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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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