Boys behaving badly?

December 2013

 

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This year, the annual ‘undie run’ at Tauranga Boys’ College took an ugly turn, prompting a letter bemoaning the recent bad behaviour of boys in general. Principal Robert Mangan’s response below gives an insight into the complex and multi-faceted process of turning boys into fine young men.

Letter to the editor (abridged):

Tauranga Boys’ College recently had its annual end of year undie run. It is an event that has been going on for generations and one which generally is done in good spirits. It involves the boys stripping down to their underwear and running through nearby Girls College. They come with more than just a g-string and a grin though, they are usually armed with eggs or rotten fruit to hurl at the girls as they sprint past. The staff and students at Girls College seem resigned to having to put up with this event each year which is largely seen as just some harmless fun.

But this year was different. A number of girls made preparations for what was to come. They bought plastic ponchos to protect themselves from the eggs and rotten fruit. They armed themselves with water pistols and super soakers. They planned to ambush the boys and give them as good as they got.

The boys, however, had plans, too. This year was going to be different from all that went before. They came with eggs and rotten fruit but their arsenal of weaponry also included solid lumps of vegetables, petrol, excrement, dead animals and, incredibly, at least one animal foetus.

As the girls waited in anticipation, little did they know what they were in for. When the hordes of boys descended on the school they cornered small groups of girls and laid into them. Many of the boys are well known to the girls having been in primary and intermediate school together. They have also participated in sports together and gone to each other’s school balls. But none of that mattered in the frenzy of the attack. Neither the girls’ tears nor pleas for mercy had any effect on their attackers.

When it was all over the girls were coated in foul smelling liquid, some were bruised and streaked with excrement, others had animal blood and god knows what else pasted all over them.

There has been much talk recently in the media about boys abusing girls particularly in relation to the Auckland boys who call themselves “roast busters”. What concerns me in particular about that group’s awful conduct is their complete lack of human empathy. It is as if they have either not learned or somehow they have unlearned what it is to be human. There appears to be no shame, no guilt, no embarrassment and no understanding of the pain they have caused. This is the hall mark of psychopathic behaviour. And what is particularly scary is the fact that there appears to be an ever growing number of young people that share at least some of these characteristics.

Boys must be taught that being stronger or faster does not make you better. They must be taught to love and respect girls as equals. They must be taught that the bridge to the future is built on the difference between boys and girls.

We must deal with the issue head on today otherwise we face an uncertain future.

N BURKE

Response:

ROBERT MANGAN, Principal of Tauranga Boys’ College

“It takes a village to raise a child”: a phrase often used to describe the journey a child experiences and the various societal factors that influence the child’s development from birth to adulthood. It is an acknowledgement that the adult is a result of the combination of the cumulative experiences and influences they experience throughout this journey to maturity.

It raises the question of the role of secondary schools in that journey and their responsibility in influencing the development and the character of the adolescent who leaves the school. No longer is educating a child, ensuring that they have the skills, knowledge and educational qualifications to succeed in the 21st Century, sufficient. Schools are increasingly being held responsible for character development, for social, emotional and behavioural development and being held accountable for adolescent behaviour, despite the well-documented changes occurring in society, not least of which is social media.

Secondary schools understand their responsibility to manage and guide adolescents on this journey to adulthood and will modify their approach to meet the challenges presented through the formative years of 12 and 13 years to the young adult of 18 years.

At Tauranga Boys’ College, our vision is to grow boys into good men and to support them as they experience the hormonal and emotional roller coaster of adolescence. We focus on the qualities of good men: trusting, loyal, harmonious, honest, motivated, hardworking, generous, humble, compassionate and respectful. We use a variety of forums to emphasise the importance of these qualities, from Principal’s assemblies, administration assemblies, to the classroom, the sports field and the cultural arena.

Through programmes such as “Positive Behaviour for Learning”, we emphasise our respect code, incorporating – respect for self, respect for others, and respect for the school – with “acting like a gentleman” underpinning respect for others. Expected behaviour is taught explicitly then reinforced and recognised.

At Year 9 and Year 10, our boys require greater guidance and support. Consequences and discipline is more frequently required to ensure the boys understand the expected behaviour. As they journey through the school the vast majority modify their behaviour and their personal responsibility grows, so less intervention is required to guide them in modifying their behaviour. They increasingly take responsibility for their actions and take on a role of influencing the behaviour of younger boys in the school.

By Year 13, the vast majority are able to control their behaviour without the need for disciplinary consequences. They understand the expectations and require minimal intervention from staff members to conform to the rules of the school and the expectations of society.

In recognition of reaching the milestone of Year 13 at Tauranga Boys’ College, boys are allowed a different uniform to the rest of the year groups, in the form of a white shirt. This recognition is given to those who reach an expected level of academic achievement and/or behaviour. Along with this recognition go certain responsibilities and privileges that the vast majority of boys embrace in a positive manner. These young men respond to being treated as young adults, being challenged to self-manage their behaviour. They understand the responsibility they have as role models to the younger boys at the college and how influential they are on the climate of the college.

As the maturity of these boys increases, so they modify their behaviour to meet the expectations of the school. Some, however, will still require intervention and discipline to guide them in making the right choices about behaviour. For some the likelihood of consequences will still be a significant factor in guiding their behaviour, just as there are a number of adults in our society who require a deterrent to modify their behaviour in the form of a fine or prison sentence, rather than social disapproval. A prime example of this is the need for testing of drivers to identify those driving while drunk, and the imposition of a consequence on those who choose to break the law.

