By Laura Bickle
Photo: Next Gen Men
What does it mean to “be a man?” That question is being explored and redefined by Next Gen Men, a Canadian organization that promotes positive masculinities, healthy relationships and gender equity in schools, communities and workplaces across Canada. “When young men are given permission to be their whole selves and shed the confines of the man-box, they will show up healthier and happier in their communities, including schools,” says Jake Stika, executive director. We asked Stika to share how Next Gen Men’s mission can help students.
Tell us about Next Gen Men.
Our after-school program for boys explores positive, healthy ways to “be a man,” as well as leadership skills, self-confidence, empathy, emotional intelligence and self-awareness. It also builds skills for recognizing and preventing mental illness, and explores what a healthy relationship looks like, how to practise consent, and how to be a good friend.
We also offer custom workshops and presentations for youth as well as capacity building for administrators, educators and youth workers.
Why is this type of program important?
Every one of us knows what is implied by “man up” or “boys will be boys.” These cultural assumptions tie into so many aspects of boys’ and men’s lives, including their mental and physical well-being, their relationships with partners and their peers, as well as how they handle adversity. It is important to role model new possibilities as boys transition into young men.
Next Gen Men seeks to redefine traditional ideals of masculinity to be inclusive of many masculinities, to have healthy relationships based on equity, and to challenge homophobia, transphobia and misogyny.
How can teachers promote healthy masculinity?
The most important thing teachers can do is to hold space for each young man to be himself. It’s difficult enough to navigate adolescence without authority figures dictating how you should be rather than creating an invitation to what you could be. Additionally, I think that it’s important for educators to understand the impacts of gender and masculinity on young men’s social and emotional development. I recommend Rachel Giese’s Boys: What It Means to Become a Man or Michael Reichert’s How to Raise a Boy, as well as the documentary The Mask You Live In and podcasts like Modern Manhood and Breaking the Boycode (both connected to Next Gen Men).
How can schools bring the program to their students?
We’ve primarily worked in the York Region District School Board. This fall we’re looking to broaden our footprint in Toronto. Schools can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since we have a wait list, we’re starting a pilot project called Next Gen Mentors and encourage educators to reach out to us if they would like to start a boy’s club at their school.