'I've spoken to over 35,000 boys in Australian schools. This is what I see.'

Adolescence and puberty is a tough time for everyone. But I really feel for young people today who face challenges unlike any other generation. 

When I went through high school, the most mischief I could get up to with my Nokia 3310 was playing snake at the back of a school bus. It also meant the bullying I experienced stopped once I got home. Tragically, that is not the same for teenagers today. 

They are growing up in a digital world of pornographic pop-ups, sexbots, online predators, catfishing and live-streamed violence.

Watch: A snippet of the Four Corners investigation into Sydney boys' school Cranbrook. Post continues after video.

Video via ABC.

In my work, I’ve heard from tens of thousands of students and teachers from every type of school across Australia. Sadly, what I am witnessing in all high schools is a growing callousness and lack of empathy among youth. But this shouldn't surprise any of us when you take a look at the predominant culture shaping young people’s growing identities. 

It’s not their fault — they didn’t create these digital platforms hijacking their limbic systems, yet they have to navigate them. 


Boys are being pressured to not care. To be indifferent to the suffering of others, including their own. Boys tell me one way to prove you’re a 'real' man is by sharing the most degrading, offensive, violent content in the group chat and pretend to be unaffected by it.

They openly tell me they are being exposed to "jokes" and online content that at its mildest features women who supposedly belong in the kitchen to threats about sexual assault and worse. 

I meet countless boys who feel alone and insecure. A potential time bomb that may lead them to act out in ways that harm themselves and others.

These boys need empathy. Yes, they need accountability and to have their attitudes challenged, but we won’t form the type of humans we desperately need to see by just disliking them and their attitudes. 

We need to help boys unpack the messages they receive about masculinity and sex, give them the tools and opportunities to build a healthy identity and provide inspiring examples of good men and respectful relationships.

Sadly, unless we champion boys to challenge their cultural dictates, they won’t have the tools to behave any differently. Of course, there are countless parents and schools doing their utmost to form decent, respectful and empathic young men. But they are in an unfair fight with trillion-dollar industries that undermine their efforts for clicks and social clout. 

And I need to emphasise that these challenges are not confined to one type of school. I’ve spoken in hundreds of schools across Australia — co-ed, independent and state — and I’ve asked female students and staff what it’s like for them. Tragically, it’s all the same.


Sexual harassment is normalised. Rape jokes and sexual moaning sounds are heard by all. The decent boys are shamed and called simps. Staff and students who care and want to push back feel the cost of doing so. 

We need to radically shift the culture so that being upstanders and showing care doesn't come at such a social and emotional toll.


My professional background in health and post-graduate studies in media certainly gave me some of the basic science and philosophical foundations for these conversations with teenagers. But really, it’s my own journey that was the catalyst. 

Being raised mostly by a single mum, I desperately sought my own role models. I was the soft, sensitive kid who faced routine bullying by male peers who slung every gay slur imaginable at me. It was navigating my own insecurities and competing ideas of masculinity that brought me here today.

Ultimately, many people I care about have been hurt by sexually entitled and violent men. And now through my work, there are thousands more who I want to honour with my words and create ways for them to speak out with theirs. 

But this isn’t the full story. 

I get to see the very best of young men every week. One of the most special moments was on a Friday afternoon in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) at the end of term. I had just finished a session with the senior boys and expected them to clear out in a hurry. Instead, I had around 30 young men hang around after school to keep chatting and asking questions. 

Like all schools, I got the usual questions from the lads: what sports do you play? Which team do you support? 

Then it got a bit more personal: what happened to your nose? Sir, what do you bench? 

But before too long, the real questions start flowing: how do I become a good man? How can I make sure my girlfriend feels safe? What does a healthy relationship look like? What should I do if someone is in trouble at a party? How can I support a girl I know who has been hurt? 


It’s incredible what happens when you make time and space for these conversations.

Image: Supplied.

I also know most boys haven’t really had people come alongside them before. In the feedback forms, most boys say they haven’t really heard positive messages about masculinity and relationships, and that they want to hear more and wished they had heard it earlier. This gives me hope, and it certainly keeps me leaning in each day anticipating what’s possible when we give boys the opportunity to be their best selves. 


Call me an idealist, but surely in 2024 we can imagine and champion a vision of masculinity that integrates care with courage, empathy with strength, and resilience with a desire to be kind. It’s our role to get young people to consider what a healthy man looks like — how he talks, how he acts and how he makes others feel.

Each day I engage with young men, I never doubt that I'll witness their terrific insights and growing empathy. 

The real challenge for them (and for all of us, if we’re honest) is having the courage to live out those values in a culture that makes it so difficult — for boys especially — to be decent and kind.

Daniel Principe is a passionate youth advocate and educator. He champions boys across Australia to challenge culture and aspire to live courageous, respectful and empathetic lives. 

Daniel is a trained health professional with a strong background in PR, marketing, media and health advocacy. His approachable communication style is both knowledgeable and fun. He is a regular guest on TV, radio and podcasts to discuss healthy masculinity, consent, respectful relationships and the cultural challenges young people are facing. 

For more from Daniel, go to his website and follow him on Instagram.

Feature image: Instagram/@lastoftheromans

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