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The Secret Life of Boys

The Entertainer

When there's tension in the group, the Entertainer diffuses it. He's willing to make fun of himself and do awkward things to refocus the attention. He loves debating but never takes it seriously. He responds to the bragging and aggression of other members of his group by bragging himself in ways that are clearly absurd. He's good at making people feel comfortable. His use of humor allows him to be more secure and forgiving.

  • What does the Entertainer gain? A sense of inclusion, belonging and security in the group because he's funny. He has membership in the group but doesn't have to act like a jerk or feel desperate to be in.
  • What does he lose? He always has to keep up the act to feel valuable in the group.
  • What Mom & Dad should know: He has trouble being taken seriously.

The Conscience

The Conscience worries about getting caught and the consequences. Depending on how vocal he is, the other guys can find the Conscience annoying because he's like having a chaperone. If they have a lot of history with him, they'll put up with it. Because he wants to follow the rules, he's much more likely to always do his schoolwork and take care of his responsibilities, which leaves him vulnerable to both sharing his work with his friends and doing work for them, then being ridiculed for having done his work in the first place. Sometimes he'll get tired of his nice-guy reputation and do something to prove he's not so innocent.

  • What does the Conscience gain? Considered a "nice" guy by teachers, administrators and parents, he has that extra layer of trust other guys might not.
  • What does he lose? Considered a "nice" guy by the other boys. Sometimes the group excludes him. Guys in the group will leave him out of certain things because he'll point out when they're doing something mean, stupid or dangerous. He's at risk of being seen as a snitch, which can hurt his friendships.
  • What Mom & Dad should know: Because he's trustworthy, he is used as a smokescreen when dealing with parents and authority figures. As when he says, sincerely, "I'm so sorry, officer. I know my friends were really loud. We'll keep the music down, I promise. No, sir, I haven't had any alcohol."

The Punching Bag

In almost every group of guys, there's one guy who the others love but relentlessly ridicule. It's like when someone says, "No one beats up my little brother but me." If someone outside the group goes after the Punching Bag, the other guys will defend him to the death. Whoever he dates, his friends will harass him for it.

  • What does the Punching Bag gain? Not a lot. He has friends, but the price is high.
  • What does he lose? He can feel he has no choice but to accept his friends' behavior.
  • What Mom & Dad should know: He doesn't like being treated this way, but believes he has to put up with it to keep his friends.

The Fly

The Fly is the kid who hovers outside the group. He doesn't understand how annoying he is. If his parents have money, he'll try to build his friendships by bragging or buying. Guys can tolerate a Fly for a while, but usually the frustration builds and at some point the other guys have had enough and lash out. There's no guilt when excluding him because he's seen as bringing it on himself.

  • What does the Fly gain? Nothing.
  • What does he lose? A lot.
  • What Mom & Dad should know: "Parents just don't or can't see that their kid is the Fly," says Chris, 15. "They keep buying more things so other kids will like him. We don't like him. We use him. Parents can't see the difference."

The Champion

He isn't controlled by these Boy World categories but has enough of its positive characteristics that people respect him. People like him. He can take criticism, doesn't make people choose friends and doesn't blow off someone for a better offer. When people are harassed or demeaned, he intervenes. He's comfortable hanging out with guys who are both inside and outside the Act Like a Man ideal. He holds his own opinion, but still listens to others.

  • What does the Champion gain? People genuinely like him and respect him.
  • What does he lose? People will sometimes turn on him for doing the right thing or not upholding the Act Like a Man ideal. It can be lonely.
  • What Mom & Dad should know: Champions are rare and, contrary to your instinct, your son probably isn't in this category. "I'm not sure you should put the Champion stuff in [your book] for the parents because as soon as they read it, they're going to think their son is one," Calvin, 15, wrote to me. "How are we going to convince them that they're probably wrong?"

You may not like the role your son fits into, but remember boys' roles aren't life sentences. Masterminds can realize the price of their arrogance and Punching Bags can learn to stand up to their friends. However, feelings of power, disempowerment and struggling with friendships are universal. There will always be a group that has the trappings of power. There will always be people in the middle. Outliers will have moments when they should confront people who have more power. All boys will have moments when they see someone being trapped in the Act Like a Man box or punished for not conforming to it, but not know what to do. The trick is to open up healthy lines of communication with your son so that he knows he can come to you for help handling any situation.

Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.

Want to know more about Masterminds and Wingmen? Go to to find out when we're having a live Facebook chat with Rosalind this month and to enter to win a copy of her book.



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