In recent opportunities to connect with children I have begun to notice a comment that I consistently receive from boys and young men. The comment is that I am “brave” or “courageous” for sharing my feelings. Majority of the questions asked after I share some stories of overcoming challenges and asking for help relate to “how did you feel when ___ happened?” or they share an emotional experience of their own that relates. These observations helped me come to the realization that young men are starving for safe spaces to express their feelings and that we are not doing enough to encourage boys and young men to express their emotions.
It is acceptable in mainstream society for men to be angry if they get hurt. But tears are still frowned upon. Appearing “weak”; frowned upon. Asking for help; frowned upon. When I look at the messages that are being shared with our kids, we still see things like UFC, or misogynistic music lyrics that remind our young men that the only way to be masculine is to objectify/disrespect women or to fight other guys.
The point of this post today is to remind all the parents out there who have sons – tell your children how you feel about them. Not only when you are happy, but also when you are sad, the example shows kids that it’s alright to express all the emotions. If you are a dad, or an uncle, or an older brother or cousin – share the stories with the young men in your life of your emotional hardships. Let them know it is okay to feel. Let them know through your example that feeling feelings is okay, not knowing whats happening with your emotions is okay, and most importantly that asking for help is okay! Show them through your actions and your words how to respect women, how to deal with their frustrations in healthy ways (sports, journaling, dance, etc) and most importantly NEVER shame a young man for asking for help.
Last thing: quit saying harmful phrases that reinforce the emotional isolation of our young men. “Boys don’t cry”, or using phrases like “be a man” when you expect a boy to swallow their emotions and not speak out are harmful to their emotional development. it puts an undue burden on their future selves when a standard has been set in their life not to express themselves. Everyone cries. Everyone has feelings. Everyone needs help. It’s about time we showed our young men what a real man is: someone who asks for and accepts help when they need it.