The monosyllabic phase
Lee Suckling writes on a grim subject today – our high rate of suicide, particularly among young men. In Lee’s opinion the problem is linked to that lingering cultural pressure in New Zealand to harden up and be the strong, silent guy who keeps his problems to himself.
His theory reminded me of a chat I had this week with another person featured in this issue – Mary-anne Scott, who has written two novels for young adults; both of them with boys as lead protagonists. Mary-anne knows a bit about boys, having raised four herself, although (now aged from 25 to 32) they still remain something of a mystery to her.
Mary-anne says she saw each of her sons become unexpressive Kiwi lads during their teen years.
“When they were little they were quite cuddly and sweet but there comes a time when they pull away. They become angular and awkward and hard to hug. Sometimes they might sling an arm around your shoulders but any contact has to be on their terms.
“You sort of wonder, who is hugging them? Everyone needs physical contact.”
Verbal communication was also drastically reduced. “If I had something to say I had to get it out pretty fast. They had a short listening span... And I’d often pick a moment when we were doing something alongside each other or driving.”
In general, she says, the teen years were “terrifying” and peppered with incidents involving ambulances, fist fights, visits to police stations, under-age drinking, car races down river banks... “Boys have a code of ethics that isn’t adult,” she says. “It’s almost subhuman.”
Mary-anne is proud of the communicative, respectful adults her sons have become (one is a policeman). But she does think the teen boy phase is due to more than just hormones – it’s our New Zealand society too.
“They are still the same boys but they’re locked into something they think they have to become. They have to be macho and unemotional and if you can’t be that then you’ve got to be funny. Men rate humour. It takes a pretty strong boy to be just who he is and be comfortable.”
We talk some more to Mary-anne and three other finalists in the NZ Children’s Book Awards in our story on page 10.