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Dr. Jonathan R. Aronoff
psychologist, team building, team performance
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The 'Lost Boys' of the Berkshires
Berkshire Record | March 11-17, 2011

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  STOCKBRIDGE- How do we explain the increasing number of bright adolescent boys in our community who are failing to grow up? Why are so many of them lacking in respect for their parents, teachers, authority figures in general, their peers, and (though they do not know it yet) themselves? Is this level of indifference to achievement in life unprecedented? And, is their substantial substance abuse to blame for such apathy or does the apathy lead to substance abuse?

Jonathan Aronoff, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and psychoanalyst – as well as being an experienced personal and executive coach, and sports coach (in the 1990’s he coached the girls’ soccer program at Monument Mountain Regional High School-- has some answers to these disturbing questions. He has been treating adolescent boys in his private practice in Stockbridge for the past 17 years. He not only has answers, but he believes he also has solutions for what he calls these “lost boys.” Aronoff is working on a book entitled, “The Lost Generation of Boys,” a title that identifies a preponderance of adolescent boys in our community who have no idea who they are and what their lives ought to be. His concern—and the impetus for his book—is adolescent boys: our children and those of our neighbors who are not moving forward in their lives.

He says there are too many teenage boys and young male adults who are “completely lost and have no idea what they’re doing.” In his practice he sees boys who “don’t see a future for themselves” and who “feel that they are above authority.”

Many of these “lost” boys came from good families with loving parents, so why is there a problem? Aronoff attributes the failure of boys to grow up to a number of factors. One of the most significant is the father-son relationship (as opposed to mother-daughter relationship which has its own set of dynamics). The shift in social expectations for men in this culture has created a parenting style of passivity or in some cases reactivity.

Aronoff offers what he calls the “Disney Metaphor” to illustrate why things have come to this. The first generations saved money and bought the land to build Disney World. They built the foundation. The next generation worked to build the Disney estate into an amusement park with rides, restaurants, hotels. Their children, the “lost boys,” are kids who know only how to take the rides. They take the rides over and over again until they are bored; and then they’re at a loss about what to do next.

“Their philosophy of life is about the ride,” and not about “the work,” Aronoff points out. He believes that this state of affairs does not apply to teenage girls as much. More girls are going to college than boys and a greater number of young women are in jobs that were once occupied by men. “Women are more prepared in our society than men are.”

Aronoff’s approach with boys, a “team” approach, is a synthesis of what he has learned as a psychoanalyst and as a coach. His father was influential in its development when he repeatedly said to Aronoff, “I hope you have as much passion in your office working with your patients as you do on the soccer field.”

Aronoff believes that at one time in human history men’s roles as provider and defender of the family established their authority. Today both parents share these tasks and the roles are blurred. Fathers themselves are confused about their identity as men, and rather than being authorities to their sons, behave as if they were friends.

Should their sons get into trouble at school or with the law, many fathers side with their sons and undermine those in authority. Fathers shy away from disciplining their sons with consistency and clear expectations, and become reactive or threatening when their boys do not obey.

Another problem is that the family itself does no operate as a “team,” which Aronoff maintains is crucial to healthy development. Sons are not encouraged to work at chores for the benefit of the family or team. They are allowed to spend great amounts of time alone occupied with computers. The lack of team experience at home is reflected by their incapacity to be part of the school “team” or a sports team. They have become accustomed to doing things on their own when and where they want.

Aronoff is concerned that our society caters to this need for immediate gratification with endless ways for boys to be technologically instead of socially engaged. He contends that this interferes with their ability to concentrate in school and to take the arduous steps that learning requires. These boys are bored in school and in their lives, and this boredom often leads to substance abuse.

The issues manifesting in these “lost boys” are not the result of cruel childhoods or abusive and unloving parents, but of over-indulgent parents and fathers who are not authoritative and consistent with providing structure for their sons.

These are “helicopter” parents who intervene inappropriately in their sons’ lives and often side with their sons when they have transgressed, instead of supporting the correct response of the individuals in authority. In fact, Aronoff attests to the growth in the number of adolescent boys and young adults who first encounter authority on the judicial level and exhibit no remorse for encounters with the law. They show “no fear of being arrested.” Aronoff finds that these boys “talk to their parents as if they are their equals.” Herein, Aronoff believes, lies the breakdown of the boundary and role distinctions that are required for anyone to function well in the world at large.

Boys need to learn these skills somewhere and fathers need to learn how to take charge and be role models, be what Aronoff calls “presidential” in their relationship to their sons. Aronoff is straightforward with these boys, often calling them on their insincerity or attempts at deception. By using the team approach, he attempts to reveal to them their true inner resources, as well as the resources of those on their team. Aronoff becomes an authority whom they respect, often for the first time in their lives.

Debra Golden Alecson of Great Barrington, co-founder of “Ticked off in the Berkshires,” teaches medical ethics at Excelsior College in Albany, NY.

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