How Adolescent Boys And Girls Seek And Develop Purpose Differently
Research from a number of scientific fields can help us develop an understanding of the "male" way of seeking purpose during adolescence.
Seeking the Self Inside His DNA
Zoological and genetics sciences are now providing insight into male adolescence by studying male biochemistry in not just humans, but other species as well. Researchers such as University of Toronto zoologist Susannah Varmuza have compared DNA evidence from humans and other primates and discovered that, as Dr. Varmuza put it, "At the level of DNA, a male human is more similar to the male chimpanzee than he is to a female human, because of the Y chromosome."
This kind of research is controversial because of its stark comparisons with other animals, which can seem to make males look unsophisticated, inferior, or defective. Researchers like Dr. Varmuza, however, are studying DNA patterns on the Y chromosome in order to help us understand the needs of both boys and girls, and the patterns of nurturing that are required for males and females to be successful. The Y chromosome sets males up for surges and spikes of testosterone during adolescence that need a certain kind of care and supervision.
Among chimpanzees, for instance, the social process of acquiring power, then acting in socially helpful ways, is taught differently to young males than it is to young females. All young chimps commonly learn about power and service via experimental behavior, and then communal response. Civilized behavior is modeled from older chimps, and punishments by senior males and females are meted out for wrong behavior, as are rewards for right behavior.
For males in particular, however, when their testosterone begins to flow at puberty, there is special attention to discipline and self-discipline via role development. Males challenge other males hierarchically to figure out where they are in the pecking order and what role they should play for the survival of the group. These males receive "wounding" (rebuffs) like Kelley's son Connor received. This kind of wounding and aggression-nurturance is a part of the development of males' sense of empathy and boundaries against too-extreme risk-taking. The community wants male energy directed rather than haphazard, seeking after healthy roles and goals, rather than constantly warring against other groups or within the group.
This kind of research is useful to us in helping our boys. It need not limit our sons, and certainly our sons are not chimps! But they are being hit—via five to seven spikes of testosterone per day—with high levels of a chemical that stimulates aggression and risk-taking behavior. Their need for hierarchical supervision (especially if they are more aggressive than other boys) is absolute: without it, they may well not be able to channel and discipline their energy—the very energy that can, if supervised, help them achieve a valuable life purpose and seek and find a path of worth. Helping pubertal boys manage their aggression (helping them "battle the primitive" with the "expectations of civilization") is a very human duty, and one that takes courage and a lot of people who are ready for the challenge.
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