The Social Phenomenon of “Male Imprinting” Between the Ages of 13 and 16.
Until the age of 12, the typical boy is simply a child, in many ways indistinguishable from the typical girl of his age. But once a boy enters the throes of puberty, especially in its early stages, from around age 13 and up to about age 16, he enters a very vulnerable, impressionable phase of his social development where he is uniquely susceptible to “male imprinting.” In those critical years, a boy experiences the cravings of manhood. He longs to be the embodiment of what he perceives manhood to be: big, strong, brave, successful, respectable, responsible. He looks forward to dressing like, acting like, and being like an adult male of his culture. At that brief—but critical—juncture, a young man innately seeks out gentlemen and family men so as to emulate them. But absent such male models in his life, he, by default, oftentimes embraces another model. And, typically, the model of male manhood embraced by a young boy during the three-year imprinting phase endures a lifetime.
There are three archetypal males: The Gentleman; The Family Man; and The “Thug.” And an adolescent male, during the critical imprinting period, will typically pattern his maleness off whichever archetype is most prevalent or accessible in his life. In some cases a boy may reject a more prominent archetype for a less prominent one, but such is not generally the case.
If blessed with a family of gentlemen/family men, a boy need look no further than the confines of his kinfolk for male-modeling. In the absence of desirable archetypal males in his family, a boy looks outward—to a teacher or a coach or a pastor or an employer, for example, for gentlemanly mentorship. But that mentorship must be hands-on, up-close, and personal. Yes, a celebrity may be looked up to and admired (even emulated) from afar, but a boy wants and needs a real, flesh-and-blood male upon whom to pattern his gentlemanly self. And young men who lack direct access to the gentleman/family man prototypes may be lured by the lore of subculture male “thug” types, gang leadership being one of the most prominent.
As such, it is incumbent upon gentlemen/family men to adopt an “each one, teach one” approach, where men, cognizant of the social-imprinting vulnerability of boys between the ages of 13 and 16, and recognizing that the path taken by a boy, either by proactive selection or by default, will oftentimes have life-long implications, should devote a portion of their time to actively engaging in the mentorship of young males—whether as athletics coaches, scout leaders, “big brother” initiatives, internship facilitators, youth group leaders, employers, etc. In essence, every gentleman should in his lifetime have at least one young, male, non-relative protégé who, upon reaching adulthood, can directly and personally attribute his social success to him.