A boy today

First report from an all-party parliamentary group on issues affecting men and boys, with input from psychologists.

An all-party parliamentary group on issues affecting men and boys has produced a new report, ‘A Boy Today’, with input from British Psychological Society members.

Nick Fletcher, MP for Don Valley and Vice Chair of the Group, said that ‘between April and July 2021 we took evidence in four sessions, from seven leading UK experts, which help paint a picture of the disadvantages and problems that so many boys face and the ideas they have to solve them.’ The result is a report in four sections, covering Family Life/Fatherlessness, Education, Community/Social influences and Health.

Speaking on Education, Professor Gijsbert Stoet explained that British boys fall behind girls in educational achievement in all stages of our education system. He said that research data shows clearly that the ‘boy problem’ starts early, so they are behind even when they come into school. Stoet’s policy recommendations included more investment in raising boys’ literacy skills, including the encouragement of reading for fun; and greater access for educational researchers to educational data.

On Community, the Group heard from Naomi Murphy – Clinical Director of The Fens Unit at HMP Whitemoor and an honorary Professor of Psychology at Nottingham Trent University. By the time men get to her they have typically been assessed on multiple occasions by a probation officer and a psychologist, ‘yet six months after they’ve been with us we see a statistically significant increase in the kind of disclosures that men talk about. These are typically disclosures of vulnerability. The men are highly resistant to sharing stories about their vulnerability, about trauma early on in life and mostly men take much longer to talk about that than they talk about their offending.’ Murphy called for more willingness to hear about the vulnerability of boys, a more balanced debate about the sexes, greater investment in parenting skills and investment in ‘finding ways to create and publicise positive male role models’.

Martin Seager, Past Chair of the British Psychological Society’s Male Psychology Section, said that being invited to address the APPG was ‘another important milestone in getting “male gender blindness” recognised as a key public health issue for our society’. He called for a closer link between policy and good data; a more positive and inclusive societal and political narrative with respect to men and boys; and the inclusion of male psychology in psychology training and academic courses.

The report identified three overarching themes from the input of the seven experts invited to the group:
-        the mainstream narrative leads to a lack of action on disadvantage and issues negatively affecting boys and men, even when the facts are in plain sight.
-        the psychological, behavioural and developmental differences between boys and girls needs to be better understood.
-        early trauma will have a lasting impact on boys and men; this is not men’s fault or something that is intrinsic in being male.

Vice-Chair Fletcher concluded that ‘…if we are to live in a fully inclusive country, we need to address the disadvantages that men and boys face alongside the disadvantages women and girls face. We all live in our society together – boys are sons, brothers and future husbands, partners, dads and work colleagues. Resolving the issues boys face today means a better society for all, now and in the future.’

Dr John Barry, Chair of the Male Psychology Section, said: ‘The Male Psychology Section of the BPS is glad to have contributed to this important report for parliamentarians and policy-makers. We think it represents a significant step forward in bringing wider recognition to, and awareness of, the main issues facing boys and men in the UK today.’

- Read the report via tinyurl.com/appgmenboys

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