The State of Male Adolescence
Statistics and stories about our homicidal adolescent males are dramatic enough to garner most of the headlines:
- The fourteen-year old in Mississippi who killed two children and wounded seven.
- The fourteen- year old in Kentucky who shot three dead.
- The thirteen-year old in Washington who opened fire in his school and killed three.
- The eleven and thirteen-year olds who killed five on Jonesboro, Arkansas.
But they don’t describe the whole picture. It seems impossible for us to fully comprehend the state of male adolescence in our culture, yet it is essential we do so. There is hardly any social or personal health indicator in which adolescent boys do not show the lion’s share of risk today. The following show just some of the areas of distress experienced by adolescent males as a group. You likely know such boys. Your family life, your business, your neighborhood, your school and your ministries have met them and been affected by them for years.
The Declining Safety of Our Adolescent Boys
- Boys are significantly more likely than girls to die before the age of eighteen, not just from violent causes but also from accidental death and disease.
- Boys are significantly more likely than girls to die at the hands of their caregivers. Two out of three juveniles killed at the hands of their parents or stepparents are male.
- Boys are fifteen times as likely as peer females to be the victims of violent crime.
- One-third of male students nationwide carry a gun or other weapon to school.
- Gunshot wounds are now the second leading cause of accidental death among ten – fourteen-year old males.
The Mental Health of Adolescent Boys
- Boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed as emotionally disturbed.
- The majority of juvenile mental patients nationwide are males. Depending on the state, most often between two-thirds and three-fourths of patients at juvenile mental health facilities are male.
- Most of the deadliest and longest lasting mental health problems experienced by children are experienced by males. For example, there are six male adolescent schizophrenics for every one female. Adolescent male autistics out-number females two to one.
- Adolescent males significantly out-number females in diagnoses of conduct disorders, thought disorders, and brain disorders.
Drug, Alcohol, and the Depression Link
Depression in males has often been overlooked because we don’t recognize the male’s way of expressing depression. We measure depression by the female’s model of “overt depression”. She talks about suicide, expresses feelings of worthlessness, shows her fatigue, and is overall more expressive about her emotional state. Unaware of the male’s less expressive, more stoic way of being, we miss the evidence of drug and alcohol abuse, criminal activity, avoidance of intimacy, and isolation from others, especially family.
- Adolescent males are four times more likely than girls to commit suicide. Suicide success statistics (i.e., death actually occurs) for adolescent males are rising; suicide success statistics for girls are not.
This statistic is one of the most startling to health professionals not just because lives are lost but because it indicates dramatically how much trouble adolescent males are in and the degree to which adolescent male mental illness is increasing.
Steroid use among adolescent boys is now on par with their use of crack cocaine. Consequences of steroid use range from increased rage to early death.
Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)
This brain disorder, like so many others, is almost exclusively a male disorder. Only one out of six adolescents diagnosed with ADHD is female.
ADHD is one of the reasons for the high rate of adolescent male vehicle accidents and fatalities. Adolescents with a history of ADHD (or, in fact, any conduct disorder) are significantly more likely to commit traffic offenses and be in accidents.
One out of five males has been sexually abused by the age of eighteen. Most of our sexual offenders are heterosexual males who have been physically and/or sexually abused as boys themselves. These numbers should frighten us terribly. A sexually abuse adolescent male is more likely than his female counterpart to act out against someone else, generally someone younger and weaker than himself, through rape, physical violence, and sexual molestation.
The basic fragility of the male self becomes increasingly clear when we see beyond the terrible and reprehensible acts and the internal histories that led up to them; we begin to understand the process to the product. We are dealing with adolescent males who broke down internally and had no resources to repair the internal damage to their fragile structures.
- What are the criteria for masculinity that adolescent boys are expected to meet?
- What price do adolescent boys pay for adherence to male gender roles?
- Compare the attainment of masculinity for boys with the attainment of femininity for girls. Which has more advantages? More adverse outcomes?
- What have we overlooked the drop in worth/value that occurs for boys during adolescence? How do we contribute to their perceived lack of worth/value?
- How can our youth ministries, as well as the entire body of Christ, embrace our adolescent males better?
Pollock, W. (1998). Real Boys. New York: Henry Holt
Thompson, M., & Kindlon, D. (1999) Raising Cain. New York: Ballantine
Chris Schaffner is a certified addictions counselor working with chemically dependent ’emerging adults’ and is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.