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Making it better for our boys….

When Chloe Kelly scored the winning goal in extra time for England against Germany, securing a 2-1 win and the country’s first ever women’s major tournament victory, the 24-year-old celebrated in a way which many have suggested could inspire a generation of young girls to follow their dreams. 

Kelly’s celebration was a throwback to retired USA footballer Brandi Chastain, who did the same thing when she scored the decisive penalty in the 1999 World Cup final.

In the minutes after the goal social media was awash with posts saying what a powerful moment this was for women and girls.  I agree and the moment for me captured the potential for sport to be a catalyst for change.

In the days after the final, I reflected on this moment and wondered why we have so many women looking out for girls so visibly, but we don’t see a similar number of men having similar aspirations for our young boys. 

Surely our boys deserve similar? Or do we just expect them to suck it up like you and I had to?

In the last two weeks here has been three media stories which have rightly captured the news debate here in Scotland.  What hasn’t been discussed much within these stories is the role that men feature in all of them. 

When the drug death numbers for Scotland were released in July, the focus was on the total of deaths. The story became a political football for many with little or no attention being focused on the statistic that around 70% of drug deaths involve men.  When the Suicide statistics for Scotland were released, again the focus was on numbers not the fact that three out of four suicides in Scotland involved men.

Lastly, on the release of deaths caused by alcohol in Scotland, we saw again political parties and individuals criticising responses.  As in the other stories men featured disproportionately with two thirds of the deaths being men.  Again, little or no discussion took place on this.

 When we simply look at numbers, we fail to look at risk factors.  By the way looking at men doesn’t mean we don’t look at women and others in these statistics.  We need to, but we need to be smarter and ask some uncomfortable questions as to why do boys and men feature disproportionately in these stories.

When we don’t, we fail men and the boys who will continue to die until we have these needed conversations.

As a society we need to get better at looking out for each other, but I also feel we need to be ever mindful of the risks that face boys and men.  There’s a clear role for men to be the role models that our boys look up to and are inspired by.  Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a sports coach, or a male sporting hero you have a role in helping our boys.

As men we are the guideposts for the next generation.  Learn to better notice the challenges we face as men and work to provide the skills that will help boys overcome them.  Help them develop their character.  Speak to them about what they stand for, their values as an individual.  I call this their brand.  Help them build their brand, their presence.  Your greatest superpower is your presence.  Character matters.

For anyone working with or living with young boys think of the skills they need to be healthy and emotionally strong men.  For me, how we help provide these skills will go a long way to reducing suicide, drug, and alcohol addiction for the long term.

For me skills would include finding and keeping friends, knowing its ok to ask for help, being able to walk away from negative peer influence, being strong and gentle at the appropriate time, taking responsibility, understanding the feelings of others and self (Emotional Intelligence), controlling anger, and keeping healthy and strong.

You know better than me the young boys and men you live or work with.  Invest in the relationships you have with them.  I learned many things in my policing career, but it was the power of the healthy relationship that stuck with me most. 

It’s in these relationships that the magic happens. It’s here we can make a real difference in both helping our boys in their lives as well as reducing the many social issues that impact negatively on men and on wider society.

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