World Day of the Boy Child: Factors affecting boys’ mental health in Ghana
World Day of the Boy Child which falls on May 16 each year is observed around the world by boy child advocacy organisations.
The global theme for 2023 is: 'Boys and mental health'.
Despite significant progress in improving gender equality and empowering girls, boys continue to face unique challenges that affect their mental health and social development leading to poor academic performance, among others, thus it has now become very important to recognise and address the challenges facing young boys in Ghana.
Here are five factors that are, particularly, relevant for Ghanaian boys after an eight-year interaction with boys through Junior Shapers Africa’s (JSA’s), a male child personal development initiative, extra curricular initiatives.
Father Absence Phenomenon
The first is Father Absence Phenomenon: Many boys in Ghana are growing up in households with less involvement of fathers in their lives due to various reasons such as death, neglect of pregnancy, poor fatherly leadership and direction in the home, separation, divorce, nature of father's job or migration.
During JSA's engagement with boys in Jamestown, Accra in 2020, it was observed that four out of five boys go to bed and leave for school without seeing their father for days, weeks or months.
This story is not so different with children from middle to upper class homes.
Boys complain of not having the opportunity to spend enough time with dads due to their busy work schedules.
This is, therefore, resulting in negative consequences on their mental and social health, as boys often rely on male role models for guidance and support as they transition into puberty.
The combination of an emotionally unavailable father and an overwhelmed busy mother may force some boys to align with bad peers or rely on television and social media male models for masculine guidance which can be dangerous.
Poor Mental Health
The second is Poor Mental Health and Emotional Intelligence Awareness: Mental health issues are often stigmatised in Ghana, and boys may struggle to express their emotions and seek help when needed.
This lack of awareness and understanding of emotional intelligence can lead to long-term mental health challenges leading to unhealthy relationships with themselves and others.
School authorities must begin to prioritise mental health awareness for students.
The third is Disciplinary Discrimination by Parents and Teachers: in some homes and schools, boys are often subjected to harsher disciplinary measures than girls, which can have a negative impact on their self-esteem and social development.
Boys often complain about not being offered a fair hearing in their classrooms when, for instance, there is a fight or argument between a boy and a girl.
Teachers are seen often taking the sides of girls and punishing the boys severely.
This situation may contribute to the perpetuation of harmful gender stereotypes.
An abused boy is likely to perpetuate abuse.
The fourth is Insufficient Exposure to Positive Male Role Models and Mentorship Opportunities: In Ghana we have very few men initiating mentorship programmes for young boys.
Many boys lack exposure to positive male role models and mentorship opportunities, which can limit their potential for personal and social growth.
In recent times, some boys derive inspiration from male celebrities they see on television or social media platforms who display superficial affluence.
This may lead to a misguided perception about masculinity, values and work ethic among young boys.
Lack of Validation
Finally, the fifth one is Lack of Validation for their Feelings, Emotions, and Interests: "Barima nsu" meaning men don't cry in Akan language is often told to boys and men who dare to express their emotions or tears.
This situation often pressurises boys to conform to traditional masculine norms and suppress their emotions and interests, leading to a lack of validation for their individuality.
There are sad incidences where parents ridicule their boys for allowing another child to bully them at school or for choosing a career that is considered to be feminine. This can result in difficulties in forming authentic relationships and finding their place in society.
On this World Day of the Boy Child, let us recognise these challenges and commit to creating a more equitable and supportive environment for all children in Ghana.
By addressing these factors affecting the mental and social health of Ghanaian boys by parents and educators, we can empower them to reach their full potential and thrive as healthy and confident future men, husbands and fathers.
Mahatma Ghandi once said; "It's easier to build a boy than to mend a man"
JSA is looking foward to collaborating with mental health experts in Ghana to organise its maiden mental health fitness walk for boys and dads.
World Day of The Boy Child
World Day of the Boy Child was founded in 2018 by Dr Jerome Teelucksingh, a university lecturer from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
It focuses on boys and their well-being, their needs to feel happy, healthy, and valued within family and community.
There is an urgent need to focus on the home and school in order to save the boy child.
Junior Shapers Africa (JSA)
Founded in 2015, Junior Shapers Africa (JSA) is Ghana's foremost boy child and male youth personal development initiative established to address the silent struggles of boys and inspire boys to become phenomenal gentlemen for the betterment of our society.
Annually, JSA runs a variety of extra curricular programmes under the name JSA Phenomenal Boys Academy to train and counsel various age groups of boys.
It has trained and counselled close to 9000 boys/youth in personal development through virtual sessions, camps and events.
JSA has been supporting the educational needs of the less privileged boys, since 2016 and it is currently funding a year tertiary education of a mechanical engineering student at Accra Technical University
It is blessed with an inspiring alumni community who inspires junior gentlemen annually through peer mentorship.
* The writer is the Founding Director: Junior Shapers Africa & JSA Phenomenal Boys Academy