“Be a man!”
This is the phrase men grow up hearing all their lives. From their father, mother, sister, friends, bullies, coaches—the list goes on. But why do we set young boys to a standard we do not set for little girls? Never on the playground would you hear a group of girls taunting at one of their peers, “C’mon, grow up, be a woman!” Yet for little boys, this is not only common, but the norm.
But what does “being a man” really mean? Being vulnerable? Honest? Transparent? Empathetic? No, just the opposite. Society teaches young boys that the way to show your strength and maintain your masculinity is through stoicism and putting on a brave face; but what toll does this take on them in the long run from a psychological standpoint? This unfortunate stereotype is teaching our children not to seek counsel from their peers or us when they’re having a problem, but instead either bottle it up, or wait until it comes to the surface and manifests as a physical and violent confrontation. Cue bullies galore.
Growing up, many boys will form close bonds with one another early on in elementary and middle school. Then once puberty hits and emotions start playing a more significant role in shaping their everyday lives, society instructs them that it would be “sissy” or “wimpy” to rely on someone else to fix your problems. You don’t cry to your friend if you’re upset, you just toughen up and keep throwing the football with as little interpersonal communication as possible. Oh, and being affectionate is for the girls, so if you like a girl, you don’t tell her or show it to her; instead, you pretend as if you don’t care. God forbid your boys ever witness you admit that you like a girl by overhearing you tell her, “I love you.”
To be fair, all of these “rules of masculinity” begin in the home. We as a society need to stop pigeonholing our children into categories of what is strictly masculine or feminine. It’s okay for a little boy, or even a teenage boy, to cry and say he needs his mom, just as it’s okay for a teenage girl to spend all weekend on the soccer field. It is time for us to reshape masculinity from the cookie cutter picture it has always been, and adapt it to what it means in 2018—respecting men and women alike, encouraging open lines of communication, feeling comfortable in your own skin and proud of who you are, etc. And that starts by affirming to your son every day that he is enough and worthy of your love and respect, even in his weakest moments.
My two sons, Demi and Tobi, are the inspiration for my upcoming children’s book, Arise Little Man. I strive to instill in them on a daily basis that it is okay to be vulnerable and ask for help and to reassure them that such behavior is a natural part of maturing into a wholesome man. I pray that as our society evolves, we will all come together to shift this outdated idealization of “being a man.” But for now, it’s on us to get our little boys started toward embracing a new paradigm of being unapologetically them, flaws and all.
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