With male teenage suicide rates on the rise, the old adage “big boys don’t cry” may need to be readdressed. Traditionally boys are taught to be tough, not to cry, and shrug off their emotions. However, recent studies are showing this may not be the healthiest strategy to teach boys on how to handle emotion. While no one wants to raise what may be considered a “mama’s boy” or a “wimp”, boys need to be allowed to feel a range of emotions, and they need to be taught how to acknowledge and manage them in an appropriate way.
In light of this realization, there has been a huge push recently to teach our children, boys included, what has been coined as Emotional Intelligence. Proven to be equally as important as academic intelligence when considering overall child development, EI helps children identify, understand and manage emotions. This helps them understand their own emotions, how to react and respond to them appropriately, as well be able to understand the emotions of others. In turn, this prepares them to be better siblings, friends, and partners. Under those pretenses, here are 5 reasons why you should let boys cry.
- Prior to puberty, boys are more likely than girls to experience symptoms of depression. When they are told not to cry and stifle their urge to do so, the emotion behind that urge doesn’t simply disappear. Stifled sadness can quickly turn to anger in boys and young men and is often released in bursts of anger or defiance. They don’t understand the anger or where it stems from, and it builds until they find some way to let the anger out externally. This can lead to behavior issues at school, with peers, and at home.
- When boys are taught to express their emotions and stay connected to their feelings, they learn to manage their anger in healthier, more productive ways. Instead of acting out in anger, they can learn healthy alternatives to deal with their feelings, such as talking to a parent about it, taking it out on a workout, writing it out in a journal, or expressing it playing guitar, for example.
- Boys who don’t express their emotions grow into men who don’t know how to express themselves or be emotionally available. This can cause issues in marriages, in parenting, as well as in work relationships. If we teach young boys appropriate ways to deal with emotions and emotional situations, they will grow up better able to handle these circumstances as men. Marriages will be healthier, fathers will be better equipped to deal with tough issues with their children, and employees with be more productive and better team players.
- As boys are taught to “man up” and hide their emotions, the coping method they learn is to become stoic, shut down, and keep their feelings to themselves. Studies have shown that this directly correlates to men being less likely to seek mental health assistance when needed, leading to higher rates of clinical depression, anxiety, and similar issues that can accelerate and worsen when left unaddressed.
- Allowing your boy to cry, while telling him you understand how he feels and providing guidance on appropriate ways to handle that emotion, provides him a sense of belonging, of being understood, and of being loved for who he is. This builds self-esteem and strengthens the parent-child bond. This is not to be confused with coddling or over-protecting a child but should be considered as an excellent way to model and teach acceptable outlets for expressing emotion.
Boys feel all the same emotions girls do. For some reason, our society has traditionally thought it was okay for girls to show these emotions while boys were expected to toughen up and hold it in. This has lead to generations of men who don’t know how to connect emotionally in numerous aspects of their lives. If we can allow our boys to cry while also teaching healthy ways to express and manage their emotions, we can raise a generation of men better prepared to handle stressful situations, be better partners, and live overall healthier, happier lives without sacrificing their masculinity.
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