What About Boys? A Literature Review on the Health and Development of Adolescent Boys

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Assumptions are often made about the health and development of adolescent boys: that they are faring well, and supposedly have fewer health needs and developmental risks compared to adolescent girls; and that adolescent boys are disruptive, aggressive and hard to work with. This second assumption focuses on specific aspects of boys behaviour and development such as violence and delinquency criticising and sometimes criminalising their behaviour without adequately understanding its context. These generalisations do not take into account the fact that adolescent boys like adolescent girls are a heterogeneous population. Many boys are in school, but too many are out of school; others work; some are fathers; some are partners or husbands of adolescent girls; others are bi- or homosexual; some are involved in armed conflicts as combatants and/or victims; some are sexually or physically abused in their homes; some sexually abuse young women or other young men; some are living or working on the streets; others are involved in survival sex. The majority of adolescent boys are, in fact, faring well in their health and development. They represent positive forces in their societies and are respectful in their relationships with young women and with other young men. However, some young men face risks and have health and developmental needs that may not have been considered, or are socialised in ways that lead to violence and discrimination against women, violence against other young men, and health risks to themselves and their communities. New research and perspectives call for a more careful and thorough understanding of how adolescent boys are socialised, what they need in terms of healthy development, and what health systems can do to assist them in more appropriate ways, and how we can engage boys to promote greater gender equity for adolescent girls. The purpose of this document is to review existing and available literature on adolescent boys and their health and development; analyse this research for programme and policy implications; and highlight areas where additional research is needed. This document also seeks to describe what is special about adolescent boys and their developmental and health needs, and to make the case for focusing special attention on meeting the needs of boys and on working with boys to promote greater gender equity for adolescent girls. Finally, this document is limited by information that was available. Some of the research and information on programmes working with adolescent boys is not in print; in many cases, programme experiences are new and have not yet been evaluated or documented. In many parts of the world, studies on adolescent health focus primarily on adolescent girls (Majali and Salem Pickartz, 1999).


Gary Barker

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