UK children need more volunteer male befrienders

June 1, 2012, Economic & Social Research Council

Many boys say they would prefer a male befriender according to early findings, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Yet, less than a quarter of UK volunteer child befrienders are men.

"The shortage means many boys in need of a strong male presence in their lives are missing out on the adult male companionship they would like," states Dr Sue Milne of the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR) at the University of Edinburgh.

Many of the referred to befriending services face difficulties at home or in school. Some have learning or ; others have been affected by the death or imprisonment of a parent, or by parental substance/ .

"Befrienders offer relationships to children without being goal orientated. They make a very valuable contribution to the lives of children living in difficult circumstances," says Dr Milne. "They provide friendship and support as well as the chance for the children to try new activities and enjoy themselves out of the house."

To discover whether the gender of their 'befriender' matters to children themselves, researchers talked in depth with boys and girls aged 6-15 about their hopes for, and experience of, befriending.

"Boys with a strong sense of a conventional male identity expressed a clear preference for a male befriender - someone with whom they could spend some 'guy time' and share interests and activities," Dr Milne points out. Speaking of their concerns with a female befriender, some boys said:

  • "If I said I wanted to do a bit of woodwork or something, they'd say oh why would you want to do that, go and do something else or they just wouldn't join in as much as a man would."
  • "I think with having my befriender we can do more of the go-karting, crashing into things, running around stuff… we can go cycling, and… he can help me and if he crashes I can help him."
  • "It would make a difference, like, if a man takes you out somewhere, it would be… like going to play basketball or going to a football tournament."
  • "No offence to any of the girls that I hang around with but I just … prefer to be with guys."
Researchers suggest that girls, particularly those from lone mother families, could also benefit from a male befriender. At present, however, the shortage of volunteer male befrienders coupled with concerns voiced by some regarding the appropriateness of such a relationship means girls are rarely matched with men.

This lack of opportunity for girls to have a male befriender is unfortunate, says Dr Milne. "There's no reason why male befrienders shouldn't be matched with girls," argues Dr Milne. "Certainly the only girl in our study who was matched with a male befriender said she had gained a great deal, particularly in confidence, from the experience."

All children, Dr Milne suggests, would benefit from having greater contact with non-familial adults of different genders and generations. Given the predominantly female care provided to young children both at home and at primary school, children of both sexes could benefit from more contact with men. "How many opportunities are there today, particularly for young children from lone mother families, to experience men in their lives?" she asks.

"Clearly children should have this opportunity," Dr Milne continues, "and a male befriender can certainly fulfil this very important role. More than 75 per cent of children referred to befriending services come from lone mother households. If more male befrienders came forward it would provide welcome options not just for boys but also for ."

Explore further: Working mothers and the effects on children

More information: The project's 'Me and My Befriender' website can be viewed at:

Related Stories

Working mothers and the effects on children

July 22, 2011

Parents struggling to combine paid work with bringing up their children now have some positive news thanks to a new study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) on maternal employment and child socio-emotional ...

Is Rooney really a role model?

May 31, 2011

The idea that footballers such as Wayne Rooney and David Beckham are male role models for young children is a myth, according to new research findings.

Who says girls can't compete athletically with boys?

May 31, 2012

An Indiana University study that looked at performance differences between male and female childhood athletes found little difference in certain age groups, even though boys and girls rarely compete against each other in ...

Recommended for you

Crowds within crowd found to outperform 'wisdom of the crowd'

January 18, 2018

A team of researchers affiliated with institutions in Argentina, the U.S. and Germany has found that there is a way to improve on the "wisdom of the crowd"—separate the people in a given crowd into smaller groups and let ...

Study sheds new light on ancient human-turkey relationship

January 17, 2018

For the first time, research has uncovered the origins of the earliest domestic turkeys in ancient Mexico. The study also suggests turkeys weren't only prized for their meat—with demand for the birds soaring with the Mayans ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jun 01, 2012
What a weird society in which a need exists for boys to have "male befrienders".

Until recent decades it would have been extremely rare for a male child without a father to lack uncles, grandfathers and other adult male relatives.

Also until recent years men interacted with nonkin male children--but no longer done due to fears that it might result in allegations of abuse. See

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.