The Crisis of Connection: The Value of Male Friendships
While we tend to think of teen girls as social butterflies that establish cliques during adolescence, teen boys usually fall into one of two categories: popular or rejected. Popular boys are well-liked and respected by most people, but often lack close connections. Rejected teen boys often withdraw socially when they feel like they can’t measure up to these standards. As expectations of intimacy in male friendships tend to be lower, teen boys may quickly connect with their peers but struggle to maintain healthy relationships.
Social Challenges Boys Face
As gender roles intensify in adolescence and teen boys prepare to launch into adulthood, many boys struggle with knowing when and where to reach out for support. When struggling with depression, anxiety, and trauma, they have a hard time expressing it to others and feel weak or powerless to change how they feel.
Male friendships are essential in helping boys build confidence and connections, but they face a variety of obstacles in maintaining these relationships due to:
- Trouble talking about emotions openly with others
- Competition between boys
- Preferring depersonalized social activities, like playing video games
- Cultural messages about masculinity
Vulnerability Isn’t Seen as Masculine
Our society has developed an understanding that men are not supposed to discuss personal issues with other men. Due to this, men have a harder time developing and maintaining intimate, casual male friendships. Building real friendships comes from being emotionally open—which is much harder for men to do.
Teaching boys at a young age to be emotionally open and honest can help them develop better skills at maintaining friendships. Boys shouldn’t feel restricted in their friendships due to gender stereotypes that say men don’t show emotions. We should be teaching youth the importance of communicating about emotions, not teaching them avoidance and isolation.
Every Man for Himself
The United States is a meritocracy that values individual effort and independence over community, especially for men. Boys are expected to be hard-working, successful, and competitive–both in sports and in their careers. The competitive nature of male relationships has evolved from millennia of fighting over resources for their own survival. This doesn’t allow much room for emotional closeness or mutual support.
A Different Kind of Support
While women share their feelings with their friends, men share activities. Boys are taught from a young age that male friendships are built based on mutual activities like sports or work rather than emotional or psychological connections. They define a close bond as spending time together or reciprocating favors.
Often, the activities that they choose are very physical in nature and don’t always involve much conversation, like playing video games or even engaging in risky behaviors together. The rapport they build with each other is more likely to be based on jokes and trivial arguments than emotional support. This can make it easier for boys to pick up where they’ve left off with friends they don’t talk to frequently but also leaves them feeling lonely without concrete plans or an excuse to connect.
The Effect of Gender Stereotypes
These messages about the nature of male friendships and masculinity can feel very isolating for teen boys who desire more connection. Boys are more likely to hold negative feelings in and less likely to pursue creative passions that don’t fit typical gender roles. As they’ve been taught relationships should be built on sameness, they struggle to feel confident as individuals.
Residential programs provide boys with a setting that promotes healthy friendships and a sense of community. In a supportive therapeutic environment, teen boys have the opportunity to connect with others based on shared interests and values in addition to shared activities. Through group therapy, they learn how to be vulnerable with others and discuss what healthy relationships look like.
Equinox Can Help
Equinox is a residential treatment center that helps boys ages 14-18 who struggle with depression, anxiety, social skills, trauma, and addictive behaviors. Equinox offers a unique treatment program designed to fit each individual’s specific needs. This treatment center has a supportive environment that helps students heal from the inside-out. Students develop a healthy sense of social and emotional awareness and learn how to incorporate good habits into their daily lives. Equinox enforces a positive change in the lives of young men and offers them a fresh start at a happy and healthy future.
Contact us at 877-279-8925 for more information about our relationship-based program. We can help your family today!