendly version of the live chat here.
Dr. Mathews is a Toronto-based child and adolescent psychologist. He authored a key document in 1996 called The Invisible Boy: Revisioning the Victimization of Male Children and Teens for the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence (Health Canada). In 2002, he was conference co-chair for Canadian Boys: Untold Stories, the First National Conference on the Status of Male Children in Canada.
Dr. Mathews works as a consultant to federal, provincial, territorial, municipal and foreign governments, First Nations Bands, and to public and private sector agencies on youth-at-risk issues. He taught for 10 years in the graduate school at the University of Toronto. He has chaired, given keynote addresses, and provided over 500 workshops at local, national, and international conferences in Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Venezuela. He regularly provides training to government officials, police forces, crown attorneys, probation officers, judges, teachers, school officials and child and youth care professionals on male victims, child abuse, youth gangs, street youth, crime prevention and school safety. He has authored over 50 studies, journal articles, book chapters, and resource documents. Dr. Mathews has received numerous awards for his contributions to youth crime and violence prevention, psychology in education, and children's mental health.