17 May 2024

Building bridges: Promising strategies for improving the health of boys and men by promoting social connection and social support

Author: Male Engagement Task Force
Published by: USAID
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This technical brief considers and recommends promising strategies to improve health outcomes among boys and men by promoting social connection and support. It describes what influences relationship building and friendships among boys and men and how the quality and longevity of these relationships can influence their health behaviours and outcomes throughout their lives. In making the link between social connection and health outcomes, this brief underscores the need for improved focus and attention on relationship building and friendships in global health and development programs that partner with boys and men.

Developed by the USAID Interagency Gender Working Group’s Male Engagement Task Force (METF), this brief is aimed at program implementers whose work engages boys and men across diverse implementation settings (e.g., schools, communities, health facilities, and online platforms) and provides examples of strategies and programs for consideration. It is also relevant for other audiences like donors, governments, and civil society groups.

As boys age, their friendships commonly become less intimate and more transactional. This shift in relationship dynamics often reflects boys’ increasing embodiment of normative masculine traits and behaviors that discourage prosocial behavior and can reduce the quality and longevity of social connection and support necessary to navigate life’s challenges, successes, and transitions. Limited social connection and support negatively impact boys’ and men’s health outcomes over time. More strategies and programs that promote social connection and build the relationship and social skills associated with healthy, supportive friendships are needed to positively impact health outcomes throughout their lives.