The mono­syl­labic phase

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - NEWS -

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.

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