Strength & Responsibility

Written by Mr Darron Skinner-Martin - Director Student Services

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the National Boys Education Conference in Sydney at the King’s School in Parramatta, New South Wales. The Principal of King’s School presented that we are all equally human regardless of gender, race, religious beliefs etc but there are differences and it is important we acknowledge this and adjust accordingly. He continued discussing the importance of young men and adolescents understanding that in general a male’s strength becomes significantly higher than a female through this period of time due to testosterone. His key message was that with this comes responsibility. With increasing levels of violence (including domestic violence) in our society it is paramount that men of today understand the importance of using this strength appropriately and without making other people feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

Another key learning from this conference was that there is no biological difference between a female and male brain. Dr Jared Cooney Horvath (learning neuroscientist) continued to say that outside of genetic abnormalities the gender differences are caused by social and environmental factors. The way our students are raised and their environment shapes their beliefs and attitudes. Often these can be contradictory which creates some confusion for our students. For example, a parent or teacher who is saying violence is never OK but encouraged fighting in other places such as State of Origin creates mixed messages for our students. I often hear people saying that punching should be permitted in State of Origin but this is in complete contradiction to the rules of the game and more importantly the laws of our society. Most people would agree that violence is not OK in sport or society especially when we know that one punch can and does kill.

Reverend Tim Costello spoke at the conference and made some interesting points. He discussed the purpose of school and is it to get good grades, good job, good income and then a good house or is it about generating a love for learning to create positive and productive community members? Most people will say a bit of both yet sometimes this is contradicted in our actions when we only focus on the grades on a report card (or our end of year 12 results) rather than the process and work habits. Reverend Costello continued that we are better off building strong boys with soft hearts and sharp minds than trying to fix broken men as adults. The mental health statistics for both boys and girls is very concerning.

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I also attended a session my Dr Jill Sweetman. She explored the concept of lawn mower parent and teachers. By this she meant that we are so concerned with students being uncomfortable that we take away all of the risks, barriers or challenges which reduces the building of resilience. Rather than take all the obstacles away we should leave some there and let the students be challenged and support them through the process. This is a key element of building resilient young people and hopefully reducing the chances of mental illness.

Lastly, a conference member asked about maturity and differences between males and females. Dr Jared Cooney Horvath said that maturity actually comes when more responsibility is forced upon us and often this is when people move out of their parent’s house. I think this is somewhat achievable for students whilst living at home if we are selective about our expectations/responsibilities (e.g. teaching them to iron, wash, cook, manage money etc), allowing students to fail and not be a lawnmower parent or teacher, and by holding students accountable for their choices but with the support structures to assist them. Things like The Rite Journey, camps, service opportunities, Restorative Practices (RP) and work experience are all designed to assist in developing our young people into mature and responsible young adults.