The revolutionary #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are casting bright lights on harassment and discrimination so girls and women can finally live firmly and freely in their feminine strength and power. Hooray!
But what about boys? We want our boys to develop fully and holistically into healthy, strong and sensitive men who understand their place in the world and treat everyone with the same respect. Often, though, boys find themselves surrounded by messages of sexism, homophobia, violence against women and the desensitization of male feelings.
Expressing vulnerable feelings
The pressure to be constantly strong can mean boys learn to wall off feelings. Since a large part of our life experience includes vulnerable feelings of hurt, sadness and disappointment, boys risk losing the opportunity to develop emotional intelligence.
Social isolation from being emotionally shut down puts men at future risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity and depression. Boys and young men of color are particularly vulnerable to toxic stress and poor health.
What will work?
Raising boys to become caring, courageous and ethical men is absolutely possible, according to Barry MacDonald, author of Boys on Target (Mentoring Press, 2010) and expert in mentoring boys.
Learn to connect
Showing compassion for boys’ tender sides will strengthen their emotional intelligence, self-awareness and self-acceptance. They will learn to connect and communicate effectively so people will want to work with them and also love them.
- Work with boys to acknowledge, express and name feelings.
- Encourage displays of kindness and caring toward friends.
- Challenge stereotypes of what toys and clothes are appropriate for boys.
- Model empathy for children. Disallow the notion that “kids are cruel.”
- Expose boys to multiple versions of masculinity.
- Talk about what it means to treat someone with respect.
- Model how to admit mistakes.
- Encourage physical movement to help process ideas.
- Discipline with respect, not reactivity—never with shame.
- Nurture a family atmosphere where feelings and emotions are expressed.
Discuss and model ways to handle stress
- good diet
- spending time outdoors in nature
- connection with friends and family
- breathing techniques
- healthy pre-bedtime rituals that leave electronics outside the bedroom
Navigate the teen years
- Welcome boys into the kitchen to make lunches or prepare meals.
- Lead by example to resolve conflict calmly and assertively.
- Listen to popular songs on the radio and ask what they think of the lyrics.
- Talk openly about consent and how to get it.
- Explain your views and boundaries on violent video games and movies.
- Discuss Pink Shirt Day and what it means to them.
- Walk and talk out anger and frustration.
- Reinforce that verbal and physical violence has no place in a relationship.
- Understand teenagers’ strong need to be liked, to fit in and to be accepted by peers, while challenging them to think for themselves.
When we positively support our boys to adopt practices that contribute to their multifaceted growth, a brighter, healthier and safer world is possible.