“When you grow up, you will have to take care of a family, you do not have time for silly games” words I clearly remember my teacher saying to me when I was 13. I had been messing around with one of my friends in class. He felt that it was appropriate to tell me about my future, though I now consider it placed great pressure my shoulders.
A few months later, I had a class about career choices, and I started to consider my options concerning money to provide for my imaginary family. I had a moment of panic following those sober words from my teacher – I had no clue what I wanted to do, let alone any sense of who this family was he imagined for me. There were so many things I wanted to do with my life, yet I felt he had put me into a box and planned out a life for me.
When I got home I asked my father about his career choices, and whether he thought about us – his family – when planning his path. Thankfully, my father is a progressive man remarking that if you do what you love, money will come, and it won’t feel like working if you love what you are doing. As a black boy growing up in the eighties, hearing those words helped me decide to go to BRIT school and follow my passion.
Looking back, I realise I got off lightly during adolescence, but the pressures took me aback years later. After BRIT school, I went into music management in a high flying, glitzy role, but after several years I realised it was time to do something else. But this would come at a price, my friends were settling down, buying homes and I was looking at roles where I was starting from scratch. People couldn’t understand, I was riddled with self doubt and increasingly becoming more broke, trying to catch an opportunity. There were really bleak moments, and for many years I had junior roles as I sought to validate my ambition.
When we talk to young men, we talk to them in a language that’s very patriarchal. In a ‘man’s world’, we still continue to apply pressure on seeking happiness through progress and power. We need to teach men how to communicate their ambitions and, above all, their feelings, in the name of health and happiness.
We are currently failing to equip our young men with insights and knowledge on how to manage the stress of life. We often forget that it is the very gift of life to be able to regulate your emotions and speak about how you feel. The man of yesteryear is gone, and with the advent of social media and the globalisation of the world, we need to make sure that we are encouraging our boys to reach beyond stereotypical ideas of manliness.
Suicide is the biggest killer of young people, with last year’s report by The Samaritans finding suicide in young men to be three-times higher than among women (in England). For those under 20, academic pressures and bullying were found to be cause, and in those aged 20-24, workplace, housing and financial pressures were the biggest causes. Most worryingly, suicide rates among men had increased by nearly 14% between 2017 and 2018.
What this demonstrates is that we need to create spaces for young men where they know they can talk. At present, young working-class white boys and black boys from Caribbean backgrounds are underachieving in schools; these conversations are essential to provide them with role models and create steps to build fruitful careers that support our society.
In 2014 we launched “Rocking Ur Teens” a community interest company that focuses on introducing young people to the world of work in a real and meaningful way. We take great pride in introducing people to all types of roles, not just those that are done in big cities or require university degrees. We also explore positions in the trades, creative and academic sectors.
One of the most powerful moments for me over the years was when a young boy stood up and shared his journey of starting high school wanting to like education while also wanting to be cool. Our speaker advised that “cool” is nice but being able to eat as an adult is more beneficial, so he implored him to stick to enjoying education.
For International Men’s Day on November 11th we hosted a virtual conference where speakers shared their career journeys and advise on ways to manage mental health at this challenging time in our lives with over 300 young boys.
If you celebrate this day, please think about how you engage with the next generation.