Risk, affection, and discipline - these are just some of the things a growing boy needs to attain a sense of belonging, according to an article in the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.
In his editorial, GP Dr William Phillips says studies suggest fostering a sense of belonging is of prime importance to the healthy development of adolescent boys.
Advertisement"The feeling of belonging results from many things, including connections with parents and families, and adult support for independence and competency," says Dr Phillips.
He says boys need to be valued by their families and to have acceptance and approval from not only their fathers, but also male teachers and other male role models.
"An involved father is a great asset but... the affection of someone to whom we are not related is a special compliment," Dr Phillips says.
Friendships based on familiarity and trust are important, but Dr Phillips says an increasing tendency for families to move around may produce superficial friendships that can cause more harm than good.
He encourages physical contact, particularly between men, and cautions that the stigma that can surround touch can deny boys the feeling of being wanted and valued.
Dr Phillips suggests that growing boys also need exposure to risk.
"Our litigious society, in trying to eliminate injury, is also reducing risk - the very thing that provides the challenge that many boys thrive on," he says.
"If we fail to provide such activities supervised by caring men with whom boys feel a bond of respect and affection, they may pursue their own, often ill-advised, forms of risk-seeking behaviour in street gangs and vandalism."
He adds that boys also need discipline, administered with strength, authority and respect.
"Drug use, sexual assault, alcohol misuse, theft, violence, vandalism and hooning all need to be dealt with rapidly and decisively," Dr Phillips says.
"Discipline needs to be administered not in anger but with respect for the developing boy."
Finally, he emphasises the need to reassure boys about their sexuality and to encourage pride in their own masculinity.
"The need for sexual reassurance is a normal stage of development, which, if frustrated, may increase the incidence of abusive sexual behaviour," he says.
"Boys need to be taught to have pride in, and for, the constructive expressions of masculinity."
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