By Terri Finch Hamilton
Copyright 2005 The Grand Rapids Press
All rights reserved. Used with permission

If teen-agers start knocking Randy Flood’s door down asking for help, he’ll be surprised. Happy, but surprised.

“Not too many 17-year-old boys would go to their parents and say ‘you’ve got to find me a therapist because I’m abusing my girlfriend,’ ” says Flood, clinical coordinator of the Pine Rest Men’s Program on Domestic Relationships, designed to help men stop abusing the women in their lives.

“I think when you’re a teen-ager, it’s just explained away as a bad relationship, and the kids are encouraged to break up,” he says, “rather than admitting there’s a stronger personal problem going on there.”

There’s good reason to help abusive boys early, he says.

“If you’re having problems as an adolescent, the likelihood that this behavior will follow you into adult relationships is very high,” Flood says.

The basics of an abusive relationship are the same with teens as with adults, Flood says, but the symptoms are different.

“A 14-year-old wouldn’t describe the trigger for his anger as ‘she bounced a check,’ ” he says. “He’d say ‘she was talking to Ralph in the hall’ or ‘she said she’d call me after she got back from the pizza place and she didn’t.’ ”

But it’s still about the abuser’s need to have power and control, whether he’s 15 or 50. If the 15-year-old won’t help himself, Flood says, maybe our efforts should turn toward 15-month-olds.

“The larger issue at hand is changing how we socialize and train boys,” Flood says.

“We teach little boys to be tough and strong and independent and not to cry.  In pursuit of masculinity, we’re squashing humanity,” he says. “When that kind of rigid training takes place, it’s going to especially affect the most vulnerable boys.”

Who are the most vulnerable boys?

Boys who have witnessed abuse in their home, Flood says. Boys who are biologically prone to be aggressive or impulsive. Boys who have been neglected emotionally.

“A boy who’s experienced emotional neglect will look to his girlfriend to meet all those emotional needs,” Flood says.

Parents should teach their boys that they are responsible and accountable for their actions, Flood says.

“Boys need to know that abuse and violence are choices they make,” he says. “Not something they can blame on someone else. They need to learn about respect, that they should treat girls and women as individuals.”

That’s tough when MTV, Hollywood and the songs they hear on the radio are showing them just the opposite, he says.

“At least talk to them about those messages, and what’s wrong with them,” Flood says.

“We need to raise boys to be nurturing and good listeners,” he says. ” . . . If we do a better job at nurturing boys and not fearing that by nurturing them we’ll create homosexuals and effeminate men, those boys will grow up to be more healthy in their intimate relationships.”

Men who batter women were boys once, he says.

“We had an opportunity to mold them,” Flood says, “and maybe we missed the boat.”