Men, not boys

sam mendes

I’ve just asked this question on Twitter:

Being trusted but put through paces in company of adult men is a great way to humble and steel a teen male. Do we/you do it at school? How?

I have been thinking intensely about a bunch of raging male teens in my class. I can see and feel how desperately they want to do ‘adult stuff’ but are either too easily scared or their egos too thin to sustain the pace and responsibility when things turn difficult. Or as the phrase goes, when boys turn into men.

I was lucky. A youngster (14 years old on debut, regular starting gig at 16) playing in the senior team in one of the world’s strongest water polo leagues in the world and training, travelling, partying, commiserating, celebrating with the grown ups. People’s pay packets (and mine) depended on how I trained, played, handled myself. It taught me a great deal of humility and (through it) made me stronger.

Stories of teens rising to the occasion and doing amazing things abound. What is often common to them is that they don’t do stuff with their peers, they play a level up. Not for some school grades. They do it for real, for far more serious causes and consequences.

Yet at school, we seem to largely miss that. Sports teams, drama productions, exhibitions, even workshops, not to mention classrooms, are usually places where teens do things with teens. So often in the safe cocoon of teenage immaturity, as if saying ‘you can’t be trusted with anything more serious so you stay in there’. Admittedly, it’s a big leap of faith to place significant amount of responsibility on a teen, whose main interest up until then have been pimples, Facebook profile, how to get a beer and/or how to get laid (chances are both for the first time) with the occasional ‘where’s the party’ thrown in.

But trying to do that leap of faith, extending the trust but at the same time expecting acts beyond the conspicuous pimples is a life changer.

So, I ask you … what do you suggest we do at school? Do you do something like this at your school already? I’d love to hear from you or people you know who do.

Very grateful for any suggestions. Thank you.

Here, or @lasic (Twitter) or lasicemail at

3 thoughts on “Men, not boys”

  1. Isn’t this what our internships are all about? Learning in the company of adults, being trusted to work alongside a mentor and taking on individual responsibility within the organisation?

  2. Ideally, yes. Ideally. What I see around is mostly work-experiencey with only the odd case of genuine internship. The key I think is the potential for failure/success and ways of dealing with it.

    I like your succinct definition of internship too. Thanks Hilary.

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