To Grow a Man

The temptation is to start this blog with a post about how exciting it is to be the Foundation Principal of a brand new school, built to provide a modern learning environment for the leaders of the future. That would be entirely justified and indeed that excitement is very real. There will be a time for an examination of the physical aspects of the school in due course but first I want to first spend some time dealing with something far more exciting and important, namely the people who will inhabit these buildings.

After all they are the reason the school is being built so it is only right that they are mentioned first. Teenagers/young adults are a challenging species but all too often we rush to categorize them and fail to see and appreciate the wonder of these very important years.

My years in teaching have led to me to one conclusion, teenagers and young adults are amazing. They are strong, resilient optimistic, creative, loving and smart. They have the most incredible wisdom and hope for the future. They are amazing to be around but, they are not easy.

The teenage years are all about pushing boundaries, indeed I believe that teenagers are genetically wired to take risks. The role of a school and a home is often the same, too provide an environment where this risk taking is a safe and as positive as possible. Although most of what follows discusses boys and mums I believe it is just as relevant for girls and dads.

I have recently read Tony Little’s book ‘An Intelligent Persons Guide to Education.’ Little is a recently retired Head master of Eton the prestigious English Educational Institution. In Chapter 4 he reprints a letter written by an Eton Housemaster John Mc Connell in 1967. The letter was never meant to be sent but it is rather the letter that Mc Connell wished that he had written to all mothers. Even though it was written some time ago and a long way away from us here in New Zealand I feel it captures the essence of what parenting a teenage boy is all about. I found it to be a touching and very wise description of the teenage years and hope that you find it as positive and full of hope as I did.

“Today is Tom’s 15th birthday. You will be glad to hear that he received a nice bundle of envelopes and packages in the post this morning. The cake you ordered has arrived safely and I have given him leave to go home  to lunch with you next Sunday.

However, the real purpose of this letter is to try to prepare you for an imminent change in the relationship between yourself and your son. The affectionate small boy who has quite justifiably been your pride and joy is about to undergo such a transformation that you may well beginning to wonder whether you have mothered a monster. The piping treble voice, you will observe, has already begun to crack. The down on his cheeks and chin is stiffening into defiant bristles and there is an angry hue about the blemishes on his skin. Perhaps you have already started to wonder where you have gone wrong, and what you have done to deserve his new found anger. You, who have shown him most affection, will seem to be the butt for his most barbed and unkindly remarks. That is because you are still the most important woman in his life and the most convenient target for his burgeoning masculine aggressiveness.

Do not despair. Ride out the storm. Be firm but affectionate. At this moment when he seems to need you least, he needs you most. Make a stand about the principles you regard as fundamental. Give him rope about the less important things. Do not worry too much about his wearing apparel or the length of his hair. Comfort yourself with he knowledge that his present mood is transitory. If you do this and stand firm as a rock in the midst of his tempestuous life, the small boy whom you thought you had lost will return to you as a charming young man- well groomed in appearance and with delightful manners. He will have been worth waiting for.

Meanwhile, we are both of us in for one hell of a ride.” 

Whether we be parents, caregivers or teachers we are lucky to be able to journey with our young people as they transition from children to adults over the teenage years. No one said it was going to be easy for any of us but it is still a privilege that can never be underestimated.

Little’s book is a good read;

Tony Little “An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education.”

Another excellent read is the New Zealand book, “He’ll be Okay, growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men.” by the late Celia Lashlie.

I have always loved her quote below, and even though it refers to mothers and sons I feel it is just as important for fathers and daughters.

“Laughter and silence – the two things our gorgeous boys need most from their mothers.”

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