These young men respond best to being treated ‘reasonably’, by having rules justified and appealing to their sense of loyalty to be worthy role models and representatives of the college.

This reasoned approach is aimed at empowering these young men to use self-discipline to guide their behaviour, rather than need externally imposed discipline. This is in preparation for leaving school and home, away from the watchful eyes of parents, into flats or university halls, where they have the freedom to make choices about behaviour for themselves with the resultant consequences.

Throughout the journey through the college, the boys experience a number of rituals. As they first enter at Year 9, they are challenged by the rest of the college to be worthy representatives of Tauranga Boys’ College, to be proud of the college and maintain its reputation. They sense that they are part of something bigger than themselves and have a responsibility to maintain the same level of achievement as those who are at the college and the old boys who have gone before them.

For those who are in Year 13, the year begins with a breakfast with teaching staff, where they are challenged to lead the rest of the boys, to maintain the expectations the teachers and the rest of the college has of them, to model the values of respect and good men, and to respond to the privileges that go with the senior uniform. They grow to understand the influence they have on the culture of the college and the importance of the legacy they will leave. During the year, those who respond to the expectations are given additional privileges, showing their maturity and ability to self-manage their behaviour. For some, this proves a difficult task and punitive measures are required, including the removal of the senior uniform and the associated privileges, until they show they are able to exhibit the self-control expected.

The social highlight for the Year 13 boys is the college ball, made more appealing as a Year 13-only function. This provides an opportunity to experience a more formal occasion than most will have had previously; to dress in a tuxedo and share a sit-down meal with a partner, before enjoying an evening dancing in the function room of Mills Reef Winery. Expectations of behaviour are made clear and the boys and their partners respond and welcome the opportunity to show the self-control of which they are capable.

As their five years at college draws to an end, all students look for the opportunity to mark the end of an era. For the boys of Tauranga Boys’ College, the final day is marked with a Leavers’ Assembly to enable a final farewell from the boys and staff to be made. The leavers sit facing the rest of the school while final words from the principal and the head boy are delivered.

An award is presented to the Year 13 boy who best displays the qualities of a good man, judged by his peers. This “Wade Norton Memorial Award”, commemorates a young teacher who died of cancer whilst teaching at Tauranga Boys’ College: a young man who exemplified the qualities of a good man. Then the 1,500 boys who remain students at the college perform a powerful haka, acknowledging the leadership and contribution the leavers have made to the college and challenging them to carry the reputation of the college with them, as they become old boys of the college. The leavers then depart to a standing ovation, carried out of the assembly by the ringing applause of the school before they gather for a shared lunch hosted by the Tauranga Boys’ College Old Boys’ Association, an event that marks the transition of the boys from present students to Old Boys of the College.

As well as the school organised traditions and rituals, the Year 13 boys seek informal ways to mark the milestone, as do other Year 13 students in secondary schools across New Zealand. Throughout the year, they have interacted with the girls from Tauranga Girls’ College; many of them enjoying the ball together, sharing in cultural activities, the fashion show, the joint college production, and musical groups. A number will have close friends at Tauranga Girls’ College, separated during school hours but socialising outside school hours together or via social media. So it is natural both the boys and girls want to mark the milestone together in some manner: to engage in friendly rivalry as boys and girls of all ages have done for centuries.

Over the last couple of years, this behaviour has amplified to a level where there has been real concern for health and safety by the senior staff of both colleges. The behaviour has been reciprocal with the favourite activity being the egging of cars belonging to students from the other college. Boys and girls have run, scantily clad, through each other’s schools, with both schools being targeted with material which requires hours of cleaning to remove. This year, two weeks before the Year 13s were released from both colleges, the first action occurred. One group targets a student’s vehicle with eggs, flour, fish oil, and animal offal, followed by retaliatory action from students of the other college. Prompt action follows by senior staff at both colleges, with individuals being identified and consequences put in place to ensure that others understood that discipline would be applied where individuals identified did not meet the level of expected behaviour.

For a number of the boys, the desire to do the “undie run” remained. For the vast majority, this presented an opportunity to be daring, to engage in friendly rivalry and interact with their friends from Tauranga Girls’ College, and to follow in a tradition that Year 13s from both colleges have engaged in over the last few years.

However, a small number engage in totally unacceptable behaviour, going to extremes, showing a lack of self-control well below that expected, forgetting their responsibility to retain the reputation of the college, letting themselves, their peers, and the college down through their actions. Believing themselves to be anonymous in the crowd, they behave as if unaffected by their five years at the college, where the focus has been on the values of showing respect and traits of good men.

These boys appear influenced more by changing external factors such as the media and social media, which contribute to the normalizing of this type of irresponsible and disrespectful behaviour. Factors adding to the challenge for secondary schools as they have no power to control either. Through their lack of self-control and actions, they are also leaving both colleges with the challenge of managing this behaviour in future years. The challenge to somehow guide the young men and women of both colleges to find acceptable ways to acknowledge the milestone, ensuring the health and safety of all, whilst also providing the excitement, challenge and interaction desired through some form of event or ritual. For as a society, there will always be those who push the boundaries, overstep the mark, break the rules, and consequently, spoil events for others. Our adolescents will continue to mark milestones, follow traditions, and have rituals to signify significant events whether we as secondary schools manage them or not.

At Tauranga Boys’ College, we will continue to focus on supporting boys on their journey to manhood with rituals and traditions to mark milestones. Focusing on respect as a core value, we know the vast majority of our boys leave the college as “good men”, going on to be great mates, boyfriends, brothers, partners, husbands and fathers, and certain in our knowledge that it is easier to grow a boy than repair a man.


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