In North American culture, there is still a very real difference in how we raise boys versus how we raise girls. Boys may have just as many feelings as girls, but from an early age they are taught to stifle their emotions as opposed to expressing them. Common sayings such as “Boys don’t cry” and “Be a man” encourage boys to avoid discussing their feelings and ignore them altogether. Boys may even start to believe that something is wrong with them when they experience strong emotions. When it comes to friendships, emotional intimacy is a quality commonly attributed to female relationships. Boys who are deemed too close may be teased for being ‘homosexual’. Our stereotypes regarding how real men should behave do nothing to encourage men to share their emotions.
The consequences of these stereotypes are obvious. If boys grow up learning from parents, teachers, and peers that expressing emotion is not manly, they will learn to suppress that urge. The less safe they are made to feel when they express their emotions, the less likely they are to express anything at all. Emotions may never go away, and as a result, boys will turn to other methods of self-expression, including harmful outlets. Passivity may develop when boys withdraw and shut down, refusing to recognize and validate their feelings. Other boys may become aggressive, using violence and anger to express themselves. Both methods are unhealthy.
Effect on Relationships
Boys who are taught to resort to passivity or aggression as modes of self-expression may have difficulty in their romantic relationships later on. They are highly likely to enter into dating relationships or even marriage without knowing how to communicate properly. When conflicts arise as they inevitably do in any long-term relationship, these men may choose to shut down emotionally or respond with anger. Over the long term, both of these habits can be toxic to a significant relationship. In many cases, this kind of prolonged emotional blockage can lead to domestic violence and abuse. Men who are able to control their emotions by not only recognizing them but also expressing them in a healthy way are much more likely to treat their romantic partners with respect.
Teaching Boys to Talk About Emotions
Encouraging your boys to express their feelings is something that many parents find difficult, as it may involve overcoming your own prejudice. If your son comes to you crying, you may have to learn to control your immediate reaction if it’s a negative one. By making your son feel validated when he does express his emotions, you are working to create a safe environment for him to talk about how he feels. Another important thing you can do as a parent is model healthy communication and self-expression. By modeling, you are helping your son to build the vocabulary he will need to talk about his feelings and letting him know that it is normal to experience emotions.
Raising boys who don’t feel safe expressing their emotions will have a negative impact on their romantic relationships later on in life. In order to raise boys who know how to talk about their feelings, you must encourage and validate your son when he does express himself. As a parent, you should also strive to model positive self-expression and communication.